The 1995 OJ Simpson murder trial was one of the most sensational moments in recent US history. The world watched as the fault-lines of American race relations were laid bare in a Los Angeles courtroom, and the blanket media coverage brought to life a phenomenon later known as reality TV.
Now, more than 20 years later, the details of the case are being dredged up once more thanks to its onscreen dramatisation in the FX series American Crime Story: The People vs OJ Simpson. And today it was revealed that police may have uncovered a new piece of long-buried evidence.
The LAPD has confirmed it is carrying out DNA tests on a knife said to have been excavated at Simpson’s property, three years after he was acquitted of the June 1994 murders of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend, 25-year-old Ron Goldman.
According to TMZ, a construction worker found a folding buck knife buried on the edge of the Rockingham estate as the house was being demolished by its new owners in 1998. The man turned his discovery over to an off-duty police officer, who was doing security work on a film shoot nearby.
The officer retired shortly thereafter and is alleged to have kept the knife as a souvenir ever since. In January this year, he mentioned the weapon to a friend in the LAPD’s robbery-homicide division, whose superiors subsequently seized it for further investigation.
Simpson had bought his 6,200-sq-ft Brentwood mansion in 1977; the Rockingham estate, and the bloody glove found there, two miles from the murder scene, became key elements at the trial. In 1997 the property was sold to investment banker Kenneth Abdalla, who ordered its demolition.
Today, at a hastily arranged press conference, LAPD spokesman Captain Andrew Neiman confirmed that the knife had been submitted to the lab for testing, but said it remained unclear whether it was “a piece of evidence, or just ... a made-up story”.
He added that he was “really surprised” by the unnamed ex-cop’s failure to turn in the weapon sooner. “An LAPD officer should know that anytime you come into contact with evidence, you should submit that to investigators,” he said.
Simpson, a former American football player and film actor, was found not guilty of the murders in October 1995. His eight-month trial took place just three years since riots had rocked LA, following the acquittal of four white LAPD officers filmed viciously beating black motorist Rodney King.
Public opinion of the Simpson case was sharply divided along racial lines: many African-Americans believed the Naked Gun star had been framed for the killings by a racist police force. The murder weapon, to the frustration of investigators and prosecutors, was never found.
In a subsequent civil trial instigated by the Brown and Goldman families, Simpson was found liable for the wrongful deaths of both victims, and ordered to pay $33.5m (£23.5) in damages, a debt he has so far failed to honour.
In 2008, he was convicted of kidnapping and robbery after he was involved in stealing sports memorabilia at gunpoint from the occupants of a Las Vegas hotel room. Simpson, now 68, was sentenced to 33 years in prison in Nevada, where he is incarcerated today.
Under double jeopardy rules, he cannot be tried again for the murders, but, said Captain Neiman, “Unless there is an actual arrest or conviction to prove we have actually closed the case, the cases remain open. That is where we are with the OJ Simpson case... I shouldn’t say ‘the OJ Simpson case’; this is the Nicole Brown case. This is a double homicide that is still open.”
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