October 4, 1995 in Nation/World

Nation Watches O.J. Go Free Acquittal Ends Nine-Month Courtroom Spectacle

From Wire Reports
 
Tags:trial

O.J. Simpson walked out of the courthouse a free man Tuesday after being acquitted in the murders of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman.

Back home in his Brentwood estate, Simpson was embraced by his childhood friend, Al Cowlings, who drove the Bronco in the unforgettable freeway chase that marked the beginning of what would become the United States’ most extraordinary criminal case.

Simpson stood and faced the jury as the unanimous verdict was read. When he heard the words “not guilty,” he broke into a broad grin, leaned back into the arms of lawyer Johnnie Cochran, waved at the jury and mouthed the words, “Thank you, thank you.”

Behind him, his son, Jason, 25, buried his head in his hands and wept. Across the room, Goldman’s sister, Kim, sobbed aloud. Her father, Fred, appeared stunned, as did Simpson’s former in-laws, Louis and Juditha Brown, who listened in stony silence and then left the courtroom with their three daughters, Denise, Dominique and Tanya.

One of the two men on the jury, a 44-year-old marketing representative, nodded and smiled at Simpson as he entered the courtroom. After the verdict was read, he gave Simpson a clenched fist sign in a show of support.

The jurors gave no immediate explanation for their verdict; indeed, they pointedly rejected invitations to speak to the lawyers in the case and to the news media. They left both sides, and the country at large, to puzzle over the swift and sudden verdict, which they reached after less than four hours of deliberation.

Later, another juror, Brenda Moran, a 45-year-old computer technician who was besieged by reporters at her home, justified the speedy decision.

“Well, we’ve been there for nine months,” she said. “We don’t need to take another nine months.”

The verdict brought an end to the most spectacular, most-publicized murder case in the annuls of American criminal law, a case that shed light and sparked debate on some of the most troubling issues of our time: racism, domestic violence and the criminal-justice system.

As the time approached Tuesday for the jury’s verdict to be read before the court, the nation froze - in workplaces, homes, government buildings and in the streets - to watch the proceedings culminating 15 months of drama. AT&T; and MCI said long-distance calls dropped by more than 50 percent around 1 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time. Trading on the New York Stock Exchange slipped to one-third normal volume.

President Clinton stopped writing a veto message at his Oval Office desk and went to the nearby alcove of his personal secretary, Betty Currie, to watch the proceedings on a TV set, White House press secretary Mike McCurry told reporters. When he heard the acquittal, Clinton looked “somber” but unsurprised, McCurry said.

“The jury heard the evidence and rendered its verdict,” Clinton said in a statement. “Our system of justice requires respect for their decision. At this moment, our thoughts and prayers should be with the victims of this terrible crime.”

Simpson was spirited away from the courthouse immediately after the verdict and did not attend a news conference held by the defense team and family members in Judge Lance Ito’s courtroom. In a prepared statement read by his son, he expressed relief that his “nightmare” was over and said he would dedicate himself to solving the murders.

In part, the statement read, “… when things have settled a bit, I will pursue, as my primary goal in life, the killer or killers who slaughtered Nicole and Mr. Goldman. They are out there somewhere. Whatever it takes to identify them and bring them in, I will provide somehow.”

Police Chief Willie Williams, however, said he had no plans to reopen the investigation.

“It doesn’t mean there’s another murderer,” Williams said of the acquittals.

In his statement, Simpson also noted that many will surmise he is guilty, acquittal or no acquittal.

“I can only hope that someday, despite every prejudicial thing that has been said about me publicly, both in and out of the courtroom, people will come to understand and believe that I would not, could not and did not kill anyone,” his statement said.

Simpson’s sister, Carmelita Durio, said the family spent the night on “an emotional roller coaster,” praying together and steeling themselves for what lay ahead.

Her sister, Shirley Baker, who joined Durio in the courtroom almost every day at the trial, said she was elated.

“I just feel like standing on top of this table and doing a jig,” Baker told reporters.

Upstairs, at an emotional news conference in the district attorney’s office, Goldman’s father wept over the verdict. “June 13, 1994, was the worst nightmare of my life,” he said, choking back sobs. “This is the second.” He also said the prosecution did not lose, but that “this country lost today.”

A grim-faced Los Angeles District Attorney Gil Garcetti said in a news conference after the verdict that his office would not reopen the case and made clear he believed a guilty man had gone free. “I stand in front of you, we all stand in front of you, with the belief that the evidence was there,” he told reporters. “This was not in our opinion a close case.”

Deputy District Attorney Marcia Clark, who until Tuesday had not lost a case in 10 years, called the prosecution effort “a dignified fight” and thanked her team and asked people to maintain their faith in the system.

Outside the courthouse, cheers went up from some members of the crowd that massed behind police barricades across the street in the shade of the now boarded-up Department of Justice building where Charles Manson was tried more than two decades ago.

Simpson still faces three civil suits that were filed earlier this year by the Goldmans and the Browns.

Lou Brown, Nicole’s father, said late Tuesday that the family would not try to fight Simpson for custody of their two grandchildren, Sydney and Justin. “We gain nothing by fighting. Infighting in a family is never healthy.” Earlier Tuesday, Juditha Brown had said she would have no comment on whether the Browns would relinquish custody of the children.

At a defense team news conference, Cochran insisted the issue of race, which he played heavily in the trial, did not overcome the facts.

“This verdict speaks justice,” Cochran said. “This was a case based upon the evidence.”

He denied playing “the race card,” saying instead that credibility had won out.

“Race plays a part in everything in America,” he said. “But this stuff about playing a race card is preposterous.”

But fellow defense attorney Robert Shapiro disagreed, saying he was “deeply offended” that Cochran had compared the police detective who found the bloody glove to Adolf Hitler. He said would never work with Cochran again and would never talk to attorney F. Lee Bailey.

“To me the Holocaust stands alone as the most horrible human event in modern civilization,” Shapiro said. “And with the Holocaust came Adolf Hitler, and to compare this in any way to a rogue cop, in my opinion, was wrong.”

He said of Cochran: “He believes that everything in America is related to race. I do not.”

Although it was his decision to bring Bailey into the case, Shapiro said he was angry when the legendary attorney took a courtroom role and cross-examined witnesses.

“I will never talk to F. Lee Bailey again,” he said.

Since Simpson’s arrest June 17, 1994, the case has shattered one court record after another and chalked up more unprecedented developments than any case in memory. It has made the careers of some people and tarnished others, from the judge to the lawyers to the witnesses whose personal lives became grist for the nation’s tabloids. The jurors, too, will find their lives will never be the same.

Tuesday night, Simpson, who had been an inmate at the downtown jail here, slept in his sumptuous Tudor-style home for the first time in 474 days.

Deliberations in the case began Monday. The jury reached a verdict after hearing only one read-back, dealing with the testimony of a limo driver. Ito held the decision overnight so Simpson’s lawyers could be present when the verdict was read.

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: What they’re saying “I can only hope that someday, despite every prejudicial thing that has been said about me publicly, both in and out of the courtroom, people will come to understand and believe that I would not, could not and did not kill anyone.” O.J. Simpson

“This prosecution team did not lose today. I deeply believe that this country lost today. Justice was not served.” Fred Goldman

“We should not write off America. The legal system that made this case last for over a year was not created by evil people who rejoice in the guilty going free. This imperfect instrument exists to prevent innocent people from going to prison. It will survive an O.J. acquittal.” Peter McKay London Evening Standard columnist

This sidebar appeared with the story: What they’re saying “I can only hope that someday, despite every prejudicial thing that has been said about me publicly, both in and out of the courtroom, people will come to understand and believe that I would not, could not and did not kill anyone.” O.J. Simpson

“This prosecution team did not lose today. I deeply believe that this country lost today. Justice was not served.” Fred Goldman

“We should not write off America. The legal system that made this case last for over a year was not created by evil people who rejoice in the guilty going free. This imperfect instrument exists to prevent innocent people from going to prison. It will survive an O.J. acquittal.” Peter McKay London Evening Standard columnist

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