Caroline Davies, Guardian (Manchester), October 4, 2008
Thirteen years to the day of his sensational acquittal on charges of double murder, the conviction of OJ Simpson for conspiracy to kidnap and armed robbery looks unlikely to have the same dramatic impact.
Back in 1995, US opinion was instantly divided along racial lines. There was widespread outrage among white Americans when the footballer-turned actor walked free after being cleared of the brutal murders of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ron Goldman.
Many African-Americans, however, saw it as justice for a black man persecuted and framed because of the colour of his skin.
Much was made of the fact the jury was predominantly black. And the world was transfixed as Simpson’s lawyers were accused of playing the “race card’ throughout a trial that lasted almost a year and was transmitted daily to the world through court room cameras. That trial became not just a spectacle, but a racial touchstone too.
But this time the fate of the erstwhile all-American hero failed to capture the same intense public interest.
True, much may made of the significance that he was tried by an all-white jury. It has often been claimed that black jurors are more sympathetic towards black defendants than white jurors. And Simpson’s defence lawyer has argued that African-Americans were systematically excluded by prosecutors on the grounds that they might be more likely to feel sympathy for the black boy suffering from rickets whose sporting prowess enabled him to fight his way out of a San Francisco ghetto and attain superstar status in Los Angeles.
Two black women were dismissed from the jury panel after a contentious courtroom battle between defence and prosecution lawyers. The judge was careful to stress this was not because of their race, but because of their religious beliefs which might have made them more “forgiving” of the defendant.
So even now the issue of Simpson’s colour cannot be ignored. And it is an issue his lawyers may try to use when it comes to any appeal.
But, will it provide the same cultural flashpoint that drew huge crowds to the court and polarised black and white American back in 1995?
This time, the court room was barely half full for most of the three week trial.
Perhaps it was because America is more preoccupied with the presidential election campaign, or consumed by the economic crisis. Perhaps it is because the victims in this case, two middle-aged memorabilia dealers who are said to have tried to cash-in by attempting to sell their stories to the media, are themselves less sympathetic.
Or perhaps OJ Simpson himself, the much-loved No 32 of the Buffalo Bills and seen as probably the greatest player in the National Football League, is no longer the African-American hero. His reputation has been severely tarnished during his momentous fall from grace thirteen years ago.
Though acquitted of the murders, a subsequent civil judgment found him responsible for the deaths of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman, who were found stabbed and slashed to death in June 1994. He was ordered to pay $33.5 million in damages to their families, though has not done so.
In Florida in 2001 he was cleared of charges in a road-rage incident. In January 2003 his teenage daughter Sydney made an emotional 911 call to police after an argument with her father, but no charges were filed. He came to public attention again the following year when a neighbour of called police to report a fight, though again no charges were brought.
Then his judgment was seriously questioned when he tried to publish a fictitious account of the murders in a ghost written book distastefully entitled If I Did It. The publishers eventually pulped it.
Thirteen years ago, Simpson successfully held himself out as the victim of persecution. Now, at 61, he faces imprisonment. Just who and how many will be outraged this time remains to be seen.