UPDATED: 11:00 a.m. ET, Oct. 3, 2022
On this day in American history, one-time celebrated football legend Orenthal James (O.J.) Simpson was acquitted in the killings of his estranged wife and her companion to mark the conclusion of one of the most notorious murder trials that still to this day officially remains unsolved.
The 1995 murder trial was one of the most-explosive media moments in the dawn of the internet age. From the time news of the killings of Simpson’s wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ronald Goldman, made the headlines, the case held the attention of the nation in a vice grip — and in many ways, it still does.
Brown Simpson and Goldman were found murdered inside Brown Simpson’s Los Angeles area condo on June 13, 1994. Split from his wife two years prior, the former NFL great immediately became a prime suspect. After agreeing to surrender to the police days later, Simpson reneged and left behind what experts later determined to be a suicide letter. The letter, read by defense attorney Robert Kardashian, added a new wrinkle to the case as a city-wide search for Simpson was underway.
The infamous “white Bronco” event was also bizarre, with Simpson’s friend Al Cowling driving him around and leading police on a chase that was televised live. After finally surrendering, police found a loaded handgun, cash, a disguise, and clothing. Although Simpson maintained his innocence from the onset, Simpson’s actions clearly mirrored those of a man looking for an escape route.
After months of legal haggling from the time of Simpson’s official arraignment on June 20, he pleaded not guilty to the double homicide. The evidence was mounting high against Simpson, but the case was tainted by the actions of shamed MLB player Jose Camacho, who allegedly sold a knife similar to the one used to murder Brown Simpson and Goldman. Camacho reportedly sold his story to the National Enquirer for $12,500.
The trial officially began on Jan. 24, 1995, in Los Angeles at the California Supreme Court, later moving to the Criminal Courts Building in Santa Monica. Televised almost exclusively by Court TV and several major outlets, the case that prosecutor Marcia Clark and District Attorney Christopher Darden were building looked to be a lock for their side. However, Simpson amassed a so-called “Dream Team” of attorneys, including Robert Shapiro along with a trio of lawyers who have since died: Johnny Cochran, F. Lee Bailey and the aforementioned Kardashian.
The racial tensions present in the trial also divided the country.
Brown Simpson and Goldman, both white, captured the sympathies of those who felt Simpson was nothing more than a jealous brute. On the other side, Los Angeles had a history of tampering with evidence and convicting African Americans with stronger sentences while whites often got off free. Cochran wisely stated in court that then-LAPD officer Mark Fuhrman, known for his racist ways, may have planted evidence, such as a bloody glove, at the crime scene.
Cochran’s famous quip, “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit,” became a common refrain in newspapers and in video reports. Simpson placed a pair of gloves over his hand to no avail when they didn’t fit. The lasting image of this act was one of the more damning blows for the prosecution.
On the morning of Oct. 3, 1995, at 10 a.m. local time, the jury turned in a not-guilty verdict, stopping the entire nation in its tracks as the news broke.
The verdict was such an event that then-President Bill Clinton was given security measures to enact and police stood guard at government buildings. An estimated 100 million people worldwide stopped whatever activity they were involved in to listen to the verdict, and productivity in nearly every industry was at a standstill.
Since the verdict, however, Simpson’s life has not been a cakewalk.
A civil suit brought by the families of Nicole and Goldman attacked his finances and earnings, and he engaged in several ill-advised antics to raise monies in the wake of the trial. A 2006 book titled “If I Did It” was released, raising speculation that Simpson was the actual killer — or at least knew who ended the life of his ex-wife and her friend.
Simpson was ultimately jailed for 11 years on unrelated robbery and other charges.
After being released in 2018, the Goldman family started to notice that Simpson was able to generate some income, but they were not seeing a dime of the money that the court determined they were owed. As of last year, O.J had reportedly only paid the Goldman family $132,000 of the debt that has reportedly ballooned to more than $70 million in part because of interest rates.