Few court cases are public enough or on a large enough scale to be readily remembered over a decade and a half later. To achieve a title like “Trial of the Century” requires a variety of salacious elements including but not limited to a handsome star athlete, a tragically murdered beautiful ex-wife, and a charismatic lawyer with a penchant for coining easily quotable rhyming phrases. If you throw in enough memorable rhyming one-liners like, “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit,” a trial becomes an event even the least litigiously-minded child can get into.
The OJ Simpson trial had a little something for everyone: sports, beauty, crimes of passion, Bronco chases, and bloody gloves. TV networks quickly realized they could capitalize on the trial for cheap footage that required no writing or casting, sustainable with just an obvious interjection or two from a blandly attractive pundit. In an age before reality TV, the OJ Simpson trial satisfied our basest instinct to watch others’ horrifying real lives unfold before us as we quietly chomped popcorn on the sofa.
With the publicity surrounding the trial, suddenly the most mundane individuals had the potential to become stars. Lawyers, judges, and even Nicole Brown’s murder-alerting pet Akita quickly morphed into overnight celebrities. While ordinarily we may not view lawyers as the most exciting of paparazzi targets, during the OJ Simpson trial they achieved a level of fame that eventually afforded their widowed wives and children to become an E! network television spectacle. I’m looking at you, Kardashians.
It’s astounding that many of us can not remember what we ate for breakfast, but we can readily retrieve years-old information about Robert Shapiro, Judge Ito, and Johnnie Cochran. With the duration of the trial stretching out over nine long months, these everyday professionals were cast as heroes and villains in a live courtroom drama. With the combination of the most heavily publicized and longest running trial-by-jury in the state of California, all its players ascended to astronomical fame throughout its run.
In June of 1994, a series of events occurred that we soon grew to know with familiarity akin to events that befell our own friends and families. Nicole Brown Simpson and friend Ron Goldman were stabbed outside Brown’s apartment in Los Angeles. With Brown’s ex-husband OJ Simpson emerging as the lead suspect, the LAPD called for his arrest. In one of the most bizarre car chases ever televised, the police tailed Simpson’s white Ford Bronco driven by his friend Al Cowlings at a whopping 35 miles per hour. 35 miles per hour. What kind of driving training are our police officers getting? Even at nine years old, I found it a bit troubling that Simpson could have been leading the cops around the interstate on a tractor and still maintain a sizable lead.
This single event led to months of legal proceedings, with witnesses emerging from the woodwork to sell their stories for impressive sums to disreputable tabloid publications or cheesy television talk shows. Throughout the course of the trial, it seemed the public had an insatiable appetite for information and live coverage of the case. Following Simpson’s plea of not guilty, the trial quickly erupted into a nine month long media circus complete with televised coverage of courtroom testimony.
In the end, the jury found Simpson not guilty. Children and adults alike interrupted their daily school or work schedules to hear the eventual verdict on the radio. Late night talk show hosts ran low on jokes, Court TV ran low on material, and those of us rapt with attention at the details of the case returned to our normal, OJ-free lives.
Simpson’s acquittal was not the end of the story, of course. In 2006, Simpson released a completely absurd book clearly free of damage control publicist intervention entitled If I Did It. Everyone knows that if you didn’t commit a crime, the greatest way to uphold your legally cleared name is to publish a detailed account of how you might have gotten the job done.
In a maelstrom of public criticism and controversy, publication of If I Did It was called off. In typical post-90s technology age fashion, the content found its way onto the internet, resulting in a siege of outrage against Simpson’s tactless and thoughtless attempt to stir up self destructive publicity. If you’re interested, simply do an online search for the book and decide for yourself. The glove that did not fit may have prompted the jury to acquit, but Simpson’s self-induced media frenzy more likely led to a public indictment.