A case that may live forever
They were the murders that launched 1,000 Trials of the Century, plunged the nation into a divisive examination of race, money, and justice, and gave the world the Dancing Itos. And here we go again. This week marks 10 years since the brutal killings of Nicole Simpson and Ronald Goldman, and as Los Angeles prepares for a round-the-clock media romp down memory lane, a lot has changed. And a lot has not.
First, the changes. O. J. Simpson's Brentwood home at 360 N. Rockingham Avenue has been torn down and replaced by a Mediterranean-style mansion. Nicole's condo has been renovated beyond recognition and has a new address. And Mezzaluna, the restaurant where Goldman worked--and where he and Nicole were last seen alive--is now a Peet's Coffee & Tea staffed by baristas too young to remember when DNA evidence was a novelty. When asked if he knew the significance of the former restaurant, one of those baristas, a 20-something male full of piercings and tattoos, replied: "No. But that must be why we got that memo from corporate saying we weren't allowed to talk to any media."
Teeing off. Like those physical landmarks, the not-ready-for-prime-time players from the case have retreated from the serious limelight or morphed into something else. Former Los Angeles cop Mark Fuhrman moved to Idaho and wrote a bestselling book about an unsolved murder in tony Greenwich, Conn. Prosecutor Marcia Clark got $4 million for a book and is now a legal commentator for Entertainment Tonight. Judge Lance Ito--the subject of late-night TV spoofs like the Dancing Itos dance troupe--still presides over an L.A. courtroom. Brian "Kato" Kaelin is peddling a reality show called Houseguest and is now a B-level celebrity. And O. J. Simpson, who was acquitted of murder but still owes $33.5 million of the civil judgment against him, lives in Florida, where he plays a lot of golf. He's also trying to sell his story.
But while the characters may be historical asterisks, the trial seems to have had an enduring, if troubling, impact. "The Simpson case pushed so many social, racial, and emotional hot buttons that it will never really recede from public view," says Earl Ofari Hutchinson, an African-American author and political activist who lives in L.A. "If you were to poll people today, the results would be just what they were 10 years ago: Whites thought O.J. got away with murder. Blacks either thought he was framed or that he was guilty, but they didn't care." Says Desiree Gill, who lives in L.A.'s predominantly African-American Crenshaw district: "We all know he did it, but we're glad he got off. Finally a little justice for the underdog."
The LAPD has a glam new chief, Bill Bratton, and crime is down, but the image of the police as a bunch of racist Keystone Kops has been very slow to change. As have perceptions that the justice system is rigged against black defendants--and that the predominantly black O.J. jury rerigged it, however briefly. (As the anniversary approaches, organizations like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the National Urban League don't want to discuss the trial's legacy.)