F. Lee Bailey just may be the only white person in history to publicly say the N-word (hard R and all) and receive a widespread pass from Black people for uttering the hateful, racist slur.
The high-profile celebrity lawyer who died Thursday at the age of 87 did exactly just that when he was part of the so-called Dream Team of lawyers defending O.J. Simpson against murder charges for allegedly killing his estranged wife and her lover in Southern California 27 years ago in what was at the time billed as “The Trial of the Century.”
Simpson offered condolences upon hearing news of Bailey’s death.
While using the full N-word was a risky move, it obviously paid off as his client was controversially acquitted in 1995 in a trial that also led to the perjury conviction of a police officer who, Bailey established, lied under oath about using the N-word and having a vendetta against interracial couples and the Black men who are in them.
It was a masterclass in legal maneuvering in a line of questioning that shrewdly established doubt about LAPD detective Mark Fuhrman’s approach to the case. The defense suggested that Fuhrman had the motive to plant a bloody glove at the scene of the crime that prosecutors argued was linked to Simpson. Furhman had been accused of using the N-word about a decade earlier.
Bailey used the N-word no less than seven times in about 10 minutes and decided to employ that strategy at a time when the Associated Press reported that the defense’s case was stalling.
“You say under oath that you have not addressed any Black person as a nigger or spoken about black people as niggers in the past 10 years, Detective Fuhrman?” Bailey asked at one point.
Fuhrman denied all allegations of using the N-word, but the move effectively put the detective on trial instead of Simpson as the jury, which consisted of eight Black people, watched intently.
Watch the below video that shows how Bailey methodically set up Fuhrman through a line of questioning designed to incriminate the case’s lead detective.
The cross-examination of Fuhrman was also effectively the turning point in what had up until that point been a lopsided case in favor of the prosecution. But once Bailey was able to establish that race played a major factor in how police handled the case, it was only a matter of time before legal legend Johnnie Cochran, who assembled and led Simpson’s legal team, was able to bring the case home.
Simpson’s lawyers introduced a letter as evidence from a woman who claimed Fuhrman used the N-word at a Marine recruiting center, where she wrote he told her that he “would like nothing more than to see all ‘niggers’ gathered together and killed. He said something about burning them or bombing them.” The woman, identified as Kathleen Bell, ultimately offered emotional testimony in the courtroom about how she said Fuhrman told her he wanted to kill Black people.
“I didn’t want someone to be tried without all the information, and I thought that there might be some reason that they need to know that Mark Fuhrman said these things to me,” Bell testified.
The defense also produced an audio tape of Fuhrman using the N-word twice, including saying, “We have no niggers where I grew up.” Fuhrman used the N-word 39 more times on the tape. However, the jury was only allowed to hear the aforementioned two instances.
Months later, Fuhrman would be forced to answer for his lies and was convicted of perjury after pleading guilty, a credit to Bailey’s strategic line of questioning about the N-word.
In 2004, a documentary called “The N-Word” examined the notorious racist epithet and heavily features archived footage of Bailey from Simpson’s murder trial.
Bailey defended a number of other high-profile clients in criminal cases, including the Boston Strangler, but the O.J. Simpson murder trial was the moment he all but became a household name in America.