William The Coroner’s Forensic Files

Friday, 30, January, 2009

Seminars in Forensic Anatomy–OJ

Filed under: Forensics,Social Commentary,Teaching — williamthecoroner @ 17:50

So, this week we were discussing the first and second OJ Simpson trials; the criminal one in 1994-5 and the civil trial, touching on Simpson’s later actions and later legal troubles. The discussion was good. I need to learn more about being a facilitator, and less the guy sitting in the front of the room and blathering. Perhaps I should go Socratic on these guys. But, early days yet, and we do ultimately have a good discussion. My goal is to have it be less of the Dr. Zeus show.

Be that as it may, we had all looked at Marcia Clark’s book, Beyond a Doubt, and other material on the web. For modern cases like these, I find that web sources (or newspaper articles) are superficial, but can serve as an overview and a jumping off point for a more in-depth discussion.

The first thing that struck me when reading Beyond a Doubt was the defensiveness of the author. Admittedly, she lost me when she made a crack about medical examiners “They’re not all Dr. Quincy. What happens if they make a mistake, their patients come back to life?” That little gem aside, her book blamed a lot of people for mistakes and mismanagement.

Looking at the physical evidence, there’s enough blame to go around. In most trials, the extant trace evidence would have been enough to convict Simpson. The trial length also surprised me. I would have expected, under ordinary circumstances, a trial involving a double homicide to take about five to ten business days. Thirty-three weeks is incredible. The trace evidence and blood evidence should have been enough to put any normal defendant behind bars.

But this was no normal defendant.  Specifically, he had plenty of money.  He had enough money that people walked carefully around him.  People were worried about  his power (because money is power) and his largess.  He was enabled by many people who benefited from his largess.  He also benefited from errors made by, let’s face it, everyone associated with the case.  From people who liked to see themselves on television, (Dancing Itos, anyone) and people who wanted money (too many to mention) and people who were worried about the consequences of the trial and racial tensions in the Los Angeles county.  The driving forces, though, were publicity and underlying that, money.  Money buys publicity, and the publicity sells advertising, making money in a circle.

The take-home message, was, being a rich narcissist may help you get away with a double homicide, but being a rich narcissist helps you commit a double homicide, and those behaviour patterns will hurt you in the long run.


  1. It’s also worth thinking about the deep mistrust many people had (have still?) about the way that racism affects interactions with police officers in LA. I know colleagues who warned a VERY important African American scholar that he would get stopped if he walked around near his hotel in an upscale area. And he did.

    Comment by Bardiac — Friday, 30, January, 2009 @ 18:11 | Reply

  2. LA has been, is and always will be a media driven town. The racism is an inbred constant, brought on by the incessant gang warfare, latino vs. black vs. asian that takes place every day there. Those two things in constant play against each other ensure NOTHING happens with out one or the other or both being the center of the story.

    Comment by Old NFO — Saturday, 31, January, 2009 @ 12:29 | Reply

  3. What continues to disgust me is the fact that there are photos of Nicole Brown Simpson’s arm that CLEARLY show fingerprints. Not once was this evidence brought into either trial. Since they are so clear, I find it very hard to believe that not one of the responding officers or detectives (Mark Fuhrman) did not see them. Maybe, just maybe, they didn’t want anyone to know that they DID NOT belong to OJ Simpson.

    Comment by Are you sure? — Sunday, 1, February, 2009 @ 11:25 | Reply

    • I couldn’t tell from those photos if they were bruises or blood. Either way, getting useable prints off skin is quite difficult. Even if they didn’t belong to Simpson, so what? There are plenty of my fingerprints all over a number of homicide victims, AND at a (lesser) number of crime scenes.

      Comment by williamthecoroner — Sunday, 1, February, 2009 @ 13:58

  4. Another book you might want to consider is the recently published “Anatomy of a Trial: Public Loss, Lessons Learned from The People vs. O. J. Simpson” published by University of Missouri Press. It contains interesting insight on the longterm impact media coverage of the trial has had on the judiciary and public perception.

    Comment by workn2gether — Monday, 2, February, 2009 @ 17:33 | Reply

  5. If the trial was in Texas, Simpson would be on death row and not just because Texans like to send people there. The judge controls the trial in Texas, not losing control of it to defense attorneys. One is not allowed to stand to question witnesses and when one can stand, they cannot walk around the room like a rooster.

    Difference in the matter, television which we do not allow in the courtroom unless all sides agree.

    Comment by Jaye — Tuesday, 3, February, 2009 @ 01:22 | Reply

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