Thank the Nineties gods — after a few weeks in the background, Robert Kardashian, as portrayed by a terrified-looking David Schwimmer, is back in the center-stage spotlight. Instead of declaring O.J. Simpson’s innocence at every turn, however, he’s starting to face his doubts. “I’m really struggling here,” he tells Al Cowlings, who provided his white Bronco for the notorious slow-speed chase. “I keep going over everything again and again. Everything I know about Nicole [Brown Simpson]. Everything I can learn about Ron Goldman. There’s never been more information, more media coverage, more detectives. Even the kooks! All about one crime … and there’s just nothing.” Who knows if he ever actually spoke up at that time. A year later, in 1996, Kardashian did tell Barbara Walters that he had “doubts” about his old friend’s innocence, but by his death in 2003, he hadn’t elaborated.
But from the in-fighting and ill-fitting gloves to a clandestine romantic getaway, there is plenty in tonight’s American Crime Story episode that plays straight out of the news reports at the time (which, as Kardashian points out, were exhaustive) and out of the show’s primary source material, Jeffery Toobin’s The Run of His Life. Here are five details from Episode Seven, fact-checked and rated on a one-to-five “Glove” scale for accuracy.
Alan Dershowitz, a member of the defense’s Dream Team, would fax in objections from Harvard
Yes! Because of his teaching responsibilities, Dershowitz participated in O.J.’s defense from the comfort of his office at the Ivy League law school. Judge Lance Ito, who was presumably as star-struck by Harvard credentials as he was by Hollywood clout, signed off on the telecommuting request. Equipped with a Sharp Zaurus ZR-500 digital assistant, a fax machine, LexisNexis, and a couple of televisions, the celebrity lawyer (and occasionally his research team, made up of several students) would watch the trial and come up with new strategies at the same time. “This is the first trial of the 21st century in some respects,” Dershowitz claimed, quite accurately, in 1995. “Having a lawyer outside the courtroom monitoring the case who has quick access to research is the wave of the future.” Though the 30 seconds it took to go 3,000 miles does now seem rather quaint. (5/5 Gloves)
Johnnie Cochran’s ex-wife and ex-mistress went on TV together to slam the star attorney
While there’s no evidence that they actually appeared together on a show like Fox’s A Current Affair, the story they tell on this fictitious episode is pretty accurate: Cochran had married Barbara Berry in 1960; several years into the marriage, he struck up a relationship with a woman named Patricia Sikora; after she gave birth to Johnnie’s only son, Sikora took his last name. Though the two women knew about each other on some level, they let the arrangement last for a decade. And as the interviewer points out, court records showed that, during their divorce, Berry had accused Cochran of assault. At this point in the show, Courtney B. Vance’s Cochran lunges at the television. Later as reporters question him outside the courtroom, he dismisses all the allegations as “old gossip.” The prosecutors are shocked. “He’s made of goddamned Teflon,” defense attorney Christopher Darden mutters to his co-counsel, Marcia Clark. That night in bed, Cochran assures his current wife, Dale Mason Cochran, that the matter is done with. And it is.
Not so fast — compared to what really happened, a simple TV appearance would have been a holiday for the lead litigator: In January 1995, the L.A. Times ran a long profile on Cochran, which mentions some court records they had found, alleging that the defense lawyer had beat Berry around the time of their divorce in 1977. His ex-wife declined comment in that story, and Cochran spun it as a legal tactic. “She knows that they are not true,” he told the paper at the time. “We are very good friends to this day.”
But over the next few months Berry began to change her mind. Cochran had been just as violent, she said, as those court documents alleged, and when he offered her cash to keep her mouth shut, she couldn’t take it anymore. So she got her story out there. “If I had been prepared to deny those allegations, I could have negotiated for much more than I received for this book,” she wrote in a tell-all memoir, Life After Johnnie Cochran: Why I Left the Sweetest-Talking, Most Successful Black Lawyer in L.A., published a few weeks before the verdict that fall. “For a person who has been abused to stop seeing herself as a victim, she must stop denying that the abuse ever occurred.”
As People magazine put it, the book “reads less like a vengeful woman’s bid for quick cash than the sad portrait of a painful, often degrading 17-year marriage to a man she describes as ‘deceitful, manipulative, controlling and abusive.'” Words that still stick to his “Teflon” suit 20 years later. (3/5 Gloves)
Darden and Clark took a romantic getaway to San Francisco
“I need a vacation, like, now,” Clark tells Darden, as they watch Cochran talk his way out of his own domestic-violence mess. So Darden does what any caring, flirtatious, somewhat smitten co-worker would do in his situation: invites his cohort on a weekend escape to San Francisco. Though a trip did happen, it would have been acceptable for the writers to make it up, if only for the scene where Sarah Paulson, as a tipsy Ms. Clark, breaks down just how preposterous (and impossible) it would have been for the responding detectives to frame O.J. on the night of the murders.
But back to the real trip: According to Darden’s memoir In Contempt, the two did go to northern California for a brief stay. “We walked along Fisherman’s Wharf, ate and drank and laughed,” he wrote. “In the progressive city of San Francisco, no one stared at a black man walking with a white woman, and for a while we moved undetected.” That painful scene of them saying goodnight in the hotel hallway, pausing just a little too long outside Marcia’s room? Almost. “Much later, we paused at our separate doors, ten feet of papered wall between us,” he wrote. “‘I’ll see you in the morning,’ I said. ‘Good night, Chris.'” Not hovering over her, but down the hall — though given that neither Clark nor Darden have commented definitively on the existence of a physical relationship, it’s doubtful we’ll ever really know what happened that night.
But after the trip, this episode introduces a strange new dynamic between the two: a soured relationship. Clark has complimented the show, and even the portrayal of her relationship with Darden, saying apocryphal scenes like last episode’s late-night office dance capture “the essence of our relationship,” if not the express reality. And so far, it’s all been pretty believable. But in this episode, after Darden fails to give her a kiss — or, perhaps, to invite himself into her room — Clark turns on him. Back at the office, her temper has changed. The show so far seems to be doing its best to vindicate Clark as a feminist icon, so then why have something as petty as a goodnight kiss get in the way of her being the capable lawyer she has been up until now? (3/5 Gloves)
Defense attorney Robert Shapiro wore a police solidarity pin to court
Yes, and everyone noticed. Los Angeles chief of police Willie Williams had started the campaign, stating explicitly that “the pins stood for defending police officers against the accusations leveled at them by O.J. Simpson’s lawyers,” Toobin writes. “Shapiro never made clear just why — other than perhaps sheer perversity — he had decided to wear one.” Strangely, he was just as tough cross-examining the LAPD as were the fellow members of the defense. “Notwithstanding his lapel pin,” the New York Times wrote, “he set out to make [LAPD detective Philip] Vannatter look sloppy or untrustworthy, just as his colleagues, Mr. Cochran and F. Lee Bailey, had done with other witnesses.”
Some in the local media had a cynical, if realistic, take: “Robert L. Shapiro has apparently concluded there will be life after Simpson,” wrote the LA Times. “He’s been busying himself with bait-and-switch sound bites that distance him from the Dream Team, by claiming he would not have played the race card.” There wasn’t just the pin — he knew, no matter what the outcome, O.J. would never be “the Juice” again. (5/5 Gloves)
Did Robert Shapiro really try on the gloves in the courtroom when no one was looking?
Most of the disastrous ACS scene of O.J. trying on the gloves in the courtroom comes straight out of the pages of Toobin’s book — from defense lawyer F. Lee Bailey egging on Darden, whispering that he had “the balls of a stud field mouse” if he didn’t have Simpson try them on, to O.J. awkwardly grimacing and muttering, “too tight,” after his performance. But the scene of John Travolta’s Shapiro slyly tugging a gloves onto his hand without anyone in the courtroom noticing is clearly fiction.
According to Toobin, it was even worse. “The defense lawyers spent much of the [June 15 lunch break] examining — and goofing around with — the gloves. Just about every lawyer tried them on.” Cochran and Shapiro, together, realized that since the gloves didn’t fit them, they probably wouldn’t fit the client, either. This was a fact the prosecutors knew as well; even Vannatter, who according to Toobin had “a big, meaty fist,” saw that they wouldn’t fit. Not that they wouldn’t have fit at some point. “These gloves were several years old, had been through extensive DNA testing, and had several small samples of the leather cut out,” Toobin writes. Clark and Darden had tried to get nearly identical, though new, gloves admitted into evidence for the defendant to try on, but Ito hadn’t allowed it. And even though they offered the jury testimony explaining how the gloves might have shrunk over time, the damage was done. Cochran just had to figure out how to sum it up in an indelible little sound bite, and the case would be his. (1/5 Gloves)
Previously: Episode 6