The Prosecutor Who Took On The Dream Team

Photograph of Marcia Clark and Sarah Paulson, who portrayed Clark in a TV representation of the trial. | September 18, 2016| Courtesy of Flickr.

To Marcia Clark, June 13, 1994 seemed like any other day. She got a late start after wrangling her son to Pre-Kindergarten. She walked into her office at the Special Trials division of the Los Angeles County District Attorneys Office with ease due to a lighter caseload, which was a seldom occurrence for Marcia. This was when she received a call from Detective Phil Vanhatter of the LAPD Robbery/Homicide Division.1 Detective Vanhatter began telling Marcia about a double murder that took place in Brentwood. The victims were Nicole Brown and a then unidentified male. This would become one of the biggest cases of the twentieth century, and our heroine would have her work cut out for her.

After some investigation, the woman would later be identified as Orenthal James “O.J.” Simpson’s ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson. O.J. Simpson was a retired NFL football player. When police went to notify Simpson, he had taken an unexpected flight to Chicago. The police then began to uncover old domestic dispute cases between Nicole and O.J. This did not mean he killed her, but many wives are killed by abusive husbands. When O.J. was contacted, he did not ask how or when Nicole had been killed. Before his flight landed back in LA, he had already contacted the same lawyer who represented him in the trial for the domestic assault. All of these actions can be explained away by grief taking hold in different ways, and O.J. wanting to properly protect himself. However, when Nicole’s sister, Denise, was contacted, she immediately started screaming, “He killed her! He finally killed her!” When asked who she was referring to, she answered, “O.J.”2 The chief of the West Los Angeles detective-homicide unit, Ron Phillips, would later recall that Simpson never questioned whether Nicole had been murdered or if it had just been a horrible accident.3

Photograph of O.J. Simpson | 1990 | Gerald Johnson | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons |

Officer Robert Riske was the officer to respond to the scene after a came in about a possible break in across the street.4 It was not a robbery. The caller had mistaken the dog barking and commotion caused by Kato, an Akita, and his owners for someone trying to break into her home. They were out for a stroll when they stumbled upon a bloody, gruesome scene outside of 875 South Bundy.5 There was a trail of blood from the front gate to the front door. Nicole Simpson was at the bottom of the stairs while a young man with his shirt pulled over his head was against the fence. This man would later be identified as Ron Goldman, a waiter at a restaurant that Nicole had visited earlier. At the scene was a black hat, a white envelope, and a single leather glove. There was a single set of shoeprints in the back, by the alley. There was also fresh drops of blood next to the shoe prints, leading detectives to believe the killer cut himself, or herself, on the left hand.6 Mark Fuhrman would be the first to respond to the scene. Marcia would later look on the photos and notice wreckage of Ron Goldman’s body compared to the wounds that Nicole had suffered. Marcia thought of Goldman’s assault as a “merciless assault against an unarmed, unsuspecting victim.”7 She thought of Goldman’s wounds as frenzied, with ruthless determination. Nicole’s seemed more efficient. She had been “swept up, thrown down, slashed at the throat, and dropped at the foot of the steps.”8

Marcia headed back to the office and immediately went to the head of the Special Trials Unit, David Conn. She laid out the details of the case and what she had seen at Simpson’s home. She knew that she was not Miss Congeniality among the lawyers in LA. She was a newly divorced, single parent. She tended to be habitually late. She had little patience and was a no nonsense kind of person. She was also a woman in a time when women, for all the leaps and bounds that had been made for women’s rights, were still were not on the same respect level as men.9

The media circus was a mad house. They swarmed for any clue as to what was going on inside the case. It was already national news and Marcia couldn’t get to any information. The police didn’t exactly work hand in hand with the prosecutors, and this time they were a metaphorical stonewall. Marcia was chain-smoking and trying to stay on top of information before the media could ruin her jury pool and case.

Marcia Clark was already very suspicious of O.J.’s “alibi.” The timeline didn’t add up and he didn’t answer the door for the limo driver until fifteen minutes after the scheduled arrival time. The amount of suspicion against O.J. Simpson was growing when his lawyer decided to drop due to a “personal friendship.” Robert Shapiro then stepped in. This was also suspicious to Marcia, due to the clients that Shapiro had in the past. Shapiro had clients such as Erik Menendez, Christina Sinatra, and other celebrities. This put Marcia on edge. Shapiro was a spin doctor. To act as an aid in Shapiro’s picture, Faye Resnick, friend of Nicole Brown Simpson, released a book about Nicole and O.J.10 The book received a lot of publicity. It was a New York Times best seller. Judge Ito did his best to stifle the book during the court hearing, but those actions worked in the opposite way. There was an a huge concern that the jury pool would be tainted. Judge Ito and Marcia both worried that the book would paint a poor picture of the victims or would skew the jury’s view of O.J.

Marcia hated that they didn’t hold him when they questioned him. She knew he had the ability to run, and instead, they let him go home. He was scheduled to come in to the station on a Monday. The grand jury was scheduled to start and there was no sign of Orenthal James Simpson at his own hearing. Was he running? Marcia began chain smoking again. She got Shapiro on the line and he was passed the puck to a Saul Faerstein. Saul Faerstein was a forensic psychologist. Faerstein and Shapiro were arguing that O.J. was depressed and they needed to make sure he was not suicidal. They were at O.J.’s good friend, Robert Kardashian’s house. Marcia had to start the court proceedings without O.J. present. She would have to start the proceedings because O.J. Simpson was on the run. All of Marcia’s instincts were correct and now, due to the lack of respect given to her, she looked like she was not able to handle her responsibilities.11 O.J. should have been held without bail. When a judge decides on bail, they look at factors such as the defendant’s ability to skip bail or the possibility of that occurring. O.J. Simpson showed both of these factors. He had money and showed the emotional inconsistency to make a judgement as poor as fleeing. Once O.J. was arrested, police officers found a bag with a fake passport, a wig, mustache, and other items that seemed to say O.J. was planning to flee the country. The items also included a ticket to Mexico.

On top of O.J. being on the run with a gun in the same Ford Bronco that had blood on it, Kato Kaelin, the actor that was a witness to Simpson’s whereabouts on the night of the murder and O.J.’s friend and room mate, was pleading the fifth amendment. This is the amendment that state’s a person does not need to answer any questions that might incriminate oneself. Marcia had no choice but to apologize profusely to the already impatient and annoyed group of jurors. Marcia could not comprehend how people referred to O.J. as a nickname rather than his full name, Orenthal James Simpson. She found it comparable to someone calling Charles Manson “Chuck.” Meanwhile, she fought to get an inch of protocol that was given to her. People were wooed by O.J.’s charm, charisma, and celebrity. O.J. wrote three letters when he left. Shapiro read one of the three letters, addressed to the public, on national television, and delivered the other two to the intended recipients.12 Marcia felt that this instance harmed her case. The lawyer to any other suspected murderer would’ve had to turn over these letters, but because O.J. Simpson was famous and America was very divided on the situation, they were allowed to keep the letters. Marcia felt he was getting preferential treatment and it was harming her case. When he was on the run, the highway was scattered with signs that said “Free OJ!” In his travel bag were a passport, a plastic bag with a fake goatee, a fake mustache, a bottle of makeup adhesive and remover.13

When asked to how he planned to plead, Simpson pled 100% not guilty. Marcia’s passion for the case showed through when she immediately thought, “You unregenerate, scum-sucking creep.”14 During the trial, Clark began her presentation before the jury by stating, ” You may not like me for bringing this case. I’m not winning any popularity contests for doing so.”15 This made it seem as though prosecuting Orenthal James Simpson was an unpopular decision that would ultimately be a waste of time and tax payer money.

The defense theory was initially based around the investigation having not considered anyone besides Simpson, thus planting evidence to support their theory.16 The defense would present tapes recording Mark Fuhrman using racial slurs. Johnnie Cochran would use this to support the defense’s theory. The L.A. Riots had recently occurred and racial tension in Los Angeles were high. Johnnie Cochran played on that as a way to get the jurors and the public on O.J. Simpson’s side. Johnnie Cochran created a moral dilemma. If the jurors and public did not support O.J., they were racists. The defense started hitting below the belt with that stance. During this time, Marcia Clark was still going back and forth with her divorce proceedings. Sheriffs and deputies were taking Marcia through a tunnel under the streets to avoid the paparazzi that were hounding her. She was going back and forth between criminal courts and civil courts, trying to put out personal fires as well as bringing justice to Nicole Brown Simpson. Mark Fuhrman even went as far as going after Judge Lance Ito’s wife. Marcia was sure they would lose if Judge Ito had to step down. Johnnie Cochran wanted to keep Judge Ito as well.

Photograph of Judge Lance Ito, the presiding judge over the trial | October 1995 | Twins of Sedona | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Marcia Clark decided to hit back with evidence. She pointed out the set of aforementioned bloody footprints, hair samples and trace DNA. The bloody footprints were that of size 12 Bruno Magli loafer. The loafer cost $160 and only 9% of men in America wore that size. O.J. Simpson wore size 12 and was 6 feet 2 inches tall. The men who wore that size shoe tended to fall between 6 feet tall and 6 feet 4 inches tall. A burglar would also not be wearing a $160 shoe to a burglary. The same footprint was found on Nicole’s back. The specialists, Bill Bodziak, that was brought in to testify on the evidence, concluded that there was no reason to believe there was more than one set of shoes present. They also found the same model of shoe present in O.J. Simpson’s home. O.J. once referred to the shoes as “ugly a**” shoes and he swore he would never own them. A photo would later surface of him wearing the same model of shoes.

The jury came back with a not guilty verdict. This case was one of the most polarizing for the citizens of the United States. The “Dream Team” did a very good job of spinning doubt on the evidence. It can also be argued that Marcia Clark did not show the brevity of what each piece of evidence meant. As hard as she tried, O.J. Simpson is not behind bars. If that is warranted or not, that is still up for debate but in a civil suit, he was found to owe the families money due to wrongful death.

Photograph of the headstone of Nicole Brown Simpson | February 1, 2000 | David McNew | Courtesy of Getty Images and Hulton Archive
  1. Marcia Clark, Without a Doubt (New York: Penguin, 1997), 14.
  2. Jeffrey Toobin, The Run Of His Life The People v. O.J. Simpson, (New York: Random House 2015), 41.
  3. Jeffrey Toobin, The Run Of His Life The People v. O.J. Simpson, (New York: Random House 2015), 39.
  4. Jeffrey Toobin, The Run Of His Life The People v. O.J. Simpson, (New York: Random House 2015), 24.
  5. Jeffrey Toobin, The Run Of His Life The People v. O.J. Simpson, (New York: Random House 2015), 25.
  6. Jeffrey Toobin, The Run Of His Life The People v. O.J. Simpson, (New York: Random House 2015), 25.
  7. Marcia Clark, Without a Doubt (New Yok: Penguin, 1997), 34-35.
  8. Marcia Clark, Without a Doubt (New York: Penguin, 1997), 61.
  9. Marcia Clark, Without a Doubt (New York: Penguin, 1997), 18.
  10. Vincent Bugliosi, Outrage The Five Reasons Why O.J. Simpson Got Away With Murder(New York: W.W. Norton &Co., 2016), 80.
  11. Jeffrey Toobin, The Run Of His Life The People v. O.J. Simpson, (New York: Random House 2015), 66.
  12. Jeffrey Toobin, The Run Of His Life The People v. O.J. Simpson, (New York: Random House 2015), 105.
  13. Jeffrey Toobin, The Run Of His Life The People v. O.J. Simpson, (New York: Random House 2015), 111.
  14. Marcia Clark, Without a Doubt (New York: Penguin, 1997), 125.
  15. Vincent Bugliosi, Outrage The Five Reasons Why O.J. Simpson Got Away With Murder(New York: W.W. Norton &Co., 2016), 336.
  16. Marcia Clark, Without a Doubt (New York: Penguin, 1997), 367.

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33 Responses

  1. Very well-written article. I knew about the OJ Simpson case but never knew the actual details or what it was. There are so many documentaries but this article was better than any film or tv show. It explained everything in detail and made me understand the situation. Thank you for writing this article!

  2. I had a sense of knowledge about this topic before reading the article. When I was in middle school my history teacher had talked to my class about it and showed some video clips. I always have found it mind blowing how OJ was never found guilty especially since all evidence was pointed at him. The article gives really good detail which helps understand how the case was especially how when it comes to celebrities some get away with stuff like this.

  3. I had a very basic sense of knowledge on this topic before reading this article. I have always found it mind blowing that OJ Simpson was never found guilty after all of the evidence that has been found. This article gave very good, in depth details that help the reader realize how severe this case was and truly try to understand what happened.

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