'The People v. O.J. Simpson,' Episode 4: Our Fact-Checking Recap - Rolling Stone
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‘The People v. O.J. Simpson,’ Episode 4: Our Fact-Checking Recap

The trial kicks off, the Dream Team springs into action, and the show starts to go for the jugular

People v. O.J. Simpson; Recap; Nathan Lane as F. Lee Bailey, Courtney B. Vance as Johnnie Cochran, John Travolta as Robert Shapiro, Cuba Gooding, Jr. as O.J. Simpson, David Schwimmer as Robert KardashianPeople v. O.J. Simpson; Recap; Nathan Lane as F. Lee Bailey, Courtney B. Vance as Johnnie Cochran, John Travolta as Robert Shapiro, Cuba Gooding, Jr. as O.J. Simpson, David Schwimmer as Robert Kardashian

Courtney B. Vance, John Travolta, Cuba Gooding Jr. and David Schwimmer in 'The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story.'

Ray Mickshaw/FX

The trial is finally getting underway: preliminary hearings, jury selection, Ross Geller trying his best to look lawyerly. But cracks in the defense are starting to show, and Robert Shapiro is losing his hold over the case. He asks a room full of legal eagles on his side if they think O.J. did it, and they stare at him in horror. He informs his mentor, F. Lee Bailey — the legendary white-shoe criminal defense attorney, played by Nathan Lane — that he’ll be getting paid in publicity rather than cash, and the older man looks like he’s been slapped. Then the dark-haired counselor sulks when his star client starts favoring Johnnie Cochran as a confidante, even though Shapiro would happily skip a visit with his client in jail in favor of a fancy dinner at a trendy nightspot. All of which allows John Travolta to trot out his best sullen, bruised-ego expressions and tantrums — there’s no telling where he could possibly take things from here.

Like the rest of the series to date, this chapter still stays remarkably true to the source material, Jeffery Toobin’s The Run of His Life, even when it’s condensing an event or three. Check out these five details from Episode Four, fact-checked and rated on a one to five “Glove” scale for accuracy.

The Defense blocked the prosecution at every turn
One of the best scenes in this week’s episode happens during the preliminary hearing, when Sarah Paulson’s Marcia Clark and Courtney B. Vance’s Johnnie Cochran tee off against each other for the first time. Its brilliance comes from the subtle way that Cochran undermines Clark’s composure as she asks for a standard hair sample — his falsely flabbergasted tone pushing her to become increasingly shrill. “Excuse me your honor,” she practically shrieks when he refuses her straightforward request. “But this objection is beyond ridiculous!”

Cochran clearly knows he’s obstructing the prosecution — but it was, in fact, Shapiro who objected to this request, as the eight-day hearing took place beginning June 30, 1994, i.e. before Cochran was officially part of the team. That said, Shapiro did make the same argument he’s seen making in this episode, calling the request for roughly 100 hairs “unduly invasive,” and requesting a separate hearing. And while the prosecution was ultimately awarded 40 to 100 hairs, this moment helped establish the tenor of the case: The defense would question everything. As Travolta’s courtroom pitbull puts it, “We concede to nothing. If Marcia Clark wants to go to the bathroom, we object. If they say the sky is blue, hearsay. Nothing will be admitted without challenge and provocation.” It’s enough to make anyone shrill. (4/5 Gloves)

The prosecution accepted Donald Vinson’s pro-bono jury research…
“Vinson’s amazing,” L.A. District Attorney Gil Garcetti tells Clark. “He practically invented jury research.” As Toobin explains in the book in great detail, Donald Vinson did more or less invent jury research, though it was usually a privilege reserved for defense attorneys; prosecutors tended to go with the less-exact (and cheaper) science of trusting their gut. His company DecisionQuest had only recently gone into the pro-bono business, after watching the Menendez brothers’ trial result in two hung juries in January 1994. So when he saw what was happening with Simpson, he got in touch with Garcetti — who happily took his free services.  (3/5 Gloves)

…and Marcia Clark didn’t like the results
As Clark says in the show, she knew who to go for: Black women liked her, she’d taken on many as clients and some continued to send her letters long after their cases were closed. They were a segment of the population who were disproportionately affected by domestic violence, so they would relate to Nicole’s situation. Or so she thought.

In an uncomfortable scene, Clark and co-counsel Bill Hodgman watch through a one-way mirror as mock jurors discuss their feelings about those involved in the case. Do they think O.J. was innocent? All the hands that went up were black. Guilty? Only white hands in the air. What were their thoughts on Marcia Clark? “Well, she seems like a bitch,” says one participant. The one thing everyone could agree on: The lead prosecutor was not someone they trusted. Clark looks on in disbelief. Was this really how the public saw her?

While the show condenses a couple of different panels — there was one in LA and one in Arizona — and leaves out what could have been a hilarious scene of Clark accidentally trying to get a gun through LAX security, the takeaway from the episode is dead on: She didn’t like Vinson or his techniques, so went with her gut instead of the results. “Clark’s failure to separate the message from the messenger,” Toobin writes, “would have disastrous consequences for her case.” (5/5 gloves)

Faye Resnick writes a book and it brings the trial to a halt
“Nicole was my everything,” Connie Britton’s Faye Resnick croons to her ghostwriters. “She was my confidant, my spiritual sister.” A self-proclaimed socialite who’d been friends with the late Mrs. Simpson since 1990, and was close with her after the couple’s 1992 divorce, she details how she and her “best friend” would do cocaine on a regular basis, and how Nicole was a fan of a “Brentwood hello” (sneaking into a man’s bedroom and performing oral sex while he was still asleep). Unfortunately, the proof is in Nicole Brown Simpson: The Private Diary of a Life Interrupted, which Resnick wrote after a psychic told her to. But what could have been passed off as a piece of tabloid trash — it was, in fact, co-written by National Enquirer columnist Mike Walker — was given unnecessary weight when Judge Lance Ito ground the proceedings to a halt for 48 hours so he could read the book to see about possible jury-selection ramifications. “The sensible course would have been to ignore Diary and, if the subject came up at all, to remind the jurors that they were to rely only on evidence presented in court,” Toobin writes. “Like every other sensation in the case, Resnick would have faded, too.”  But Ito, as we’ll see, also loves the media attention. (3/5 Gloves)

Robert Shapiro suggested an alternate theory that would lead to a settlement — by admitting that O.J. did it
In the episode, Robert Kardashian, Cochran and O.J. are sitting around a tiny conference room discussing a possible new witness who could throw off the prosecution’s timeline. Shapiro walks in and declares that he’s been going through some precedent cases in his office, and he’s figured it out: They should settle. Settling was his specialty, and he could see that, if they proceeded to trial, Cochran would have an increasingly important role in the case.

“What we say is that you were mad at Nicole for not inviting you to dinner at Mezzaluna,” he says, referring to the site of Nicole’s last meal and Ronald Goldman’s place of employment. “So you decide to get even with her. You take a knife to her place, to slash her tires, but you get caught. And you’re humiliated. You don’t know what to do. Your heart is racing. Your emotions are cracking. Things escalate. And you kill her, and you kill the Goldman boy, too, because you’re jealous.” No one even acknowledges what he’s saying. Kardashian turns the conversation back to the potential witness.

Toobin writes that it happened in much the same way, except Shapiro came into the room claiming that he’d talked to the prosecution, and the theory about O.J. being angry about dinner had come from them. His plan was to spin it into manslaughter, putting Kardashian on the hook for hiding the knife, “but that’s probably no more than five years for accessory after the fact.” This seems to have gone over in the real courthouse about as well as it did on the show … which is to say, disastrously. “There was a stunned silence — incredulity that Shapiro would propose a plea bargain at this late date,” the author writes. “Simpson did not reject the proposal so much as ignore it. The conversation simply moved on to other topics.” In his last-ditch effort to keep control over the case, he tries to settle — ultimately proving that’s all he was qualified to do. (3/5 Gloves)

Previously: Episode 3

In This Article: Ryan Murphy


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