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OJ Simpson

Crime Files
OJ Simpson

Orenthal James Simpson was born in San Francisco, California on 9 July 1947 to Eunice and Jimmy Lee Simpson, who separated when he was five. As a child, he contracted rickets and wore braces on his legs until he was five. He developed into a promising American football player, playing running and defensive back in high school and college. He was named in the Junior College All-American team as a running back and earned an athletic scholarship to the University of Southern California. There, he broke several records in scoring touchdowns and running yards, and was drafted by the Buffalo Bills in 1969.

Simpson’s first three years with the Buffalo Bills were unremarkable but he is best remembered for his sensational 1973 season, when he became the first back to rush for over 2000 yards, while scoring 12 touchdowns. Simpson led the league in rushing in the years 1972, 1973, 1975 and 1976. He was named United Press International AFC Player of the Year in 1972, 1973 and 1975, and was 1973 NFL Offensive Player of the Year as well as 1973 Most Valuable Player. He was then traded to the San Francisco 49ers in 1978 where he spent two seasons. In 1985, in his first year of eligibility, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

After his retirement from football in 1979, he devoted his time to his budding acting career, most notably in ‘The Naked Gun’ comedic trilogy starring Leslie Nielsen. He also started his own film production company, Orenthal Productions, while being the face of the many products he endorsed, including Hertz rental cars and other food-related products.

In 1967, he married Marguerite L Whitley and the couple had three children; Arnelle (b. 1968), Jason (b. 1970) and Aaren (b. 1977). Aaren drowned in the family pool at the age of two in 1979, while that same year, Simpson and Marguerite divorced.

In 1985, he married Nicole Brown and had two children; Sydney (b. 1985) and Justin (b. 1988). Simpson and Nicole divorced in 1992. Two years later, Simpson would be charged with the murder of Nicole Brown and her friend Ronald Goldman. He would subsequently be acquitted, although he lost a civil suit brought by Fred Goldman, Ronald’s father, where Simpson was ordered to pay $33.5 million in damages.

In 2007, Simpson held up two memorabilia collectors at gunpoint in a hotel room. He was sentenced to 33 years in prison in 2008 for kidnapping and armed robbery and only eligible for parole after nine years.

OJ Simpson's mug shot
Image Credit: Abaca Press / Alamy Stock Photo | Above: A police mugshot of OJ Simpson from the 17th June 1994. Photo taken in Los Angeles, California, USA.

The Aftermath

A year later, Simpson was on trial once more, this time a civil suit brought by Ron Goldman’s father against Simpson. This time, he lost and was ordered to pay $33.5 million in damages. This was due to the fact that in a civil suit, a defendant cannot plead the Fifth Amendment and refuse to testify. Also, the burden of proof in a civil action is much lower than in a criminal case.

Simpson paid a tiny percentage of the ordered damages. His house was repossessed and sold but he was practically bankrupt from the lawyers’ fees and owed back taxes and mortgage repayments. His NFL pension could not be touched by the courts. He also moved to Florida and under Floridian law, his earnings could not be seized to pay the damages awarded against in the civil trial.

The OJ criminal trial underlined how media-driven certain cases in America could become. Cases like van Bulow and OJ Simpson only serve to highlight the importance not only of an astute attorney versed in the law and the mechanics of the legal system but also of a shrewd manipulator of the media. The defence team served its purpose while earning large amounts of money. They cast doubt on the prosecution’s evidence and fought tooth and nail to confuse the jury that they had practically selected to be as favourable to their client as possible. The theatrics of Cochran, the incisiveness of Dershowitz and the canny erudition of Neufeld and Scheck all contributed to save Simpson, in the face of almost overwhelming forensic evidence, from years in prison.

The Crimes

At around midnight on 13 June 1994, the bodies of Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown were discovered by a dog-walker outside Brown’s condominium in Brentwood, Los Angeles. Brown’s 5'5", 129-pound frame was bloodied from a massive gash in her neck; she was almost decapitated, such was the depth of the wound. She had also been stabbed in the neck and head, and her hands were in a defensive position as if to ward off the attack. Goldman, 5'9", 171 pounds, lay 10 feet away from Brown; his neck was slashed, and he had been stabbed 19 times in total. Both of them had large contusions on the back of their heads, indicating blunt force trauma. Nearby, police found a brown leather left-hand glove and a knitted cap.

The Arrest

Attempts to contact Simpson turned up the information that he had left his North Rockingham Avenue house at 11:15 pm to catch an 11:45 pm flight to Chicago for a golf game. He arrived at the O’Hare Plaza Hotel in Chicago at 4:15 am, and was contacted and informed of the deaths at 5:45 am, upon which he checked out of the hotel, and caught the 7:41 am flight back to Los Angeles. At around midday, he was taken voluntarily to police headquarters, where he was questioned. He was then fingerprinted and photographed, and a sample of his blood was taken. It was noted that his middle finger was bandaged; it had been cut when he broke a glass, he explained.

While waiting for Simpson to return to Los Angeles, police searched the grounds of the Simpson property. The detectives found a white Ford Bronco that was owned by the Hertz Corporation, for which Simpson was a spokesman; in it were several packages with “Orenthal Products” on them and on its door handles were blood stains. Detectives also found a blood-stained brown leather right-hand glove and a trail of blood drops was found leading from the Bronco up the driveway to the front door. Later that morning, Chicago police searched Simpson’s hotel room, where they found drops of blood on the bathroom sink, a broken glass and a bloody washcloth.On 16 June, Brown was buried in Orange County, attended by Simpson, family and friends. More importantly however, preliminary DNA tests confirmed that day that the blood present on the glove, found on Simpson’s property, belonged to Simpson and to both of the victims. Along with eyewitness evidence that Simpson had been driving the Ford Bronco at around 11 pm, an arrest warrant was approved and issued for the arrest of OJ Simpson on 17 June 1994.

Simpson could not be immediately located and the hunt was soon on for the fugitive. His suicide note was read out by his friend, lawyer Robert Kardashian. Simpson’s car was soon spotted on the highway but Simpson’s fellow passenger, Al Cowling, dialled 911 and warned that Simpson possessed a gun and appeared suicidal. The slow-speed chase attracted the media, with NBC even interrupting their coverage of the 1994 NBA Finals to cover the chase, and large crowds gathered on the interstate to watch the convoy led by Simpson’s car, as negotiators tried to talk to Simpson. It ended when the negotiating team finally managed to convince Simpson to accept arrest.

OJ Simpson in 1990
Editorial credit: Vicki L. Miller /



9 July 1947

The Victims 

12 June 1994 – Nicole Brown Simpson (b. 19 May 1959) 

12 June 1994 – Ronald Lyle Goldman (b. 2 July 1968)


17 June 1994, Los Angeles – Orenthal James Simpson, 47


21 June 1994 – Grand jury called 

23 June 1994 – Grand jury dismissed 

8 July 1994 – California Superior Court judge ruled that there was ample evidence to try Simpson for the murders 

24 January 1995 – Trial begins 

28 September 1995 – Defence’s closing statements 

3 October 1995 – Simpson found not guilty on two counts of murder

The Trial

On 23 January 1995, OJ Simpson finally went on trial on two counts of murder. He pleaded not guilty to both counts and soon assembled the ‘Dream Team’; his group of highly paid and ruthless lawyers that included legendary civil defence advocates like Alan Dershowitz, F Lee Bailey, Robert Kardashian, Johnnie Cochran, Robert Shapiro and specialist DNA evidence lawyers Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld. Their first task was to filibuster the jury selection and ensure a favourable jury. The lawyers, Cochran in particular, decided from very early on that ethnicity and race would be a major factor in ensuring Simpson was not found guilty, and they got their favourable jury. The final composition was eight black females, two white females, one black male and one Hispanic male. The defence believed that black females would be more likely to be sympathetic to Simpson.

On the other side of the courtroom were District Attorney and lead prosecutor Marcia Clark, and Christopher Darden, Assistant District Attorney. Clark had a reputation as a tough, determined and hard litigator, born out of her traumatic life (she was raped as a teenager while travelling in Europe and was a survivor of two abusive marriages) and her time in Special Trials Unit. Sitting in the chair was Judge Lance Ito, a Japanese-American whose parents had been interned during the Second World War. His appointment was seen as a wise political choice, particularly because of his race.

The prosecution’s case was simple; Simpson had an abusive relationship with Brown while they were together; he was jealous of her and her relationship with Goldman after they divorced; he had no alibi for the timeframe of the murders. He had left his footprints, his cap with his hairs attached to it and at least eight separate drops of his blood at Brown’s condominium. At his home, he had dropped a glove that matched the one he left near the bodies and this one contained Goldman's blood. In his bedroom, his socks were splattered with Nicole's blood. In his Ford Bronco, there were samples of both Nicole's and Goldman's blood.

The defence’s case was simple. Simpson was completely innocent; the crime of which he had been accused was a fabrication, framed by malicious police officers and incompetent lab technicians. Simpson was yet another black victim of the white judicial system, on trial because he was black. The 1991 beating of Rodney King, the trial and acquittal of the white police officers, and the subsequent riots were still fresh in everyone’s minds.

Thus, the second thing the defence did was to call into question the motives and personal convictions of the police officers involved, specifically Detective Mark Fuhrman, alleging that he held racist views and patterns of behaviour; Cochran even compared him to Adolf Hitler. They also alleged that he had planted the glove on Simpson’s property. They then challenged the legitimacy of the original search warrant; Judge Ito, although criticising the way the search warrant had been sought and compiled, upheld the warrant and admitted the challenged evidence.

Thirdly, the defence sought to ambush the prosecution by springing surprise witnesses on them. Under the rules of California's reciprocal discovery law, both prosecution and defence were bound to disclose all information relating to witnesses they intended to call. The defence ignored this, and Judge Ito was deaf to the pleas of the prosecution, who had to endure 26 unexpected unannounced witnesses.

Fourthly, the defence picked apart the physical evidence that the prosecution had amassed, including so-called ‘procedural deficiencies’ that introduced elements of doubt over the reliability of the evidence. For example, the blood sample that Simpson gave on his visit to the police after his return to Chicago had been carried around by the police for several hours rather than being taken immediately to a police lab. As a result, some of the samples was missing, ostensibly used to contaminate the crime scene and frame Simpson.

Finally, the defence sought to discredit the prosecution’s DNA evidence and their main attack came from Scheck and Neufeld. They were two very experienced civil rights lawyers and scientists, both were also founders of the pro-bono Innocence Project that uses DNA testing to help free people who were wrongfully convicted. They first accused the forensic team of malice in altering evidence, then they levelled the charge that the team was incompetent. One of their main thrusts was that the collection of blood samples was sloppy and was carried out by an unsupervised junior member of the team.

The esoteric technicalities of DNA collection and testing were beyond most of the laymen on the jury, and both Scheck and Neufeld took advantage of this fact. Even though experts for the prosecution insisted that the odds that the blood found near the bodies could have come from anyone other than Simpson were one in 170 million, Scheck and Neufeld laid out a series of complex hypothetical questions that confused even the experts, let alone the jury. The bottom line was that doubt was cast on the integrity of the DNA evidence and the prosecution experts lost the jury in the maze of science.

The final straw was when the prosecution asked Simpson to try on the glove. It did not fit and although the prosecution tried to argue that the glove had shrunk from being soaked in blood, frozen and unfrozen, and extensively tested, the damage had been done. On 3 October 1995, a verdict of ‘Not Guilty’ was returned by the jury.