With a hard swipe at Mark Fuhrman and a gentle recitation of key evidence, assistant district attorney Marcia Clark Tuesday began the task of persuading jurors that an American football star committed a savage double murder.
“You have a wealth of evidence in this case, all pointing at one person: the defendant,” Clark said on the first day of her closing argument, part of which she made without television or radio coverage.
Judge Lance Ito briefly pulled the plug, then rescinded his order and fined the media $1,500 instead, because he said a television camera had improperly shown O.J. Simpson writing a note to one of his lawyers.
“It’s a very flagrant violation and intrusion into the attorney-client privilege. … The television coverage is terminated,” Ito said. But observers could not see what Simpson’s was writing, so it appeared Ito had either been misinformed or had used the incident as a pretext to shut off the cameras.
The blackout was an unexpected move that infuriated Simpson’s lawyers, the media, viewers and legal analysts, who questioned not only Ito’s motives but his authority to take such action - especially as the trial entered its concluding stages.
During Clark’s presentation, she consistently referred to Simpson only as “the defendant” as she tried to tie together months of loose ends.
She also sought to pre-empt the “inflammatory distractions” she predicted the defense would offer during its summation.
“You don’t need science … you just need reason and logic,” said Clark, who initially seemed tired but gathered momentum as she appealed to the jury to “weed out” the truth about who killed Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman on June 12, 1994. She said part of that effort would involve setting aside negative feelings engendered by Fuhrman.
“Is he a racist? Yes. … Should such a person be a police officer? No. In fact, do we wish there was no such person on the planet? Yes,” Clark said during a series of questions and answers she used to underscore the prosecution’s “disgust” for Fuhrman. “But the fact that Mark Fuhrman is a racist and lied about it on the witness stand does not mean that we haven’t proven the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Her closing statement, which is expected to last up to three days, began in characteristic fashion for this contentious case: about 1-1/2 hours late, after bitter arguments about what each side should be allowed to say. “I see we’re in fighting moods today,” Ito said early in the day.
Clark’s manner was anything but combative once the jury entered shortly after 10:30 a.m., though. She began by trying to connect with the jurors, giving them words of encouragement and thanks, and apologizing for their long sequestration.
Then, piece by piece, she attempted to construct a scenario in which a jealous, frustrated husband brutally slashes his wife to death, along with a friend who happened onto the scene.
Clark said she wanted to put together three major pieces of a puzzle: the cut on Simpson’s hand, which she said was sustained during the murders, his opportunity to commit the crime, and his conduct afterward.
A pivotal part of Clark’s presentation was an effort to show that Simpson had no alibi from 9:36 p.m., when he returned from McDonald’s with Kato Kaelin, to about 10:55 p.m., after a limousine driver saw a tall black man enter the former football player’s estate.
Clark used a large display board containing a timeline derived from the testimony of various witnesses. The board was titled: “Where was the defendant?” At its center was the prosecution’s response: “Defendant’s whereabouts unknown.”
Clark also offered an explicit explanation for the thumps Kaelin heard the night of the murders. She said Simpson, harried because Goldman’s arrival had slowed his murder schedule, bumped his head on the air conditioner outside Kaelin’s room and that caused him to bump into the wall.
Also for the first time, Clark suggested a damning reason why Simpson asked Kaelin for money to tip the skycaps at the airport that night - to essentially create an alibi witness who knew where he was at a given time.
Such details represented an essential component of Clark’s objective, which was to paint as dark and conniving a picture of Simpson as possible before his lawyers get their turn. She warned the defense team would not only try to distract the jurors, but also to “scare you away from the evidence” with tales of police conspiracies and misconduct.
“The defendant was frazzled, ladies and gentlemen. He needed time … to wash off the blood,” Clark said, offering her view of why Simpson took so long to open his estate gate for the limousine driver, Alan Park.
Trying to fill in some blanks created during the evidentiary phase of trial, Clark asked why blood was found in Simpson’s foyer, his bathroom and on his driveway, but not in between those areas. Prosecutors maintain he cut himself during the murders, while the defense contends at least some of the blood was planted by police.
Clark suggested Simpson had bled going into his house, stopped the bleeding in his bathroom, then reopened the cut when he went to his Bronco to get the cellular phone before entering the limo. That also implicitly addressed the origin of a blood drop found on the automobile’s door handle.
Simpson took notes and looked interested as Clark spoke, but he was not particularly animated. Members of all the families involved in this drama also listened intently, as the jury generally did.