O.J.: The Last Word.
Gerry Spence, a trial lawyer with more than 40 years of experience, has written an insightful and interesting account of what went wrong in the O.J. Simpson murder trial, and why.
Spence was marginally involved in the case, having been summoned to be interviewed by lead defense counsel Robert Shapiro for inclusion on Simpson's "Dream Team" of defense lawyers. Fortunately for Spence, he did not join the team. Instead, he offered legal commentary on the case for a major television network. In this capacity, he came to know all the players in the course of the trial and was able to observe firsthand their many flaws.
Like many books about the case, O.J.: The Last Word is largely about how not to conduct yourself in a criminal trial, especially one under intense media scrutiny. According to Spence, all the principal actors made serious errors in judgment that significantly affected the trial's course and conclusion.
For example, Spence observes that early in the proceedings, Judge Lance Ito appeared on a television talk show and was interviewed about the case. Shortly after this, he had to excuse those jurors who had seen the interview.
Ito then urged several television network executives not to publicize a scandal-filled book written by Fay Resnick, Nicole Brown Simpson's self-proclaimed best friend. When word of this got out, sales of the book, which was critical of O.J., soared.
According to Spence, Chief Prosecutor Marcia Clark and her assistant Christopher Darden also erred by making deals with publishers to write books about the trial once it ended. Spence suggests that this ensured that Clark's and Darden's conduct during the trial would conform to their ideas of how they wanted to portray themselves in their books.
Spence also notes that both prosecutors received substantial advances for their literary efforts, which, Spence says, raises questions about their motives. Were they interested in pursuing justice or financial gain?
Spence observes that members of the Dream Team also signed contracts to write books about the trial. But, he says, this did not appear to adversely affect the defense. The defense seemed to need no help in giving a circus-like performance.
One particularly interesting point the author makes relates to the prosecution's decision to not seek the death penalty. Spence suggests the racial makeup of the jury would have been different if the case had been "death-certified." He claims the judge would have had to excuse many potential African American jurors during voir dire because they would have been reluctant to execute another African American.
In the final analysis, Spence says, the jury's verdict was a result of the prosecution's ineptitude. He says the prosecution failed to conduct itself before the jury in a credible manner. As an example, Spence points to the prosecution's feeble explanation for the police officers' failure to get a warrant before entering Simpson's fenced property after the murder. According to the prosecution, the officers did this because they needed to tell Simpson that his wife was dead.
O.J.: The Last Word is a tantalizing book. In it, Spence offers a plausible explanation for the jurors' doubts about Simpson's guilt--notably, the prosecution's lack of candor.
Herein is a valuable lesson for trial lawyers.
Vincent J. Fuller practices with Williams & Connolly in Washington, D.C.
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|Author:||Fuller, Vincent J.|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||May 1, 1998|
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