On the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, a day reserved for introspection and prayers of atonement, an emotional Fred Goldman told his temple Wednesday that O.J. Simpson attorney Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. will have to do “a lot of praying” to win God’s forgiveness.
“I think single-handedly, with his ‘Dream Team,’ he’s managed to shove a wedge between the races that’s larger than we could ever have imagined,” said Goldman, apparently referring to Cochran’s pointed closing argument, in which the lawyer told jurors that by acquitting Simpson they could send a message that racists like former Detective Mark Fuhrman should not be tolerated by the Los Angeles Police Department.
“When he [Cochran] goes to pray, he is going to have to do a lot of praying to make up for what he’s done, what they’ve done. I can’t imagine that being forgiven easily, or at all,” said Goldman, refusing to utter Cochran’s name and instead referring only to the attorney as “Mr. the C-word.”
Cochran was unavailable for comment.
Goldman devoted most of his remarks to calling for changes in the legal system that would make it more responsive to victims. “We need to have courtrooms that are what we all expect: fair, reasonable, honorable. We need attorneys who have honor--not who are there to win at all cost,” he said.
Goldman, the father of murder victim Ronald Lyle Goldman, spoke to members of Temple Beth Haverim in Westlake Village as part of what is becoming an ongoing public effort to reconcile his grief and his rage at gaps in the legal system--gaps large enough, in Goldman’s mind, to deem a guilty man innocent.
When Rabbi Gary E. Johnson asked Goldman earlier in the week to address the congregation Wednesday in morning services observing Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement, Goldman balked. But by the time he arrived for services, Goldman said, he had changed his mind in light of the not guilty verdicts.
As the Agoura Hills businessman left his seat in the third row and walked to the podium, a wave of surprise rippled through the more than 100 worshipers. The day before, the congregation, along with tens of millions of other television viewers nationwide, had seen the Goldman family collapse in tears as the verdicts were read. They had seen Fred Goldman, choked with emotion, at a news conference shortly afterward, describing the day as the second-worst nightmare of his life. Now, parents shushed children already impatient for the conclusion of the four-hour service. Stillness fell over the crowd as members watched a man many called by his first name grapple to corral his emotions long enough to speak.
“Because this trial was publicized on TV every day, people saw a portion of our legal system that probably all good people have never seen,” Goldman told them.
“The one place most of us thought we’d see fairness, honesty, decency and ultimately justice perhaps isn’t what I thought it was.”
He said an outpouring of letters and cards made him realize that other families had experiences in which they, too, felt cheated by the judicial system.
“We, as a nation, have been turned upside down--gone from being concerned about victims and their families to being more concerned about defendants and criminals,” Goldman said. “They have more rights today than victims and their families.”
Struggling to stay composed, and at times, speaking slowly, Goldman continued. He pleaded with members of the congregation to raise their voices and write letters. “The silent majority needs to become vocal,” he told them.
What matters is for “Ron and Nicole and other victims of crime to have had a purpose, besides the good they did during their lives, to have some other meaning,” Goldman said, “to hopefully make certain the injustice that occurred yesterday does not occur again to any family regardless of their color or religion.”
Goldman paused again, surveying the quiet crowd before him, catching his wife Patti’s eye, nodding to his daughter Kim.
“Perhaps,” he said, “if we all speak up, this kind of thing will never happen again.”
And on a day reserved for the most solemn conduct, the audience leaped to its feet and gave Goldman a standing ovation.