He may be famous for winning the Heisman Trophy, being an inductee into the Pro football Hall-of-Fame, and making millions from movie appearances and commercial endorsements. But, as far as some FAMU students are concerned Orenthal James Simpson is infamous for being the murder suspect in the “Trial of the Century”.
Today is the tenth anniversary of the reading of the verdict in a trial that showed exactly how racially divided America was.
Simpson was on trial for the June 1994 murders of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and Ronald Goldman. The official trial began in seven months later, amid hoards of media members from around the world to document the spectacle. A jury of nine blacks, two whites and one Hispanic found Simpson not guilty, after four hours of deliberation.
Time may have healed some wounds from the trial, but it left some indelible memories in the minds of a few Famuan’s, though most students were in junior high school at the time.
Whether it was Simpson riding in down the California highway with a gun pointed to his head with friend Al Cowlings, the late Johnnie Cochran’s memorable phrase, “if the glove doesn’t fit, you must acquit” or the sheer jubilation and frustration across the country when the verdict was given. Throw in prosecutor Chris Darden crying after the conclusion of the trial and it was what helped the Simpson case stand apart from other celebrity trials.
“I don’t remember anything about the trial to be honest,” said junior Melissa Alphonse, who was in fifth grade at the time.
Most of what the social work student from Miami remembers stems from what she was told by family members or what she watched on CNN. What stuck out the most in Alphonse’s memory about the whole experience was the financial divide regarding black defendants.
“If you have money, you’re going to get off. If you are broke like us, you’re going to jail.”
Junior Lawrence Mason agrees with such sentiments.
“He had a skilled lawyer,” the pharmacy student from Columbia, S.C. said. “There are not too many people Johnnie (Cochran) doesn’t get off.”
Judicial chasms were not reserved too just the black community, though most of the students interviewed for this story felt Simpson was guilty, or responsible, in some regard.
Shaunte Nichols was one of the few who truly believed Simpson’s innocence.
“If he wanted to have her killed he wouldn’t have stabbed her a million times,” said the junior business administration student from Chicago, trying to hold back laughter. “That’s not a black man’s crime.”
Where Nichols and Alphonse and admitted to not knowing who Simpson was before the murders, Melverton Walters’ did have a general idea because he played football as a child.
“(There is) always going to be a racial mark on anyone in today’s society. Today’s society is more overt in what’s going on, it’s more hidden racism,” said Walters, who was in eighth grade when the verdict was read.
Walters believes the societal racism, during the trial and today, can somewhat be credited to the media.
“The media plays a large role in any trial. The media expresses what they choose to express. They basically give you their side, so you don’t get a true understanding of what (a) case is about,” the senior mathematics student from Miami.
Had Brown Simpson and Goldman been white, Walters believed “the media would not have shown an interest in those people.”
The invested interest of America helped make national names out of Marcia Clark, Brian “Kato” Kaelin, Mark Fuhrman and of course Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman.
“I don’t understand why I remember these names but I do,” Ebony Ivory said. “We were all happy (when the verdict was read) even though we didn’t know what was going on,” said the junior business administration student from Ft. Lauderdale who was in fifth grade at the time.
Ivory wasn’t alone in not fully understanding her reactions or those of her classmates at the time, Amanda Wilkerson was just as confused.
The trial helped Wilkerson open her eyes to race relations in America, being that she “received some of the direct residuals of the verdict.” Wilkerson, a senior political science student from Kissimmee was the only black person in the room when the verdict was read.
No matter how great a football player Simpson was, it is the double murder trial that will stay synonymous with him. On one particular Internet search engine, eight of the first ten matches involving O.J. Simpson lead to links regarding his murder trial.
“I’m cautiously optimistic of the judicial system. I respect the judicial system and only time will tell if another (similar) case arises. The O.J. case set a precedent on how cases are (tried) on people with celebrity status,” Wilkerson said.
Contact Will Brown at email@example.com