After a grueling eight months of testimony and legal wrangling, the lawyers in the O.J. Simpson case are girding for closing arguments that begin today before a long-suffering jury and a worldwide audience.
“It is in summation that lawyers earn their keep,” New York University law professor Stephen Gillers said Monday.
Both sides labored through the weekend on what will be their last chance to prevail in the case. At 10 p.m. Sunday, prosecutors were still at work on the 18th floor of the courthouse trying to hammer out a compelling and cohesive narrative that points to Simpson’s guilt in the murders of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ronald Goldman.
Gillers was one of several legal experts interviewed Monday who believed the prosecution had lost ground during the trial and was now in a come-from-behind position. Part of the problem, Gillers and others said, was with lead prosecutor Marcia Clark herself, who is regarded as brilliant, but not particularly well-liked by the jury because of her combative manner in the courtroom.
“The great lesson here for trial lawyers around the globe is that optimism and confidence are contagious,” Gillers said. “And Johnnie Cochran knows how to broadcast both. He has barely faltered at all in telegraphing these qualities.”
Gigi Gordon, a Los Angeles defense lawyer who has become a regular commentator on the Simpson case, agreed. “I don’t think she has any personal bond with the jury,” Gordon said. “In order to persuade people, they have to like you. With so many lawyers on each side there is no shining beacon in that courtroom except for Johnnie.”
Gordon also cited weaknesses in the prosecution’s case. “They have very little actual hard evidence of what happened and why O.J. Simpson would pick that day and that moment to kill her,” Gordon said. “She could actually pull the rabbit out of the hat, but she has to bring them back to a really simple proposition, either that O.J. Simpson is the unluckiest guy in the world or the guiltiest. Everything points to him.”
Prosecutors have, in fact, presented a staggering amount of physical evidence linking Simpson to the crime scene.
Gordon said Clark will have to underscore that evidence, and persuade the jurors that they can’t chalk it up to coincidence. “Here we have his ex-wife, a glove of the same type that he wears, fibers of a similar type to his vehicle (a Ford Bronco), shoe prints that match his shoe size, his blood at the scene, blood in his vehicle,” Gordon said. “It’s almost as if you have every period of his (Simpson’s) time accounted for except this window of time when the murders occurred, and any way you look at it, he could have gone through that window.”