Fifteen months after O.J. Simpson’s acquittal, the chasm between blacks and whites over his guilt or innocence has narrowed somewhat, an Associated Press poll found.
Just 18 percent of whites - but 58 percent of blacks - think the verdict was right, down from as much as a third of whites and nearly nine in 10 blacks in earlier polls.
The poll was taken Jan. 15-20, after the defense rested in the civil trial in which Simpson testified for the first time and was confronted by new evidence, including dozens of photos of him in Bruno Magli shoes of the sort worn by the killer.
The reason for the narrowing is not so much a growing belief that Simpson is guilty. Rather, both races are becoming uncertain: A quarter of blacks and whites alike can’t or won’t say whether Simpson murdered Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman.
Asked if Simpson was credible when he testified at his civil trial, 43 percent say no, 28 percent yes, and the rest are not sure. Of the three in 10 adults who say they are following the case closely, Simpson is not considered a credible witness by 51 percent to 32 percent.
The poll of 1,059 adults was conducted by telephone by ICR of Media, Pa. Results have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points overall, and 8.5 points for the 133 black respondents.
Although a jury cleared Simpson of murder on Oct. 3, 1995, he awoke to headlines the next morning saying “Half of Americans Disagree With Verdict.” That’s still true. In the AP poll, 53 percent say the jury was wrong, but this includes 59 percent of whites and just 16 percent of blacks.
“I think this man is innocent,” said Mary Stanley, 48, a black resident of Downey, Calif., who takes a train and a bus to come to the Simpson civil trial every chance she gets. “This is a black man being framed, abused by the white people, by the world. It’s all about money. Bloodthirsty money.”
In defending Simpson, his attorneys have not been as free as his criminal lawyers were to portray him as the victim of a racist frame-up led by Detective Mark Fuhrman. The trial also has featured stark new evidence against Simpson.
But Americans are not clear whether the new evidence makes a stronger case against the former football star: 39 percent say it does, and 25 percent say it doesn’t.