O.J. Simpson was acquitted Tuesday on charges of killing Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Lyle Goldman, free after a wrenching trial that ranged from explosive accusations of police misconduct to the dry science of DNA technology. Within minutes of his release, he was driven away from the courthouse after more than 15 months in jail.
Simpson let out a long, shuddering sigh when Superior Court Judge Lance A. Ito's clerk pronounced the verdicts. Lead defense attorney Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. clapped him on the back and pumped his hand in the air. And his longtime friend Robert Kardashian pulled him close for a hug, wiping away tears.
Meanwhile, prosecutors sat stunned.
Goldman's sister, Kim, sobbed in gulping moans that rang throughout the tense courtroom. His stepmother, Patti, crumpled forward on the wooden court bench, murmuring "Oh my God, oh my God." And his father, Fred, raised his eyes to the ceiling and muttered. As he left the courtroom, Fred Goldman turned toward Simpson and muttered one word: "Murderer."
The Brown family, dressed in black, showed less emotion, although Nicole's sisters and mother trembled in their silence. Lou and Juditha Brown have taken care of their grandchildren, Justin and Sydney Simpson, in their Orange County home since Nicole Simpson's murder June 12, 1994. Now they will probably relinquish custody to Simpson, who had agreed to turn over the children only until he was "able to resume his legal and physical custody."
Minutes later, in a scene reminiscent of the famous slow-speed flight from police on the day of his arrest in June, 1994, Simpson left the courthouse in a white van and rode past a few cheering fans to his Rockingham Avenue estate, where he embraced Al Cowlings and other joyous friends.
Jurors had taken three hours of deliberations to agree with Simpson's forceful declarations of innocence--first, at his arraignment on July 22, 1994, when he pleaded "absolutely, 100% not guilty," and later, when he addressed the judge at the end of the trial to say, "I did not, could not and would not have committed this crime."
The verdicts arrived in a swift, electrifying courtroom session. Ito opened the morning with his customary greeting to attorneys: "Back on the record in the Simpson matter." But despite his effort to maintain calm in the courtroom, Kim Goldman started crying almost immediately. The tension built as Ito's clerk, Deidre Robertson, handed the verdict envelope to the jury forewoman and asked her to certify the forms. She did, and Robertson took back the envelope to begin reading.
Cochran clenched his hands on the table, then raised them to his lips in a gesture of prayer. Simpson raised his eyebrows and clenched his jaw, though his mouth shook with emotion. As Robinson prepared to announce the verdict, Simpson and his entire team of lawyers stood to face the jurors. Prosecutors Marcia Clark and Christopher A. Darden remained seated.
As viewers nationwide watched, breathless, Robertson began reading. "In the matter of the people versus Orenthal James Simpson," she said, "we find the defendant, Orenthal James Simpson, not guilty of the crime of murder." After rattling off the same not-guilty verdict for both charges, Robertson turned to the jurors and polled them individually.
Darden wheeled in his chair to glare at the panelists who had so soundly rejected his case, while Clark stared straight ahead, lips pursed.
After the verdicts, defense attorneys and members of Simpson's family spoke at a news conference.
Prosecutors and members of the Goldman family spoke briefly at a news conference about an hour after the verdicts were read.
'I deeply believe the country lost today. Justice was not served," Goldman said, brushing away tears and gazing glassy-eyed at the defeated prosecutors clustered grimly around him.
The Brown family retreated to their Orange County home immediately without commenting.
Building a Case
For nearly six months, prosecutors had painstakingly tried to build a case against the former football great.
Presenting witnesses who talked about everything from Simpson's allegedly murderous dreams to the microscopic characteristics of his hair, prosecutors tried to prove that Simpson had the motive, the opportunity and the strength to kill his ex-wife and Goldman.
They built their case around the "trail of blood" they contended linked Simpson to the gruesomely slashed bodies found early in the morning of June 13, 1994, outside Nicole Simpson's Brentwood condominium.
Their witnesses testified that five drops of blood at the crime scene, found to the left of the size-12 footprints, all matched Simpson's DNA characteristics. So did a bloodstain on the back gate of the Bundy Drive condominium, as well as drops on Simpson's driveway and in the foyer.
The victims' blood showed up at Simpson's home as well, according to the expert testimony. The black socks tossed at the foot of his bed contained a splotch that matched Nicole's DNA. And smears consistent with mixtures of both of the victims' and Simpson's DNA appeared in Simpson's Ford Bronco. Finally, the matching bloody gloves found at Bundy Drive and outside Simpson's home contained genetic markers consistent with a blend of the victims' and O.J. Simpson's DNA.
"In our professional judgment, it was overwhelming evidence," Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti said.
But Simpson's tough-driving defense team, led by DNA experts Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld, ferociously challenged every piece of the scientific evidence. With one witness after another, they tore into the genetic analyses, ridiculing the Los Angeles Police Department crime lab as a cesspool of corruption that tainted nearly every piece of evidence. They also raised an even more sinister theme, suggesting that police set out to frame O.J. Simpson.
In his passionate closing statement, Cochran urged jurors to acquit Simpson to send a message to police officers that racist, brutal behavior would not be tolerated. "Your verdict in this case will go far beyond the walls of [the courtroom]," he had argued. "Your verdict talks about justice in America, and it talks about the police and whether they're above the law."
Throughout the LAPD, officers had fumed at the charges, bristling at the defense portrait of their force as a clumsy bunch of bunglers and a savvy group of conspirators bent on framing a black celebrity.
But for all the police sought to defend themselves, some politicians and leaders in the black community accepted Cochran's arguments--and described the verdict as a vindication. Danny Bakewell, leader of the Brotherhood Crusade, led whoops of delight as he gathered with other African American activists in front of a television set at the organization's offices.
Los Angeles City Councilman Nate Holden gasped as the verdicts were read and wiped tears from his eyes.
"What it showed is that law enforcement is capable of even planting evidence, which is shocking to me," said Holden, who represents the predominantly African American 10th District and has been an ardent supporter of LAPD Chief Willie L. Williams. "You have to go where the problem is, and the problem is in the Police Department. They [police] better get it right next time. You can't be accused of, you can't give the perception that you're fudging the facts. The people will reject you."
Simpson Family 'Ecstatic'
The jurors' stunningly swift verdict left Simpson's family in tears. His mother, Eunice, who had often attended court in her wheelchair, said simply that she was "grateful." His 25-year-old son, Jason, hunched forward crying during the brief court session. And his daughter, Arnelle, who had painted a loving portrait of her father during her testimony, accepted a joyful celebration kiss from defense lawyer F. Lee Bailey.
"We're ecstatic," Eunice Simpson said.
At a jubilant news conference with the so-called "Dream Team" of defense attorneys, Jason Simpson read a brief statement from his father:
"I'm relieved that this part of the incredible nightmare that occurred on June 12, 1994, is over. My first obligation is to my young children, whom I will raise the way Nicole and I have always planned," Simpson said. He added that he hoped that police would seek out the "killer or killers" who committed the brutal assault.
As they filed out of the courtroom, after announcing plans to shun the lawyers and the press, a black male juror raised his left fist in a salute to Simpson. But the celebrity athlete, looking relieved, grateful and eager to leave the courtroom in his own clothes, rather than a blue jail jumpsuit, did not appear to notice the gesture. His lawyers clasped hands together in a football-style huddle.
Meanwhile, Ito spent a few minutes thanking the courthouse staff in a speech that sounded like an Oscar acceptance--fitting, perhaps, for a trial that had become somewhat of a soap opera, gripping television audiences nationwide.
Ito then closed the "Trial of the Century" with a polite goodby: "Thank you very much," he said. "And I'll see you all later."