Simpson, O. J. 1947–

views updated May 18 2018

O. J. Simpson 1947

Professional football player, sports commentator

At a Glance

On the Field

On Screen

On Trial


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O. J. Simpson came out of the projects of San Francisco in the mm 1960s to establish a stellar college football record, first at San Franciscos City College and then at the University of Southern California (USC) where he won the Heisman Trophy in 1968. The following year the Buffalo Bills of the National Football League (NFL) selected him with the first draft pick. As a running back for the Bills from 1969 to 1977, Simpson had a glorious career, shattering all previous records for most yards gained in a season, most games in a season with 100 yards or more, and most rushing attempts in a season. He established a concurrent acting career beginning in 1974 with a role in the film, The Towering Inferno. His congenial celebrity also brought him work in television commercialsmost visibly as a spokesperson for Hertz-and as a color commentator on Monday Night Football.

The way in which the public viewed Simpson changed dramatically in 1994 when he was arrested and tried in Los Angeles for the murders of his former wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ronald Goldman. The jury acquitted him in 1995 after a highly-publicized year-long trial that became known as the Trial of the Century.Following acquittal in the criminal trial, the Brown and Goldman families filed a wrongful-death civil suit against Simpson. This time the jury found Simpson responsible for the deaths and awarded the victims families $33.5 million in compensatory and punitive damages. Although Simpsons attorneys claimed that he had incurred more than $12 million in debt, the plaintiffs still believed he could make sufficient earnings to provide the reparations despite his new notoriety.

Born July 9, 1947, in San Francisco, Orenthal James Simpson was one of Jimmy and Eunice Simpsons four children. Needless to say, his childhood on Connecticut Street in the Potrero Hill section of San Francisco-one of the citys black ghettos-proved to be less than idyllic. Biographer Dick Belsky noted in The Juice: Footballs Superstar, O. J. Simpson that as a baby Simpson suffered from a calcium deficiency. As a result, he had to wear leg braces for several years. Simpsons father, a bank custodian and cook, left Eunice to rear the four children on her own when Simpson was only five. On a lighter note, Simpson hated his name, Orenthal, which had been suggested to his mother by an aunt, so he took to calling himself O. J. As a result his friends began

At a Glance

Born Orenthal James Simpson, July 9, 1947, in San Francisco, California; one of four children of Jimmy Simpson (custodian and cook) and Eunice Simpson (hospital orderly); married Marguerite Thomas, 1967; divorced, 1979; children: Arnelle (son), Jason, Aaren (son; d. 1979); married Nicole Brown, 1982; divorced, 1992; children: Sydney (daughter), Justin.Education: City College of San Francisco, 1965-1967; Univ. of Southern California, B.S., sociology, 1969.

Buffalo Bills, halfback, 1969-77; San Francisco 49ers, halfback, 1977-78; actor in several movies, including The Towering Inferno (1974), The Klansman (1974),Killer Force (1975),Cassandra Crossing (1976),Capricorn I (1977),Firepower (1978),Hambone and Hilly (1983), The Naked Gun (1989), The Naked Gun 2 1/2 (1991); ABC-TV Sports, 1969-77; commentator, Monday Night Football, 1983-86; Rose Bowl commentator, 1979, 1980; Summer Olympics commentator, 1976; NBC-TV Sports, 1978-82;NFL Live, co-host, 1989-94; starred in several TV commercials.

Selected awards: Junior College Football All American, 1965-66; Natl. Collegiate Athletic Assn. (NCAA) All American, 1967-68; world record 440 yard relay team, 1967; Heisman Trophy, 1968; United Press Intl. and Associated Press College Athlete of the Year, 1968;Sport magazines Man of the Year Award, 1969; voted College Player of the Decade, 1972; NFL Most Valuable Player, 1975; AFC Most Valuable Player, 1972, 1973, 1975; NFL Pro Bowl, 1972,1974-76; named NFL Player of the Decade, 1979; inducted to College Football Hall of Fame, 1983; third leading rusher in NFL history; inducted to Pro Football Hall of Fame, 1985.

calling him Orange Juice, a practice that may have led to his pro football nickname The Juice. In Belskys book, Simpson maintained that the name resulted from his high energy level, from being juiced up. Steven V. Robertss U.S. News & World Report article supported that theory by stating that as a youth Simpson joined gangs, stole hubcaps, picked fights, crashed dances, shot craps, snubbed school. According to Roberts, Simpson told biographer Bill Libby, I had a lot of hatred and defiance in me. I could easily have come to a bad end if I hadnt gotten a break.

Roberts identified three significant factors that helped Simpson turn his life around. His mothers steady and determined presence provided a secure home base even though the pain of his fathers abandonment lingered. She worked many long, hard hours as a hospital orderly to support the family. Willie Mays, the famous outfielder for the San Francisco Giants, gave the young Simpson a much needed shot of confidence in his teenage years. When Simpson was 15 and in jail following a gang fight, the supervisor of the local recreation center arranged for him to spend a day with the local sports legend. Roberts quoted Simpson as saying, To have that hero pay attention to me, it made me feel that I must be special, too. He made me realize that we all have it in ourselves to be heroes. High school football occupied Simpsons time productively and the coaching staff at Galileo High worked hard at developing his remarkable athletic abilities while changing his bad attitude.

On the Field

Simpson became a star football player at Galileo, winning All-City honors his senior year. Simpsons grades, however, failed to meet admission requirements for four-year schools, so he attended junior college in San Francisco. At City College he amassed one of the most outstanding records in the history of junior college football. In only two seasons Simpson scored 54 touchdowns and gained 2,445 yards rushing. Given this impressive performance, several major universities recruited him seriously. Simpson chose the University of Southern California, a school steeped in football tradition. He majored in sociology. In 1967 and 1968 he led the Trojans to two Rose Bowl berths, scored 35 touchdowns, and gained 3,295 yards rushing in 22 games. In his final season he set a college record for yardage gained, 1,709. Sportswriter Pete Axthelm commented in Newsweek that O. J. . . . has done more than his share ....[H]e has led the Trojans, inspired them, and, when necessary, carried them.

Simpson had been a serious contender for college footballs highest honor-the Heisman Trophy-in his first year at USC. In fact, he finished second in the voting to University of California-Los Angeles quarterback Gary Beban. In 1968, he won the trophy. Belsky wrote that Simpson was generally acclaimed...[asj the finest and most explosive running back to come out of college football in a decade. Some thought he might be the most prized collegian in football history. Belsky also noted the irony that, Under the rules of the draft, the NFL team that finishes the season with the worst record chooses first in the collegiate draft. O. J. Simpson would go to the worst team in pro football. The worst team turned out to be the Buffalo Bills, so Simpson headed for New York.Sport magazine named Simpson its Man of the Year in February of 1969, thereby marking the first time in the 22-year history of the award that it had gone to a college player.

In Buffalo Simpson soon cemented his reputation for elusive speed on the field. In 1973, a few short years into his professional career, he set several records that would remain on the books for decades. Early in the season he had set two records: one for 250 yards rushing in a single game, against the New England Patriots, and the other for carrying the ball 39 times against the Kansas City Chiefs. On December 16, in the last game of the regular season, the Bills played the New York Jets, and Simpson broke more records. In the first quarter, he surpassed the legendary Jim Browns single-season rushing record of 1,863 yards, a record that had stood since 1962. Simpson finished the day and the season with 2,003 yards. Ron Fimrite wrote in a 1973 Sports Illustrated article that Simpson finished the season with 332 attempts [also an NFL record), an average of nearly 24 a game. He had gained 200 yards for the second game in succession and for the third time in a season, both records, and he enabled the ...Bills to become the games first 3,000-yard rushing team, replacing . . . [the] Miami Dolphins as the NFLs all-time top rushers. Fimrite further observed, What is perhaps most remarkable about Simpsons record spree is that it was made possible by two games played on fields of such Siberian frigidity that they were fit only for evading wolves.

On Screen

Simpson played for Buffalo until 1977, had one uneventful season with the San Francisco 49ers, and then retired in 1979. Simpson had established a second career as an actor beginning in 1974. He did several commercials, most notably for Hertz. As Steven Roberts observed in 1994, Today, almost 20 years later, the image of O. J. sprinting from an airplane to his Hertz rental car is still embedded in the popular culture. He appeared in several movies, including The Towering Inferno, Capricorn I, Firepower, and the Naked Gun series. Although Simpson had high hopes for his acting career, it stalled around the end of the 1970s.

To the sporting world, however, Simpson might be known best as a football and Olympics commentator for ABC-TV and NBC-TV from 1969 through the 1980s. He provided color commentary for ABC from 1969 to 1977 and for NBC from 1978 to 1982. In 1983 he rejoined ABC as a member of the highly-rated Monday Night Football production, but that position only lasted until 1986. After a short hiatus from working televised football games, Simpson became a co-host for NBCs NFL Live beginning in 1989.

Simpsons personal life also encountered some troubles. His wife, Marguerite Thomas, whom he had known in high school and married in 1967, divorced him in 1979. In their 12 years of marriage they produced three children: Arnelle, Jason, and Aaren. Shortly after the divorce, 23-month-old Aaren died in a tragic swimming pool accident. Simpson met his second wife, Nicole Brown, when she was 18. They eventually married in 1982 and had two children, Sydney and Justin. The marriage was a stormy one, with police often being called to their home to settle domestic altercations. In 1989 Simpson pled no contest to charges of spousal battery. The couple divorced in 1992. In June of 1994, Nicole Brown Simpson and a friend, Ronald Goldman, were brutally murdered in front of her home in Brentwood, California.

On Trial

Suspicion immediately fell on Simpson. As police arrived to arrest him at the home of a friend, Simpson eluded them, leading authorities on a 60-mile, slow-speed chase with friend Al Cowlings behind the wheel. Alexander Cockburn described the scene in New Statesman & Society by saying, A carnival atmosphere prevailed along the freeways as Simpson, Cowlings and their police cortege swept by. Signs proclaimed Go, Juice, Go and onlookers outside the house proclaimed sympathy and love. Simpson eventually surrendered that evening. He and his lawyers endured a year-long courtroom media spectacle that dominated the news and provided endless fodder for talk shows and tabloids. The predominately African American jury acquitted Simpson of the murder charges in 1995. The verdict prompted many to speculate on whether the decision was racially motivated and sparked much disagreement along racial lines over the question of his guilt.

Following the criminal trial, the families of Brown and Goldman sued Simpson in civil court. This time a predominately white jury decided that Simpson was liable for their deaths, a finding that intensified the discussions about racial division. Writer Ellis Cose debunked several popular opinions generated by the outcomes of the two Simpson trials. He noted in Newsweek, In reality, neither the trials nor the verdicts tore the races apart. The breaches the trials brought to light existed long before the murders in Brentwood. He added that, It would be ridiculously naive to say that race was not a factor in either trial. It is equally simplistic, however, to see it as the only factor, and to conclude, on that basis, that some monumental racial chess game was at stake.

The civil trial jury determined in 1997 that Simpson had to pay $33.5 million in compensatory and punitive damages for the deaths of Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman. Although lawyers for Simpson claimed that his Dream Team of defense attorneys in the criminal trial had drained his once-considerable assets, the plaintiffs did not agree. They argued that Simpsons namedespite its disreputecould raise the money on ventures such as autographed trading cards, speeches, and possible book deals. Meanwhile, the civil court judge ordered Simpson to turn over several items of value, including his Heisman Trophy. When authorities arrived to seize the property, the Heisman could not be found. A 1997 article in the Riverside, California, Press-Enterprise noted that Simpson was resigned to a future clouded by public disdain and financial ruin, but he is buoyed by loyal friends and the challenge of raising two children.



Belsky, Dick, The Juice: Footballs Superstar, O. J. Simpson, Henry Z. Walck, Inc., 1977.


Jet, February 24, 1997.

New Statesman & Society, July 1, 1994.

Newsweek, January 13, 1969; February 17, 1997.

Orange County Register (CA), March 28, 1997.

People Weekly, July 4, 1994.

Press-Enterprise (Riverside, CA), March 28, 1997; March 29, 1997; June 8, 1997.

Sport, February 1969.

Sports Illustrated, June 27, 1994 (reprint of 1973 article).

U.S. News & World Report, June 27, 1994.

Ellen Dennis French

Simpson (O. J.) Murder Trial

views updated May 09 2018

Simpson (O. J.) Murder Trial

The role of forensic scientists is paramount in gathering evidence for criminal court cases. In the end, however, the verdict rests with the jury. One of the most publicized and controversial court cases involved the double murder of Nicole Brown Simpson, 35, and Ronald Goldman, 25, at approximately 10 p.m. on June 12, 1994. Both were stabbed to death outside Nicole Simpson's Los Angeles condominium. The investigation was complicated by the fact that there were no eyewitnesses and no murder weapon was found. However, crime scene investigators did recover important evidence that linked Nicole's former husband, Orenthal James (O. J.) Simpson, the former football star, to the murders. This evidence was analyzed by forensic scientists and it was used to prosecute Simpson in an internationally watched and discussed court case.

The evidence that was retrieved at the scene of the crime was substantial. It wasn't immediately clear who committed the murderseven though Simpson was an early suspectuntil five days after the murders. In front of a televised audience of millions of viewers, police cars, and helicopters, Simpson's white Ford Bronco drove in a 60-mile (97-km) chase across Route 405 in southern California. The car was driven by A. C. Cowlings, a friend and an ex-football player teammate, while Simpson sat in the back seat with a gun. Simpson had failed to show up for his arraignment on the charges of the double murder before the famous car chase. At the end of the car chase, with the Bronco pulling into his Rockingham Avenue estate, Simpson was arrested.

Deputy District Attorney Marcia Clark revealed the evidence to the court. There were hair samples that were found on Goldman's body after his murder. Forensic geneticists matched the DNA from the hair samples to DNA retrieved from O. J. Simpson. There was also a trail of bloody shoeprints near the murder scene that were estimated by the crime lab to be made by a man's shoe, size 12the same size that Simpson wears. There was a pair of socks with bloodstains on it that was found in O. J. Simpson's bedroom. Geneticists extracted DNA from the socks and matched it to Nicole's DNA. Blood was also found on Simpson's Ford Bronco. After the DNA was extracted and tested, it was found to positively match DNA from both victims. Even blood found at the crime scene was found to have DNA that matched that of O. J. Simpson.

During the police interrogation of Simpson, it was discovered that he had a cut on his left hand. A leather glove that was found near both of the victims had blood on it. DNA samples from the blood matched that of both Simpsons as well as Goldman. A matching glove, with bloodstains on it, was also recovered on Simpson's own estate. Cumulatively, this striking evidence led the prosecution to believe that Simpson was guilty. His trial began the following January.

Simpson employed a group of competent, high profile lawyers that became known as "the dream team." They engineered a formidable defense (despite the overwhelming evidence against Simpson) that was focused on discrediting the Los Angeles police department. They claimed that the police failed to conduct a well-constructed, proper investigation. The prosecution launched its attack using O. J. Simpson's prior history of severe domestic violence and a platform for demonstrating both his motive and his capability of violence. There were other women, at one time involved with Simpson, who claimed to have been abused by him. The prosecution asserted that Ronald Goldman was murdered when he went to Nicole's condominium to return her eyeglasses and, in doing so, stumbled upon the murder. He was then allegedly murdered by O. J. Simpson.

For the defense, the strategy was targeted at police detective Mark Fuhrman, who arrived at Simpson's estate and first discovered the matching bloodstained glove on his property. The defense's case was strengthened by a variety of conversations that depicted Fuhrman as a racist based on previous racial remarks he had made. Attorney Johnnie Cochran proved to be a key player on Simpson's defense team. Jurors heard tape recordings of phone calls that Nicole made to 911 in 1989 and 1993 during altercations between her and Simpson. However, Cochran managed to refocus the court proceedings on Fuhrman, who he ultimately accused of planting the matching bloodstained glove on Simpson's property in order to frame the ex-football star for the double murders. It was implied that Fuhrman was motivated to frame Simpson because he was black.

Near the end of the trial, Cochran produced one of the gloves and requested that Simpson put it on his hand. It appeared to the jury that the glove did not fit Simpson appropriately, lending credence to Cochran's defense that the glove might have been planted. On October 2, 1995, a jury of Simpson's peers deliberated for only about three hours before reaching a verdict. On October 3, 1995, the jury acquitted Simpson of the double murder charges. The trial lasted nine months and the state of California rendered him not guilty. Many people throughout the country were shocked by the decision.

This case exemplifies the importance of the police department's handling of evidence and how police officers should conduct a criminal investigation. It also demonstrates that even with the most formidable evidence produced by the forensics scientists, it may not be enough to convince a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that an accused individual is guilty. Following this case, it became clear that top-notch forensic science , particularly the DNA analysis and the footwear impression examination determined by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI ) agents, must be accompanied by top-notch crime scene investigative collection of evidence. Detailed guidelines for the investigations of homicides, crime scene processing , and arson investigation have since been drafted by the National Institute for Justice. This includes the development of certification programs that specifically train police officers and crime scene technicians in the appropriate approaches to handle the evidence in a crime scene investigation .

The O. J. Simpson trial was controversial. The lack of agreement among experts on the reliability of any evidence in a criminal investigation can be crippling for the prosecution. This case also raised controversy regarding DNA evidence and the methods used for linking suspects to biological evidence found at the scene of the crime. An expert witness for the prosecution, Dr. Bruce S. Weir, testified regarding the methods used for the DNA analysis and how the evidence was examined for the case. Unlike a fingerprinting examination, where the methodology has not been demonstrated to be scientifically proven, DNA analysis is scientifically well tested and the methodologies are considered to be solid by most critics. However, how the evidence is obtained and handled can discredit the findings in a forensics DNA laboratory.

Also important in the O. J. Simpson murder case is the length of time that the evidence was collected. Some DNA from blood droplets that were found at the crime scene was determined not to be from the victims. O. J. Simpson's blood was drawn after this was determined (after the blood was collected during the crime scene investigation). The DNA from the blood droplets was compared to O. J. Simpson's DNA and found to match. By the order of events in this case and the fact that the DNA was already being analyzed by the forensics laboratory suggests that this blood could not have been "planted" by police officers after his arrest. In fact, the DNA analysis revealed that O. J. Simpson's blood DNA had matched the blood DNA found at the crime scene with the probability that only approximately one in 57 billion people could have the same type of match. Three different crime labs performed the same analysis and all three found a positive match.

When Dr. Henry Lee, a criminologist, testified that the blood may have been packaged inappropriately, the defense suggested that a sample switching occurred. The defense also claimed that the blood was degraded due to its storage in the lab truck. This was argued by the prosecution's DNA expert, Harlan Levy, who testified that the degraded DNA was not substantial enough to thwart proper DNA analysis and should not mitigate confidence in the results. If the DNA was mishandled due to the storage procedure, then the quality of the controls would also have been abrogated. Regardless of these credible points, the defense managed to convince the jury that the evidence was mishandled. This weakened the credibility of the genetics laboratory results. Moreover, the complicated and confusing testimony from the DNA experts may have confused and worn out the jury, who may not have had an appropriate understanding of the methodologies and scientific merit of these forensic tests.

The O. J. Simpson double murder trial brought forensic sciences and DNA fingerprinting techniques to the media spotlight. In the end, despite the overwhelming evidence in favor of the prosecution, the key to this case was that the jurors were not convinced that the blood samples were handled appropriately. This court case provided a framework for forensics experts to use to develop new ways to properly handle evidence and maintain a high level of quality control.

Civil lawsuits may be filed regardless of the outcome of an associated criminal prosecution or lack of prosecution. A victim can sue in a civil court even if the alleged perpetrator was found "not guilty" in a criminal court. In a civil trial that followed the criminal case, Simpson was found liable for the deaths of Nicole Simpson and Ronald Goldman (in civil court defendants are found liable rather than guilty). Much of the same forensic evidence that was used at the criminal trial was used in the civil trial. In a civil trial, there is a lower threshold for proof of liability. Moreover, Simpson was required to take the witness stand and offer testimony (something he was not required to do at his trial in criminal court). In the O. J. Simpson civil case, the verdict of liability was unanimous, and Simpson was ordered to pay penalties of roughly $8.5 million.

see also Bloodstain evidence; Crime scene investigation; DNA databanks; DNA evidence, social issues; DNA fingerprint; DNA sequences, unique; DNA typing systems; Physical evidence; Quality control of forensic evidence.