darden

Even though it’s been over 20 years now since the infamous OJ Simpson trial, the memories are still quite fresh with me. The verdict especially lingers with me, standing out as one of those “Where were you?” moments. I expressly remember being a young, high school junior witnessing the verdict on a TV cart wheeled in to the same class where we spent many months before discussing the case. I remember the images showing the various reactions of white and black viewers, and remembering how those expressions were similarly reflected in my class. I remember thinking this case represented a turning point (good or bad) for the country. But I also remember discussing how the case was won by one side and lost by the other. Almost unanimously, people agreed that one of the pivotal moments of the trial was when the blood-stained gloves used during the murders didn’t fit OJ’s hand. The trial was defined by the singular Cochran line “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.”

Since it was the idea of prosecutor Chris Darden for Simpson to try on the gloves in the first place, he was naturally blamed for the outcome. But after re-examining the case from adult eyes, I have a much different take on – and appreciation of – Mr. Darden’s role in this trial. In the humble opinion of your intrepid host, none of this should have ever fallen on Darden. If anything, I think Darden was an unsung hero in this case. As he was unfairly being portrayed as a “uncle tom” or a bumbling lawyer, I think he was ultimately the main one looking for justice for two victims. While everyone else was looking to cash in on “The Trial of the Century”, I think Darden’s best intentions were pretty noble and unblemished by the magnitude of the case.

ESPN Classic used to air a show called “The Top Five Reasons You Can’t Blame…“, a series focusing on a player or organization widely blamed for a notable sports failure. But I’d like to go in a different direction and apply that to the OJ Simpson Murder Trial. So this post is written to prove to you that Chris Darden was not at fault for the outcome of the trial. Before I get to the top 5 reasons why you can’t blame Chris Darden, let’s examine a few reasons that didn’t make the cut. Here are, what TFRYCB would refer to as, “The Best of the Rest”:

The jury: Darden astutely pointed out that the jury’s deliberation would be ignited by passion. He was right. Once the trial started, objectivity was thrown out the window. One juror, for instance, stripped away any sympathy for Nicole Simpson because she believed Nicole put herself in her predicament by not leaving OJ in the first place. Another juror gave OJ a Black Panther salute as he exited the courtroom, apparently in a show of black solidarity. If you think the jury was impartial, you missed the entire trial.

OJ Simpson: Simpson exuded charisma and charm both as a football player and as a celebrity beyond his football years. Being a public figure and a well-established actor at the time, he knew how to turn it up or down to suit the situation. The courtroom camera and media coverage amplified that to a much larger audience. He knew the perfect time to flash his infectious smile or to garner our sympathy with his sad and stoic look. OJ was, dare I say, brilliant. And people ate it up.

And now, for the top five reasons you can’t blame Chris Darden for the OJ acquittal:

(5) Johnnie Cochran: Let’s face facts. Johnnie Cochran was good. Scratch that. The man was legendary. He possessed a legal mastery that was on full display before the entire world. With his spell-binding alliteration, his preacher-esque delivery, and a team of brilliant legal minds at his disposal, Cochran made this trial less about OJ and more of an indictment of an historically oppressive and disparate judicial system. Cochran could have squared off against Jesus Christ Himself and won the case.

(4) Fred Goldman: I’ll admit: this one is a little hard to critique, and I hate to include him in this list. Mr. Goldman was a grieving parent who deserved (and still deserves) our sympathy. But in his zeal to keep OJ from getting off by being a black man “victimized by the system”, he scoffed at the racial aspect of this case presented by Mr. Cochran. People noticed and despised Goldman for it. I remember his response to Cochran comparing Detective Fuhrman to Hitler was to accuse Cochran of “playing the race card.” When black people see a black person on trial for his life with white people out to get him, accusing them of playing the race card will fail, even if that person actually was playing the race card. It will fail. Every. Single. Time. In the blink of an eye, that rant turned Goldman from a sympathetic victim of violence into an agitator completely dismissive of the reality of systemic racism for millions of people.

(3) Marcia Clark: Regardless of what Chris may or may not have done correctly during the trial, the inescapable fact was that this was Clark’s case to win or lose. She determined the witnesses to call. It was her job to connect with the jurors. It was her job to predict any and all hurdles that could have came up over the course of the trial. It was her job to control the optics (I’m no legal scholar, but even I know that trials are less about right and wrong and more about delivery). It was her job to properly vet Mark Fuhrman if she planned to use him as a witness (ironically, Darden opposed putting Fuhrman on the stand. But Clark – thinking Fuhrman was the key to introducing the gloves as evidence – overruled him). Even her decision to add Darden to the case appeared to have been racially-motivated by many. I honestly think she was just showing confidence in his ability. But to the people who mattered most (in this case, the jury) it looked like a calculated racial play by Clark. She failed to forsee that or to deal with it once it came up.

Have I convinced you yet? If not, keep reading.

(2) Mark Fuhrman: Captain Obvious on this one, people. If Fuhrman is not put on the stand or associated with this case in any way, OJ is found guilty. No doubt about it. Again, I understanding the reasoning behind Clark’s decision to put Fuhrman on the stand. But anybody with even a modicum of courtroom insight knows that the minute a person is put on the stand, that person’s credibility is immediately up for dissection. The person testifying has to be virtually unimpeachable. Fuhrman wasn’t. Instead, he was a Nazi-paraphernalia collecting, unabashed racist who was recorded talking about beating up suspects (referring to them with the n-word) and planting evidence (Is it a shock that he’s now a Fox News contributor? But I digress). THIS, ladies and gentlemen, was the man central to the prosecution’s case. His coming up with the lamest of all reasons for saying those things on tape and then subsequently pleading the fifth on questions pertaining to him planting evidence pretty much closed the door on the trial. Need I remind you, this was Marcia Clark’s witness.

And the number one reason…

Rodney King: The OJ Simpson verdict was payback for the acquittals of the officers involved in the Rodney King beating. This, from the mouth of one of the jurors. The prosecution could have put on the best trial of their careers and they still would have lost. The City of Los Angeles was still reeling from Rodney King along with an assortment of other racially-charged events. In each instance, the people attacking and/or killing the black victims received little, if any, punishment. It was only a matter of time before the powder keg exploded. It just happened to explode around the same time that OJ murdered two people of the OJ trial.

There you have it. Have I changed your mind? What say you?

– ACL

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