The presentation of evidence in the O.J. Simpson murder trial concluded dramatically Friday as both sides rested their cases and Simpson delivered a bombshell statement proclaiming that he “did not, could not and would not have committed this crime.”
Deputy District Attorney Marcia Clark pleaded with Superior Court Judge Lance Ito not to allow Simpson to speak in court, even without the jury present, for fear that his remarks might trickle into the jury room - perhaps through the twice-a-week family visits that represent the sequestered jury’s only direct contact with the outside world.
“It is inappropriate, and it is done very deliberately by the defense for a clear purpose,” she said forcefully after Simpson attorney Johnnie Cochran Jr. announced Simpson’s desire to address Ito to waive his right to testify. “Please don’t do this, Your Honor. I beg you, I beg you.”
Cochran shrugged off that objection, caustically reminding the judge that “this is still America, and we can talk.”
But Ito, while retorting that he had the right to control order in his courtroom, never explicitly ruled on Clark’s objection. Instead, he said good morning to the defendant and then sat silently as Simpson rose to his feet and began to speak.
“As much as I would like to address some of the misrepresentations made (about) myself and Nicole concerning our life together, I am mindful of the mood and the stamina of this jury,” Simpson began, his eyes darting around the silent, electrified courtroom, whose audience has never heard such a detailed statement from the defendant. Simpson has pleaded not guilty to the murders of Ronald Lyle Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson.
“I have confidence, a lot more, it seems, than Miss Clark has, of their integrity,” he continued, “and that they will find as the record stands now that I did not, could not and would not have committed this crime.”
Then, his voice suddenly tightening, Simpson added: “I have four kids, two kids I haven’t seen in a year. They ask me every week: ‘Dad, how much longer?’ “
Ito started to interrupt, so Simpson hurriedly finished.
“I want this trial over,” he said. “Thank you.”
With that, Simpson sat down, never having waived his right to testify - the ostensible reason for being allowed to speak. Ito reminded him of that, and Simpson agreed to rest his case without taking the stand.
The bizarre episode infuriated Clark, who dared Simpson to take the stand so that she and he could “have a discussion.”
“Since he would like to make these statements to the court,” said Clark, her voice hard with exasperation and exhaustion, “I would like the opportunity to examine him about them. May he take a seat in the blue chair and we’ll have a discussion?”
Simpson did not flinch. Ito, his expression flat but his voice tinged with frustration, did not respond except to say “thank you.”
Outside court, members of the victims’ families expressed anger - and legal analysts voiced disbelief - at Ito’s decision to allow Simpson to deliver the short speech.
“It’s disturbing, and it’s outrageous,” said Fred Goldman, who had clenched his jaw and stared hard as Simpson spoke in court, muttering to himself and to his wife, Patti Goldman. “I want this man convicted and in jail where he belongs.”
Noting that Simpson had declined to testify in his own defense, Goldman blasted the man accused of killing his son. “If he had a statement to make,” he said, “he should have gotten on the damn stand and said something and not been a coward.”
Los Angeles County District Attorney Gil Garcetti, who has become increasingly vocal in his criticisms of Ito in recent weeks, said he too was unhappy with the decision to let Simpson speak on his own behalf.
“In my opinion,” he said, “it was grossly inappropriate to permit Mr. Simpson to, in effect, testify without taking the stand and without subjecting himself to cross-examination.”
That view was echoed by several legal analysts, including Peter Arenella, a University of California, Los Angeles law professor, who said he was stunned by Ito’s latest move.
“What is Judge Ito thinking about?” he asked. “Marcia Clark gave him fair warning as to what was about to happen, and Ito nevertheless let O.J. make his public appeal, both to this jury - through pillow talk - and to the next jury, if this jury hangs.”