I am one who respects the jury system. It is easy for someone to watch a thirty second soundbite on a case and think they know more about it than the jurors who listened to the entire trial.
In the OJ case, we now know a lot more than the jury knew at the time of the trial. OJ’s actions after the trial, including authoring a book called ‘If I did it’ which talked about how he murdered his wife, have been consistent with the acts of a guilty person.
The evidence presented at trial that he was the killer was convincing in showing that he had a motive, anger at his ex-wife, opportunity to commit the crime, and physical evidence tied him to the scene.
With all of this evidence, how could the jury find OJ not guilty?
Was it because he had a great defense team? In the vast majority of criminal cases the prosecution has more resources than the defense; they have the police conducting their investigation, prosecutor’s offices in many states including California have their own investigations in addition to the police.
In most cases the accused are represented by the public defender’s office and in the better states like Minnesota, they are decently funded, but still lag behind prosecutor’s offices, in the worst states they are hopelessly under resourced and under paid. Unlike most accused, OJ had great attorneys; a team with several legal stars on it which included F. Lee Bailey, Johnnie Cochran, and Robert Shapiro. It was an effective team, but the prosecution team was no slouch. Marcia Clark and Chris Darden were top notch attorneys and the L.A. County District Attorney’s Office put far more resources into the OJ case than for a typical trial. Having great lawyers certainly helped OJ, but that is not why he won the trial.
The reason OJ walked was because of a weak link in the prosecution case; a racist, lying investigator, Detective Mark Fuhrman. Mark Fuhrman was one of the investigators who oversaw the crime scene after the murder and was of course, a key witness for the prosecution. Mr. Fuhrman made numerous disparaging comments about people of color, mixed-race couples in particular, ‘OJ is black, his late wife was white.’
To make matters worse, when questioned about his racial attitudes at trial, Mr. Fuhrman denied having made racist comments. The defense had solid evidence, including credible witnesses, and recordings, that he had made racist comments, when the recordings were played Fuhrman was shown to be a liar right in front of the jury.
The jury, which included many people of color heard that not only was Fuhrman a racist who hated people like them, but that he had lied about it under oath (lying under oath is perjury which is a felony that Mr. Fuhrman was prosecuted for after the trial; he did however plead no contest, meaning that he conceded guilt) The defense argument that OJ had somehow been framed was given new life when Fuhrman’s lies came out in trial.
While we cannot be sure what would have happened if the state’s key witness had not been a lying racist, it is fair to say that OJ would have likely been convicted without Mark Fuhrman. The prosecution cannot say that they were surprised. Mr. Fuhrman’s racism was long known within the Las Angeles Police Department, and he should have been let go years before the OJ case.
The OJ trial had a lesson, one which was unfortunately not followed in most of the country; when police officers betray their oaths to protect and serve by being racists, by abusing their authority and the public, they need to be removed from law enforcement. If they are not removed, not only do they harm the public, and bring disgrace to the many honest and hardworking officers in their departments, but they undermine the public’s trust in the police and in the courts, making it harder to investigate crimes and convict the guilty.
The recent cases in Minnesota and elsewhere will hopefully lead to a long overdue house cleaning in law enforcement. Officers like Mark Fuhrman have no place in the future of law enforcement.