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From Cheers to Tears: Verdict Splits AmericaBy William Claiborne
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 4, 1995; Page A01
LOS ANGELES, OCT. 3 -- In an emphatic conclusion to a case that transfixed the nation, a jury of 10 women and two men today acquitted O.J. Simpson of murder.
As Americans gathered around television sets across the country, Court Clerk Deirdre Robertson read the verdicts to a hushed and expectant courtroom at 10:07 a.m. Pacific time. When Robertson uttered the phrase "Not guilty," loud gasps echoed through the packed room.
As Simpson stood facing the jury, his body seemed to sag with relief. A light, enigmatic smile crossed his faced as he silently mouthed the words "Thank you" to the nine blacks, two whites and one Hispanic on the jury. He then clasped his hands together and was embraced by his attorneys.
For the most part the jurors offered no explanation for their verdicts, which they reached after less than four hours of deliberation. But the one juror who spoke publicly at any length about the case, Lionel Cryer, 44, a telephone company marketing representative, said there were too many holes in the prosecution's case. "It was garbage in, garbage out," Cryer said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. Less than an hour into deliberations, he said, it was clear that most jurors favored acquittal.
Simpson also did not appear publicly. But in a statement read by his son, Jason, he declared his "incredible nightmare" was over and said he is now determined to search for the real "killer or killers" of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ronald L. Goldman.
"I'm relieved that this part of the incredible nightmare that occurred on June 12, 1994, is over," said the statement, which added, "I can only hope that someday, despite every prejudicial thing that has been said about me publicly, both in andout of the courtroom, people will come to understand and believe that I would not, could not and did not kill anyone."
But a grim-faced Los Angeles District Attorney Gil Garcetti said in a news conference after the verdicts that his office would not reopen the case and made clear he believed a guilty man had gone free. "I stand in front of you, we all stand in front of you, with the belief that the evidence was there," he told reporters. "This was not in our opinion a close case."
Shortly after the verdicts, as he was pursued by news media helicopters, Simpson was driven home in a white van. The televised scene was an almost surreal reenactment of the low-speed freeway chase that began the criminal trial saga 15 months ago that obsessed the nation.
As they did on June 17, 1994, when the popular television and film personality led police cars on a bizarre, 40-mile odyssey, motorists and pedestrians cheered and waved on Simpson toward his home. When he got there, he embraced his closest friend and former football teammate, Al "A.C." Cowlings, in the driveway of his fashionable Brentwood estate.
Meanwhile, back in the downtown Criminal Courts Building, stunned prosecutors and the devastated families of the two victims struggled to cope with the verdicts, which climaxed a nine-month trial that was dominated by the issue of race.
Weeping openly in an emotion-charged news conference in the district attorney's office, Fred Goldman bitterly charged that justice had been denied. It was his son, Ronald, a 25-year-old restaurant waiter, who stumbled by happenstance into the June 12, 1994, slaughter in the narrow walkway of Nicole Simpson's town house condominium and himself became a victim.
"The prosecution team didn't lose today. I deeply believe that this country lost today. Justice was not served," Goldman declared, as he wiped away tears and struggled unsuccessfully to regain his composure.
Garcetti, an elected official whose office is certain to come under fire for losing such a highly publicized case, insisted the case was strong, but refused to speculate on why jurors had rejected it. But Garcetti said he deeply regretted the verdicts.
"When you ask: Are there people who are going to be doubting the criminal justice system? Of course there are people doubting the criminal justice system," he said. "But let me tell you one thing -- you have heard it time and again -- that this case is not the usual case. Don't look at this case as being how most cases are handled, or how most juries, or how most judges, or how almost everyone is involved in the process deals with the case. That's not the case."
Earlier in the courtroom, as Judge Lance A. Ito's clerk read the not guilty verdicts in an emotionless monotone, Goldman's sister, Kimberly, burst into tears and clasped her hands to her face. Her father pulled her head to his shoulder and tried to console her. Goldman's stepmother, Patti, cried out, "Oh, my God, how could they?"
At one point, Fred Goldman muttered the word, "Murderer."
The relatives of Nicole Brown Simpson, including her mother, Juditha, and sister, Denise, stared blankly at the jury as tears streamed down their faces.
Across the aisle, Arnelle Simpson, the celebrity defendant's daughter by his first marriage, exclaimed, "Oh, my God!" as his mother, Eunice, and sisters hugged each other and cried with joy.
Ito then ordered that Simpson be transported to the Los Angeles County Men's Central Jail, where he has been locked in a 9-by-7-foot cell since June 17, 1994, for final processing and release.
Barely 15 minutes after he entered the squat, forbidding detention facility for the last time, Simpson emerged, got into a van and was driven 15 miles to his sprawling Rockingham Avenue estate in Brentwood.
Meanwhile, in Ito's courtroom, Simpson's high-powered and high-priced team of defense lawyers and his closest relatives held a news conference at which they expressed their thanks to the jurors for the "truly amazing" verdicts.
Simpson's lead defense attorney, Johnnie L. Cochran Jr., said his client had always wanted to testify in his own defense and that "I do think you'll be hearing from him. . . . He believes the killers are out there and he wants to do something about it."
During the trial, Simpson's lawyers advanced the theory -- as yet unsupported by evidence -- that drug dealers bent on avenging unpaid debts may have been responsible for the murders. They cited Nicole Simpson's relationship with Faye Resnick, a friend who had been living at the victim's house until she entered a drug treatment facility shortly before the murders.
When asked how Simpson intends to pursue the "real killers," defense attorney Robert Blasier said it was too soon to discuss the details of the search, but he indicated a reward was being considered.
Arnelle Simpson was asked how her father's two young children by Nicole, Sydney and Justin, who have been living with the victim's parents, would be reunited with the man who had been accused of murdering their mother. She replied, "With God, with faith . . . just a lot of meeting and healing to take place. . . . We just have to take it one day at a time."
Cochran heatedly denied suggestions by reporters that race had transcended evidence during the trial. He described as "preposterous" analysis by some legal experts that "jury nullification" -- reaching beyond evidence and basing a verdict on emotional responses -- may have marked the panel's deliberations over less than four hours on Monday.
When asked about the role race played in the verdicts, Cochran acknowledged that he had often said "race plays a part of everything in America." But he said race was introduced into the Simpson trial not by the defense but by former police detective Mark Fuhrman, a key prosecution witness.
Fuhrman testified he had found several incriminating items of evidence during a June 13, 1994,search of Simpson's estate, including a bloody glove that matched one found at the murder scene. But he was discredited by the disclosure of tape-recorded interviews in which he expressed racist views to a North Carolina screenwriter and boasted of manufacturing evidence to frame black suspects.
Terming as "preposterous" suggestions that he had exploited the "race card" to win over the mostly black jury, Cochran said, "We chose to call it the credibility card."
But fellow defense attorney Robert L. Shapiro disagreed, telling ABC News this evening, "Not only did we play the race card, we dealt it from the bottom of the deck." Shapiro said he was "deeply offended" that Cochran had compared Fuhrman to Adolf Hitler. He said would never work with Cochran again and would never talk to attorney F. Lee Bailey.
"To me the Holocaust stands alone as the most horrible human event in modern civilization," Shapiro said. "And with the Holocaust came Adolf Hitler, and to compare this in any way to a rogue cop, in my opinion, was wrong."
Cochran said he had always maintained that if the defense lawyers could "shatter" the prosecution's fragile time line for a 78-minute window of opportunity for Simpson to leave home, commit the murders and return to meet a limousine for a trip to the airport, the jury would have reasonable doubts about the defendant's guilt.
He said that when jurors on Monday requested to have the March 28 testimony of limousine driver Allan Park read back, it clearly had doubts about the prosecution's time line theory.
Asked if Simpson's acquittal was, in effect, a verdict against the Los Angeles Police Department, Cochran replied, "I do believe that there were credibility problems with the LAPD. I do believe that had some effect." He said he hoped that the police crime laboratory and the Los Angeles County coroner's office will now "get their act together" and "get up to speed."
Defense lawyer Shapiro described as "an interesting concept" a reporter's suggestion that the Simpson trial had demonstrated that any defendant with enough money could establish enough reasonable doubt to win a "Not guilty" verdict.
But he said the prosecution had sent a "small army" of lawyers, investigators and criminalists against Simpson. "If we did not have adequate resources, we would not have even come close" to winning an acquittal, Shapiro said.
Special correspondent Kathryn Wexler contributed to this report.
© Copyright 1995 The Washington Post Company