The sideshow has taken over the center ring in the Simpson trial. And nobody loves the sideshow more, or does more to publicize it, than we in the press.
I was troubled by this Wednesday morning as I drove Downtown to the courthouse, my mind still cluttered with the images of the previous day when the trial approached the brink of collapse in a maze of legal maneuvering that even the television lawyers couldn’t explain.
One image stuck in my mind. On Tuesday afternoon, I was part of a crowd of reporters standing outside the courtroom, talking loud, jockeying for position to get into the room first when the doors opened. We were nervous, excited and--as the more honest of us would admit--having fun.
At the edge of this noisy group was a small, forlorn woman, whose long and terrible sadness is visible on her face.
She was Patti Goldman, stepmother of the murdered Ronald Goldman, and she was subjected to watching as the trial of the man accused of killing her stepson sank into a confusing mess of strategizing and bitter recrimination.
On Wednesday morning, we chatted briefly outside the courtroom. She reminded me that she couldn’t be interviewed there. Interviews are banned in that particular area. I wondered how she felt about Tuesday’s sensationalized events. “It was frustrating,” she said.
Even during the long and technical testimony about blood evidence and autopsies, Ronald Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson have remained at the center of the trial. It was, after all, their blood and their wounds that were being discussed.
Much of the press was bored by this testimony. You no doubt caught this in the comments of journalists and of the lawyer-commentators, who have quickly adopted the reporters’ love of the sensational.
But the families of the victims weren’t bored. Ronald Goldman’s sister, Kim, buried her face in her hands during much of this testimony, her long, red hair shielding the signs of her grief from prying eyes. She never misses a day.
“The Goldman family is the only island of dignity in this whole affair,” said writer John Gregory Dunne after he watched Kim, Patti and Ronald’s father, Fred Goldman.
But these mourners are not helpful to the defense attorneys. They remind jurors of the horror of the crime.
That explains the smile on chief defense attorney Johnnie L. Cochran Jr.'s face since Simpson private investigator Pat McKenna discovered the Fuhrman tapes. The find shifted attention from the victims. An eager press grabbed onto the racist, sexist musings of Los Angeles Police Detective Mark Fuhrman, a prosecution witness.
The media enthusiasm was not surprising. Tapes have been red meat for the press since before Watergate. Racism and sexism are also hot news.
But they’re a sideshow in the Simpson case. The main show is O.J. Simpson and the quality of the evidence against him.
Seeing that the tapes were dominating the case, the Goldman family acted.
Before court Wednesday morning, Fred, Patti and Kim Goldman huddled on a hallway bench. As the press learned later in the morning, the Goldmans were planning something.
Giving up their private grieving, the Goldmans went public. They went down to the press conference area in the Criminal Courts Building lobby, where Cochran and the other defense lawyers had held a news conference the day before.
“We usually don’t speak just for the sake of speaking, so obviously something has to happen in order for us to feel enraged enough for us to get out here and talk,” said Kim Goldman. “So excuse me if I ramble, but I’m, I’m fed up and my emotions are up to here. . . .
“They are trying to divert the attention from the facts in this case and the fact is their client is accused of murdering my brother and Nicole Brown.”
Fred and Patti Goldman stood with her. Patti gripped Fred’s arm when he spoke.
“Ron and Nicole were butchered by their client,” Goldman said. “Do any of you think otherwise? You have seen the evidence in this trial. It is overwhelming. This is not now the Fuhrman trial. This is a trial about the man that murdered my son.”
The reporters looked stunned. Some wondered if they would have the guts to hold such a news conference if one of their kids had been murdered. Some wandered off by themselves, briefly alone with their thoughts before sending out their stories.
It was the biggest story of the day. Thanks to the courage of the Goldman family, Ronald Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson were once again remembered.