20 Years Later: Law Professor Looks Back At O.J. Murder Trial
CHICAGO (CBS) – Twenty years ago Thursday, actor and former football star O.J. Simpson’s ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and friend Ronald Goldman were found murdered outside of her townhouse in Los Angeles. =
What ensued was thought by many to be the trial of the century or, at the very least, the decade.
A former prosecutor-turned-law professor said it has become a textbook case of how not to investigate and try a murder case.
IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law Professor Douglas Godfrey, a former New York prosecutor, said case-breaking mistakes were made long before the case made it to the courtroom. In fact, he said they began from almost the moment Los Angeles Police rolled up on the scene.
“The location where Ron and Nicole were murdered was contaminated from the beginning,” he said. “Police were walking through it. A police officer actually brought a blanket out from the house to cover the bodies.”
Simpson had been in his ex-wife’s home to visit his children.
“If you wanted to explain how Simpson’s hair was at the murder scene, you could say it was on the blanket,” he said.
He said an LAPD detective who drew Simpson’s blood samples kept them in his pocket and returned to the crime scene still carrying the samples, which gave the defense the ability to argue that Simpson was framed.
Godfrey said that it was one of the rare cases where the defendant could spend as much, if not more, than the prosecution.
He said good lawyering can win cases, and bad lawyering can lose them. He said the shrewdness of Simpson’s legal team was mirrored at many points by the ineptness of the prosecution.
Godfrey said prosecutors botched the grand jury proceeding and Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Lance Ito let the trial spiral out of his control early on. The result was that Simpson was acquitted of murder, but the Goldman family was able to obtain a $33.5 million wrongful death lawsuit against him “using the same set of facts.”
In that respect, Godfrey said, Simpson’s legal and financial team showed themselves to be shrewd. He said Simpson hid much of his wealth in a Florida home and retirement accounts, and then declared bankruptcy. Simpson, now in prison for an unrelated armed robbery and kidnapping conviction, still owes that $33.5 million civil judgment in the wrongful death case.
“It taught us the need for good financial planning, since O.J. shielded many of his assets in retirement investments such as a large house in Florida, which is under the homestead exemption,” he said. “He’s also protected in bankruptcy from creditors. The result is that the civil judgment really didn’t hurt him too much.”