OJ Simpson's defence team denies 'fixing' evidence to win acquittal

Lawyers accused of tampering with 'bloody glove' say claims are shameful

Los Angeles

The "dream team" of lawyers which represented OJ Simpson at his murder trial reacted with outrage to suggestions that one of their colleagues tampered with a crucial item of evidence that secured his acquittal.

Johnnie Cochran, the swashbuckling attorney who defended Simpson at the so-called "trial of the century", was accused of having somehow tampered with the famous "bloody glove" on which the 1994 case hinged.

"I think Johnnie tore the lining," declared Christopher Darden, the prosecutor, during a panel discussion at a New York law school on Thursday. "There were some additional tears in the lining [of the glove] so that OJ's fingers couldn't go all the way up."

Mr Darden's claims have sparked intrigue because of questions about the provenance of the "bloody glove" allegedly found at Simpson's home. An identical glove was left at the scene of the murder of Simpson's ex-wife, Nicole, and a boyfriend.

Prosecutors claimed both belonged to former gridiron footballer-turned-actor, and proved his guilt. Mr Cochran, for his part, argued that they were planted by crooked detectives. To prove his point, he agreed to a request by prosecutors for his client to try on the glove, telling jurors: "if it doesn't fit, you must acquit!" Watched by a television audience of millions, Simpson then tried and comprehensively failed to get his hand into the black leather glove. With seeds of reasonable doubt sown, he later walked free from court, despite what the prosecution rightly described as a "mountain of evidence" against him.

Mr Darden made his claim of evidence-tampering during a discussion about famous miscarriages of justice. Soon afterwards, he gave a interview to the Reuters news agency, saying he believed the internal structure of the glove was somehow altered shortly before it was brought into the courtroom. "A bailiff told me the defence had it during the lunch-hour," he said. "It has been my suspicion for a long time that the lining had been manipulated."

Mr Cochran is no longer around to defend himself against that claim, having died of a brain tumour in 2005. However, Alan Dershowitz, a Harvard law professor who served on Mr Cochran's team, said it was "a total fabrication" and pointed out that "the defence doesn't get access to evidence except under controlled circumstances". Mr Dershowitz said of Mr Darden: "Having made the greatest legal blunder of the 20th century [in asking Simpson to try the glove on in the first place] he is now trying to blame it on the dead man."

If Mr Darden had any credible evidence of tampering, Mr Dershowitz added, he would have been obliged to report it. He should also have filed a grievance with the California state bar association, rather than waiting 18 years to air his concerns.

Mr Darden responded by saying that issuing such a complaint would have amounted to a "whiny-little-snitch approach to life".

Simpson, one of the greatest US football stars of his generation, had the good fortune to stand trial at a time when the Los Angeles Police Department was widely believed to be institutionally racist. Two years earlier, black neighbourhoods of the city were hit by rioting following the acquittal of police who were filmed beating a black man, Rodney King.

Simpson's acquittal by a racially-mixed jury spawned widespread soul-searching about so-called "celebrity justice". In a subsequent civil case, he was found responsible for his ex-wife's death, and ordered to pay damages to her family.

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