© 2008, The Institute for Applied Common Sense
It has been said that there is more to a man than the worst thing that he has ever done. Unfortunately, the worst thing that a man has done, or perhaps is suspected to have done, always outweighs the other factors, no matter the nature or quality. It is out of self preservation that we are hard-wired to reach such a conclusion.
There is only so much “benefit of the doubt” that we, the observing public, are willing to extend to those who have been fortunate enough to have talent of some sort which results in their being placed on a pedestal.
I only personally met him briefly, for perhaps 20 or 30 seconds in a nightclub in Miami in the 1990s. However, I was connected to him, in a second hand sort of way, through many others.
His Mother was a hospital administrator, and his Father, a chef and bank custodian. As a child, he developed rickets, and wore braces on both of his legs until he was 5. His parents separated around the same time.
He grew up, and later attended City College of San Francisco, with someone who would become one of my most trusted business partners.
During his pro football career, I always marveled at his ability to give his absolute best, day in and day out, even when his team was at its absolute worst. An ordinary player would have performed at a level consistent with that of the other members of his team. Not O.J. He set records, and records, and records.
We all witnessed his transformation from an unsophisticated youth with rough edges, to a charismatic, professional, media personality, even though his characters might have, on occasion, been best described as cartoonish.
When I first arrived in Los Angeles, I, along with another friend who would later achieve pro sports recognition, attempted to get into The Daisy, the private club in Beverly Hills, where Nicole Brown Simpson worked. A good buddy who was a pro football star, instructed us to use his name in order to gain entry. Unfortunately, the maitre d’ did not recall our buddy’s name until almost closing time. However, we were able to have some champagne before our departure.
And thus I appreciated all of the favors and treats that are extended to pro stars - the hotels full of adoring fans, mostly female, and the merchants and service institutions bending over backwards to give the stars more favors and treats… and the restaurateurs, desperately seeking autographed photos to affix to their walls.
Over the years, I witnessed Nicole and her girlfriends as they participated in the “club scene.” They were of a different grade, only accessible by those who traveled in rarefied circles. I also had buddies who socialized with O.J. and Nicole together, and thus I gained some sense of that dynamic. Both were stars of a sort, in their own right, and developed a concomitant set of privileges and expectations, whether justified or not.
And thus it was a complicated culture and environment in which they operated, which few outside of that world could ever fully appreciate.
Most folks do not realize that The Juice started his own film production company, which generated mostly made-for-TV shows, such as the family oriented Goldie and the Boxer films. Most folks do not realize that he was a major participant in an annual charity event that raised millions for sick children.
So there I was, with all of this background, and sitting in my office in Brentwood, looking west toward Barrington, at the mauve-orange sunset, when I noticed several news copters level with my window on the 16th floor. I immediately wondered why there were so many of them, and why they were so close to the ground.
Five minutes later, I walked around the corner on Barrington to be told by the local convenience store clerk that they had found the bodies of Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman, and I knew that things were about to get complicated - real complicated.
And then there appeared Lance Ito (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lance_Ito), with whom I had shared an office when I first started in the D.A.’s Office, and with whom my partner had attended law school. And then there appeared an older Robert Shapiro (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Shapiro), who had appeared in my courtroom in a younger version, when I was a D.A.
And then there appeared Johnnie Cochran (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johnnie_Cochran), who was the Assistant D.A. in 1978, and who extended the offer to me to join the Office. And then there was Geraldo (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geraldo_rivera) contacting my partner to seek an interview, which he graciously declined.
And then there were the women, who I knew in Brentwood, who were also friends of Ron Goldman, and who spoke about their relationships with him.
And thus I had way too much information to objectively form an opinion as to guilt or innocence, and yet I knew that it would become a sad event, no matter what the verdict. Little did I appreciate how prescient the dissection would be, and its similarities to the nature of the dissection in the current presidential campaign?
On the day of the criminal jury verdict, my partner and I were with a group of clients in the Detroit area, when the verdict was read. We saw the same expressions of exhilaration and disbelief expressed throughout the world. Later that afternoon, we traveled to Chicago, to visit with a client who had been a J.A.G. lawyer handling criminal matters in the service, who was fascinated by our collective connections to O.J.
When I returned to Chicago one month later to make a presentation before a gathering of engineers, businesspeople, and attorneys connected with that client, at the dinner later that evening, I was asked at the last minute to explain, as a trial lawyer, how different people could have such widely differing perspectives on the evidence presented. I was amazed at how quiet the room was as I shared my thoughts. I was not arrogant enough to suspect that they were captivated by what I had to say, but rather they were amazed that any group of people could have thought of him as not guilty.
I would later tell inquiring minds that, from a legal perspective, I suspected that the ”system” had yielded the “correct” results in both the criminal and civil trials, based on the differing legal standards of proof.
Later, I would read an article regarding a private investigation conducted by a respected, retired, law enforcement officer out of Texas, who suspected that O.J.’s son, from a prior marriage, was actually the murderer. It appeared that he had acquired a job as a chef at a restaurant in Westwood Village, two blocks from my place, and that he was quite proud of his accomplishment. He was scheduled to cater a party for his niece, Sydney, whose birthday was that weekend. However, it appears that Nicole called it off at the last minute, and that O.J.’s son was absolutely livid. He reportedly left the restaurant that evening in a huff, with his chef’s knives, and fellow employees claimed that he had never done that before.
Only one close friend ever asked me my personal opinion as to O.J.’s guilt or innocence, and when I informed her, I lost that friend forever, never to be seen again.
I told her, as I tell you here – based on what I saw, O.J. knew who did it, but was not a participant. Why? Two main factors: (1) From all that I knew about O.J., he never would have left town and allowed his two minor children to be in a position to potentially find the bloodied body of their Mother sprawled on the sidewalk. (2) From all that I know about the first time that a human kills, or even witnesses the death of, another human being, one does not simply walk away cool, calm, and collected. We, as humans, are biologically hard-wired to have a violent reaction and to sweat. It takes time, and repeated killings, to become a cool killer, and get on a plane and have jocular conversation with fellow passengers.
And then there was Jackie Conner, with whom I had served in the Office, who sat as the Judge over the Ramparts Division LAPD scandal, involving Rafael Perez, who admitted to planting evidence in scores of case, and implicated numerous others, thus prejudicing scores of criminal prosecutions. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rafael_P%C3%A9rez_(police_officer).)
Admittedly, for the past decade or so, O.J. hadn’t done much to advance his cause. I always thought that it was a sad situation, in that although he was no Muhammad Ali, he did have the potential to inspire other young men to improve their station in life, despite humble beginnings.
And thus I knew that O.J. would be convicted on all counts. He was not going to be given another shot, no matter what the evidence in the Las Vegas trial. And he should have known it also.
But what I also knew, after watching the intense, vituperative nature of the discourse during the political campaigns conducted over the past 18 months, was that all of our pre-conceived, perhaps previously concealed inner-most feelings about people, would erupt to the surface, and be expressed in many ways. This country still has lots of internal conflict and repressed feelings about our fellow citizens. This is the climate in which we currently live. This is the climate in which O.J. should have “steered far wide of the danger zone.”
Sorry O.J. Unfortunately, you’re “done fur.” You thought that you could pull it out one time too many. And that’s sad for those of us who got to know you in some tangential manner, even just as fans, but more so for those young folks who could have been inspired by your journey. Opportunity – lost….