Keeping up with celebrity culture

Voted by E Entertainment Television as ‘the most shocking moment in Hollywood history’, John Daly looks back at the OJ Simpson trial, the first televised celebrity murder case.

Keeping up with celebrity culture

WHERE were you on June 17, 1994? As one of the major moments that define popular culture of the modern era, OJ Simpson’s infamous chase along the LA highway pursued by 20 helicopters and a posse of police cars ranks up there with the best.

As the white Ford Bronco cruised along Interstate 405, it became the curtain raiser to a case that would become a murder mystery, soap opera, and TV’s first reality show.

When OJ finally surrendered after his highway chase made news across the world, police discovered $8,000 in cash, a change of clothing, a loaded .357 Magnum, a passport, plus a fake beard and moustache.

Though the former All American football star and TV personality protested his innocence, Simpson’s actions were seen by many as a man planning his escape.

When the case finally came to trial, the controversial decision to allow television cameras in the courtroom transformed it into a deranged version of Big Brother meets The X-Factor.

Overnight, a legal cast of lawyers, witnesses and a diminutive judge became celebrities, finding themselves pestered for autographs and pleas for seats in the packed courthouse.

The Los Angeles Times put coverage of the case on its front page for 300 days, and the TV networks gave it more air time than the Bosnian War and the Oklahoma City bombing combined.

At one point, TIME magazine ran a cover story — An American Tragedy — showing OJ’s face shrouded in darkness.

It prompted immediate accusations of ‘racist editorialising and yellow journalism’.

The cast of characters have since passed into common lore.

There was Kato Kaelin, Marcia Clark, Faye Resnick, Johnny Cochran, F Lee Bailey and LAPD’s Mark Fuhrman, whose infamous ‘n word’ rant became one of the trial’s more enduring spectacles.

The case also introduced the world to OJ defence lawyer Robert Kardashian — father of the three daughters who nowadays command a global brand.

He died in 2003.

The OJ case was rightly billed as ‘the trial of the century’ — especially with its potent combination of race, sex, bizarre lifestyles, murder whodunnit, and a collection of pop culture creations too weird to make up.

E Entertainment Television recently voted the Simpson case ‘the most shocking moment in Hollywood history’ — ahead of Princess Diana’s death, John Lennon’s murder and the Michael Jackson child abuse allegations.

“The OJ Simpson double murder trial captured the attention of the entire world,” said Mark Sonnenberg, E’s Executive Vice President.

“Simpson went from being worshipped as a gridiron hero and a career in acting to becoming the main suspect in an horrific murder case.”

Even two decades on, the ripples from the case continue to garner column inches.

Three months ago, burglars broke into the home of Khloe Kardashian.

It was speculated that the thieves were after the OJ murder weapon.

Robert Kardashian wife, Kris, became America’s most famous ‘momager’ who catapulted her daughters Khloe, Kourtney, and Kim to huge media fame through the TV show, Keeping Up With the Kardashians.

More bizarrely, the National Enquirer ran a story claiming Simpson told friends that Khloe was actually his biological daughter.

Money and race, both issues guaranteed to elicit heated emotions, were at the core of the case.

“Money makes a difference, and I find it amusing that so many pundits seem shocked by it,” said Gerald F Uelmen, professor at the Santa Clara University School of Law and co-counsel for OJ’s defence.

“We’ve long accepted the social reality that wealthy people eat better food, live in more comfortable houses, and get better medical care.

“Why does it surprise us that they get better representation in court?”

The trial also ignited the racism debate.

“I was really struck by the difference in the reactions of whites and African Americans to the Fuhrman tapes.

“Whites were shocked and surprised. African Americans simply said, ‘What’s new?’

“They shrugged their shoulders.”

Alan Dershowitz, another member of the Simpson defence dream team, was scathing on how the prosecution bungled the case.

“We didn’t win the case, they lost it,” he said.

“They blew it, they made the worst possible mistakes.”

OJ’s KEY MOMENTS

Bronco Low-Speed Chase

When OJ Simpson did not turn himself in to the LAPD at 11am on June 17, he set in motion a pursuit that eventually became a 35mph ‘chase’ along the LA highway. One white Bronco pursued by 20 police choppers and 15 cars. Though it lasted just 60 minutes, the chase was watched by 120 million people.

If The Glove Fits

Prosecutors produced a glove containing traces of blood from Nicole Brown, Ron Goldman, as well as Simpson’s. When he clearly had great difficulty getting his hand into the glove, lawyer Johnny Cochran famously advised the jury: “If it does not fit, you must acquit.”

Guilt By Silence

When his defence team opted not to put Simpson in the witness box, many took it as a confirmation of his guilt. Ron Goldman’s father, Fred, said: “He’s where he is because he committed murder.”

A Free Man

When Judge Ito announced that “the State of California versus Orenthal James Simpson, case number BA 097211, finds the defendant not guilty of the crime of murder”, over 100 million Americans stopped everything to watch. Such was the fear of reprisals, President Bill Clinton enacted security measures at all government buildings.

WHERE ARE THEY NOW?

OJ Simpson is serving time at the Lovelock Correctional Centre, Nevada. In 2008, he was sentenced to 33 years for kidnapping, criminal conspiracy and assault with a deadly weapon.

Marcia Clark, the lead prosecutor, was vilified for her poor handling of the case by the Goldman family and the media. Her mother-in-law even sold a tabloid topless pictures of her taken in her youth. She sold her memoir of the trial, Without A Doubt, for $5 million, and now writes legal thrillers.

Johnnie Cochran saw his profile rocket after the trial, and went on to represent Haitian immigrant Abner Louima in a successful $9 million lawsuit against the NYPD. He also won an acquittal for musician Sean ‘P Diddy’ Combs in a stolen weapons case. Cochran died in 2005 from a brain tumour.

Another OJ lawyer, Robert Shapiro, went on to represent Hollywood stars like Lindsay Lohan and Eva Longoria, and invested in a shoe rental website, ShoeDazzle, operated by Kim Kardashian.

Beach blond Kato Kaelin was a guest at Simpson’s house the night of the murders. His rambling testimony became one of the trial’s humorous points. He continues to guest on reality TV shows, and has a ‘gut feeling’ that Simpson is guilty.

Judge Lance Ito is still working in the Los Angeles court system.

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