Late at night on 12th June 1994, a dogwalker discovered the brutally murdered bodies of Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman outside Nicole’s Beverly Hills home. Both victims had been stabbed repeatedly and had their throats cut while Nicole’s two sons were asleep inside the house.
As police arrived at the scene and the investigation commenced, suspicion quickly fell on Orenthal James “OJ” Simpson, famous actor, former football star and Nicole’s estranged husband. During his seven year marriage to Nicole, OJ had allegedly been abusive on several occasions, offering police an instant potential motive for murder. Police tracked down OJ to inform him of his former wife’s murder. He was located in a hotel in Chicago, having taken a late flight at 11:45pm the previous evening. Simpson caught a flight back to LA a few hours later, voluntarily attending the police station to give an interview, fingerprints and a blood sample. Police noticed a bandage covering his middle finger, which Simpson claimed he had cut when he broke a glass, though his story on this matter later changed.
In the meantime, both the crime scene and OJ’s house were searched, yielding a wealth of incriminating evidence. A bloodied glove found near the two bodies, which was later shown to contain DNA from OJ, Nicole and Goldman, matched a glove found outside OJ’s home. Officers discovered blood both on the door of the suspect’s Ford Bronco, and also droplets leading into his house. Inside, a pair of bloodied socks were discovered, blood that was later matched to Nicole.
On 17th June 1994, a warrant for Simpson’s arrest was issued, but he could not be tracked down. His friend and lawyer Robert Kardashian publicly read out a letter written by Simpson which was later perceived as a suicide note. Shortly after this, Simpson was spotted driving on the highway, refusing to pull over when requested to by police. A passenger in the car, Al Cowling, dialled 911 and warned police that Simpson had a gun and appeared suicidal. A huge chase ensued, involving dozens and police vehicles and extensive live coverage by the media. Eventually the chase ended and Simpson was apprehended with a firearm, a large sum of money and a disguise in his possession.
On 23rd January 1995 an eight month trial began, in which OJ Simpson was charged with two counts of murder, to which he pleaded not guilty. The defendant used his wealth and power to compile a defence ‘dream team’, composed of some of the biggest names in criminal law and forensic science, including lawyers Robert Kardashian, Robert Shapiro and Johnnie Cochran, and DNA specialists Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld (the founders of the Innocence Project).
The prosecution put forth the image of an abusive man who had killed his ex-partner and her friend in a jealous rage, supported by OJ’s lack of alibi for the night in question and a wealth of seemingly incriminating DNA evidence. However through a combination of Simpson’s great defence team and a series of police errors, a great deal of the evidence supporting the prosecution’s case came under fire.
The general processing of the scene was sloppy, with items of evidence never entering the chain of custody, photographs being taken without scales for reference, bloody police shoe prints littering the scene and even evidence not ever being collected, most notably a bloodied fingerprint found on the gateway of the house. The latter was documented by one of the investigating detectives but was subsequently forgotten about and lost. A blood sample taken from OJ was allegedly carried around in the pocket of an investigator for hours after collection, rather than being immediately submitted as evidence and preserved. Furthermore, 1.5mL of this blood sample was supposedly lost, leading to claims of planted evidence and incrimination, further fuelled by accusations of a primary detective on the case, Mark Fuhrman, being a known racist. A pair of socks retrieved from the suspect’s home were found to have Nicole’s blood on them, however the blood was curiously not noticed at the time of collection and, according to the defence, the bloodstain patterns did not match the story, further supporting claims of evidence planting. Most notably, when presented with the incriminating bloody gloves during the trial, OJ proceeded to publicly try on the gloves, which proved to be too small. As his lawyer Cochran went on the announce, “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit!”
The entire management of the investigation and evidence was referred to as a “cesspool of contamination”, and the aforementioned issues were more than enough to provide reasonable doubt.
On 3rd October 1995, OJ Simpson was found not guilty, though the Goldman family did later sue him in a civil case for a large quantity of money in damages. Incidentally in 2007 Simpson was involved in and found guilty of an armed robbery and kidnapping incident, resulting in a sentence of 33 years in prison. He is currently held at Lovelock Correctional Center in Nevada, eligible for parole in 2017.
Crime Museum. Forensics at the OJ Simpson Trial. [online] Available: http://www.crimemuseum.org/crime-library/forensic-investigation-of-the-oj-simpson-trial
Rocklin School District. Case Study: OJ Simpson. [online] Available: http://www.rocklin.k12.ca.us/staff/lbrun/chemweb/Forensics/Unit_4_DNA/Case_Study_OJ_Simpson.pdf