Though it only took the producers of The People v O.J. Simpson 10 weeks to get through the saga, by the end of the actual, 16-month ordeal, Americans were ready for an end — none moreso than the opposing counsels and the Juice himself. As the show opens, after much back and forth, the defendant decides not to testify, instead giving the court a brief, blubbering statement declaring his innocence — which, as journalist Jeffrey Toobin has described, was just “another snapshot of Simpson’s narcissism.”
We’re going to miss a lot about this first season of ACS, and not just Cuba Gooding’s see-through take on the famous future felon. No David Schwimmer’s sad and terrified Robert Kardashian; no more of John Travolta’s slit-eyed smiles as defense attorney Robert Shapiro; and perhaps worst of all, no more weekly reminders of just how hard prosecutor Marcia Clark had it, courtesy of the supremely talented Sarah Paulson. However, there’s plenty to love in the season finale, from one juror flashing a black power fist, to O.J.’s guard leaking the news of the not-guilty verdict to the man himself, this episode does an excellent job of sticking close to the facts from the primary source material, Toobin’s The Run of His Life. Below, five details from the season finale, fact checked and rated on a one-to-five “Glove” scale.
The prosecution showed that the gloves belonged to OJ, but defense attorney Johnnie Cochran trumped their proof
Even though Cochran would later admit that the phrase was concocted by defense lawyer Gerry Uelmen, the show has the attorney brainstorming the famous “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit” sound bite that would become his most memorable catchphrase. But we also see Clark explaining to the jury how O.J. Simpson had been seen at numerous football games wearing the exact gloves that supposedly didn’t fit him in court — which absolutely happened. People who had taken snapshots of the Juice began going through their photos to see if there were any of him wearing leather gloves. There were, of course, many. “The first, taken on December 29, 1990, was the most striking,” writes Toobin. (That’s just 11 days after the gloves were supposedly bought for him by Nicole.) “The glove not only had identical features to the Aris model recovered in 1994, but this glove also looked tight on Simpson’s hand, just as the evidence gloves had. Richard Rubin, the glove expert, returned to the stand to say that he was ‘100 percent certain’ that the gloves in the photographs were those rare Aris Lights.” (4/5 Gloves)
The Nation of Islam provided security for Cochran in the final days of the trial
It was not a surprise that the lead defense lawyer hired extra protection in the later days of the case; someone with his outspoken, incendiary views was bound to receive his share of threats. What struck some onlookers as tone-deaf, however, was just who he chose: Louis Farrakhan’s security team. The leader of the controversial Nation of Islam was not a well-liked figure, having been accused many times of being anti-Jewish and anti-white. So the presence of the guards, recognizable by their unique bow ties, was particularly distressing to victim Ron Goldman’s father Fred, who is Jewish. (As the Southern Poverty Law Center described him, Farrakhan is “an anti-Semite who routinely accuses Jews of manipulating the U.S. government and controlling the levers of world power.”) And they didn’t just show up for the verdict, as they do on the show — they’d been around for several days, a quiet if palpable presence in the courtroom. “They certainly were diligent,” noted the LA Times. “Two even followed Cochran into the men’s room.” (4/5 Gloves)
The jury deliberated for only four hours, when everyone expected them to be gone for months
“Call me in a month, to say hi,” says Marcia Clark to fellow prosecutor Chris Darden, as she gets into the courthouse elevator early on in the episode. Legal experts had predicted it would take at least a few days, if not months, to sort out the verdict. So it was a surprise to everyone, especially the lawyers, when the jury turned around the verdict in less than four hours.
It didn’t, however, happen exactly as it did on the show, which seems to present it as one long day that began with closing arguments and ended with O.J. being set free. As Toobin documents in his book, the jury was released back to their hotel after the closing arguments on Friday, September 29, and weren’t allowed to discuss the case until Monday morning. But everyone was ready to split as quick as they could — and not just the jury. They were told to have all their belongings packed for each morning they would be deliberating, even though Judge Lance Ito had ordered they’d have to wait until the day after they’d reached a verdict to report it to the public and the court. “But this pointlessly strict policy by the sheriff’s deputies represented at least a subconscious cue to the jurors to reach a quick decision.”
So the following Monday they arrived at the court, sat down around 9:15, took a quick poll — 10 for non-guilty, 2 for guilty, as is presented on the show — and had a decision before 3pm. Minus the lunch break and 75 minutes of the court reporter reading back some testimony the jury had requested, all in all they’d spent roughly two hours discussing the Simpson case — which was, as Toobin notes, “less time than most other adults in America.” (3/5 Gloves)
The entire world watched as the verdict was read
Because the trial was airing on live television, explains Toobin, “the announcement of the verdict became a nationally shared experience — one on par, incredibly, with the assassination of John F. Kennedy.” So when the show flashes to the coverage of the case being broadcast in Times Square, it’s dead accurate; people even leaned out of their office windows and cab drivers stepped out of their cars to watch what was happening. On the West Coast, the LAPD was prepped for the worst, still vividly remembering the 1992 Rodney King riots in Los Angeles, when 53 people were killed. But the 24-hour news media, which had come of age during the “trial of the century,” was just as prepared: According to Toobin, “NBC had forty camera crews ready to roll for reaction to the verdict [and] ABC had assigned four producers to each juror.” The images they captured just proved how deeply the country was divided: crowds of black people celebrating in the street, crowds of white people shaking their heads in disbelief. Even President Bill Clinton commented on the verdict, saying he was shocked by how the trial was putting a lens on a problem most had hoped was dissipating. “Though I thought I knew a lot about how people of different races viewed things in America, I have been surprised by the depth of the divergence in so many areas,” he said. (5/5 Gloves)
O.J. lost was acquitted of the murder charges, but was still found liable in a wrongful death suit
This is maybe the most confusing part of the entire O.J. story — how was he let off the hook for murder, and still found responsible in a wrongful death lawsuit brought by Fred Goldman. It’s baffling even to Toobin: “Wrongful death lawsuits following criminal convictions are extremely rare,” he wrote. “I was never able to find a single example of a civil case after a criminal acquittal for murder.” Yet it makes sense that Simpson lost, given the different burdens of proof that come with a civil trial as opposed to a criminal homicide.
For a murder charge, the jury has to prove “beyond a shadow of a doubt” that the Juice had committed the crimes. However, for a civil judgment, they only had to prove that there was a “preponderance of evidence” that the crime was committed — i.e., it was more likely than not that he committed the crimes. (Since he couldn’t be found criminally responsible for the crimes at this court, double jeopardy didn’t apply.) Not only did they have an all-white jury, the judge was about as far from Ito as one could imagine, and he had little patience for the defense’s disregard for evidence. While the trial was much shorter (only about four months long), the jury took their time. The group of 12 on this case took five days to come back with the verdict, and O.J. was ordered to pay $33.5 million. He came up about $33 million short. (2/5 Gloves)
Previously: Episode 9