1995: The year the future began
O.J. Simpson never testified at his sensational double-murder trial in 1995.
Even so, a consistent feature of the often-absorbing, often-repellant case was that Simpson was never far from center stage — especially so at key moments in the proceedings, which stretched from late January to early October and ended in his acquittal.
One of the trial’s most memorable and decisive moments came 20 years ago this week, when an assistant prosecutor surprised the courtroom, and his colleagues, by asking Simpson to try on a pair of blood-stained brown leather gloves believed worn in the fatal attack on Nicole Simpson and Ronald L. Goldman.
One glove had been found at the murder scene, outside Nicole Simpson’s condominium in west Los Angeles. Its mate was found by a police detective outside of O.J. Simpson’s mansion a few miles away.
The gloves-wearing demonstration in the Los Angeles courtroom took place June 15, 1995. It was a memorable, theatrical, and even farcical moment in what widely was often called the “Trial of the Century.”
The demonstration brought Simpson squarely to center stage and he milked the moment, standing before the jury box as he appeared to struggle mightily to tug on the gloves over latex gloves he was obliged to wear, to avoid contaminating evidence.
He grimaced repeatedly. and said so that jurors could hear, “Too tight.”
And he smirked faintly, in apparent triumph.
As I note in my book, 1995: The Year the Future Began, the gloves did seem small for Simpson’s hands. But they likely had shrunk in the testing that they had been exposed to.
In any case, “the ill-advised demonstration had allowed Simpson to testify in effect, without having to face cross-examination.” I write.
The prosecution’s bungled move also inspired a rallying cry for Simpson’s defense lawyers — an idiom that remains familiar despite the passage of 20 years. In closing remarks at the trial, Simpson’s lead lawyer, Johnnie Cochran, recalled how Simpson struggled to pull on the gloves, advising jurors:
“[R]emember these words; if it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.”
Cochran described the gloves gambit as “perhaps the single most defining moment in this trial,” adding:
“We may all live to be 100 years old, and I hope we do, but you’ll always remember that those gloves, when Darden asked him to try them on, didn’t fit.”
He was referring to Christopher Darden, an assistant prosecutor. Darden wrote in a memoir that his decision was preemptive, saying he believed Cochran would likely to call for such a demonstration if the prosecution did not.
But Darden conceded in the memoir, titled In Contempt, that his move was a mistake, stating :
“People ask me now would I do it again. No. Of course not. I should have taken into account shrinkage” of the gloves. “But, while I wouldn’t do it again, I know those are [Simpson’s] gloves.”
Darden recalled receiving a cold shoulder from colleagues in the district attorney’s office after the botched demonstration. “That afternoon,” he wrote, “I went upstairs and passed a clerk; he did not look at me. No one did. I passed my colleagues in the hallway and they were silent. They had nothing to say to me.”
He also said the lead prosecutor, Marcia Clark, “didn’t talk to me for a few days. For weeks after that, I was left out of major decisions involving the case.”
Darden said he called Clark on the phone a few days later to apologize, telling her, “I’m sorry I screwed up your case.”
But there was no way Darden could undo the stunning blunder of mid-June 1995.
He appears to have lived hard with the botched demonstration. He mentioned it at a panel discussion in New York in 2012, saying that Cochran, who died of a brain tumor seven years earlier, might have tampered with the lining of the gloves so that they wouldn’t fit Simpson’s hands.
Alan Dershowitz, another Simpson defense lawyer, shot back at Darden, declaring:
“Having made the greatest legal blunder of the 20th century, he’s trying to blame it on the dead man.”
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