Courtroom Accounts Show Lessons of O.J. Trial
'Dream Team' searches for unity
The Search for Justice: A Defense Attorney's Brief on the O.J. Simpson Case
By Robert L. Shapiro
Warner Books, $24.95
By Alan M. Dershowitz
Simon & Schuster, $20
Forget all that stuff about "jury nullification" and racial divisions as the reason O.J. Simpson was acquitted last fall of murdering his ex-wife Nicole Brown and her friend Ronald Goldman.
As a pair of books by two of his defense lawyers make clear, Simpson was found not guilty for more down-to-earth reasons:
*Los Angeles police conducted a warrantless search of Simpson's house; then bungled the collection of evidence, at best contaminating it, and at worst, planting some of it; then tried to cover it up with perjury in court.
*Some of the most crucial evidence was found during the warrantless search by a racist cop who bragged about planting evidence and harassing black men who were with white women.
*The county coroner, who was not even called to the crime scene for 10 hours, then botched the autopsy and destroyed crucial evidence that could have helped determine when the crime occurred.
*The prosecution lost the jury in its over-technical explanation of DNA evidence.
When the time came, the jury found it could not believe the LAPD nor its evidence. Asked to find Simpson guilty "beyond a reasonable doubt," they refused.
Robert Shapiro's "The Search for Justice: A Defense Attorney's Brief on the O.J. Simpson Case" and Alan Dershowitz's "Reasonable Doubts" are as different as their authors. Shapiro tells a personal story: how he got involved in the case, his reactions to events as they unfolded, and the high price he and his family have paid for the unwanted fame and loss of privacy the case brought with it.
Dershowitz, the controversial Harvard professor and appellate lawyer, is intent on showing what the case has to teach about the American justice system, the role of defense lawyers, and the widespread problem of police perjury.
Shapiro was the "quarterback" of the defense "Dream Team"; he brought F. Lee Bailey, Johnnie Cochran, and the rest on board. Keeping harmony among such a crew of large egos was not easy: The trial destroyed Shapiro's friendship with Bailey (whom he accuses of leaking confidential information to the New York press). And Shapiro says that while he has great respect for Cochran, he won't work with him again.
Simpson protested his innocence from Day 1, Shapiro says, and behaved like an innocent man throughout. He reveals that it was Simpson's adult son who stopped him from committing suicide after the infamous Bronco chase.
Giving the impression that he believes his client innocent, Shapiro says that he finds it hard to believe a man in Simpson's impaired physical condition could perform the acts Simpson was accused of. In the famous courtroom incident of the gloves that did not fit, the defense knew that they would not; they fit Shapiro snugly, and his hands are far smaller than Simpson's.
Shapiro does not denigrate the LAPD as a whole and is often sympathetic toward the prosecutors, especially Chris Darden, as people. He faults Cochran for flirting with lead prosecutor Marcia Clark in front of the jury and for constantly baiting Darden.
Dershowitz is far harsher on Clark and the police. He points to her castigation of the defense lawyers, which brought frequent rebukes from Judge Lance Ito. He has no patience with her putting Mark Fuhrman on the stand when she must have known he was lying about his racist behavior. And Dershowitz makes a solid case that the problem of police lying on the witness stand is far more serious than many admit.
Dershowitz traces police lying about obtaining evidence to the 1962 Mapp v. Ohio Supreme Court decision, which said that evidence unconstitutionally obtained must be excluded from state as well as federal trials. Most judges and prosecutors know full well that police often lie on the stand about how they obtain evidence, he says, but few judges have the courage to challenge the police and end the practice.
Seven-plus months after the verdict, the polls still show that most people think Simpson got away with murder. The story Shapiro and Dershowitz tell does not prove Simpson's innocence; that is not the job of the defense in any case. But both explain well why the trial ended as it did - and, why, given the circumstances, it had to end that way.
Lawrence J. Goodrich is an editorial writer for the Monitor.