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Saturday, June 6, 2015

Twenty years after O.J.

It was twenty years ago when cable offered channels with a lot of programming worth paying for. The young and not yet debased Court TV network (remember it?) provided "gavel to gavel" coverage of the O.J. Simpson murder trial in 1995. Driving around Silicon Valley on a business trip later that year, I heard this on the AM radio:

Without doubt, Johnnie Cochran gave the best closing argument in the history of jurisprudence — both his content and his delivery. If you don't have time to listen to all of it, fast forward to the 37-minute mark when he summarizes his argument with the famous fifteen questions that utterly demolished the prosecution. As Cochran's rhetoric of genius filled my rental car, I knew that Simpson would walk. More than that, I knew that if I were sitting on the jury, I would vote Not Guilty too. And that's how the jury decided it, after only four hours of deliberation in a trial that lasted nine months.

That wasn't the end of the story, however. A different jury soon found Simpson liable for damages arising from wrongful deaths. In such a civil trial the plaintiff must show only a preponderance of evidence, not beyond a reasonable doubt as in Simpson's criminal trial. This time Simpson was not represented by Cochran, who later died of a brain tumor. In subsequent years there was a strange series of events concerning Simpson's book and several run-in's with the law. In 2007 he was arrested, convicted, and imprisoned for armed robbery and kidnapping in Nevada. He could become eligible for parole in 2017. Assistant prosecutor Christopher Darden remains bitter, as one might expect.

Did Simpson kill Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman? I say both juries got it right.

My favorite closing argument in the movies, by the way, remains Paul Newman's in The Verdict from 1982 (three minutes of audio). Of course, any movie with Charlotte Rampling is worth watching.