Both juries were right

February 07, 1997|By Carl T. Rowan

WASHINGTON -- From a thousand lips I hear this cry of confusion: ''How can one jury find O.J. Simpson responsible for two murders when another jury already has found him not guilty?''

The anger and doubt arise among Americans who expect a coherence within our system of justice that never has existed. It may challenge sanity, but for the jury in the civil trial that found Mr. Simpson liable for two brutal murders, the criminal trial where he was acquitted might as well never have taken place.

I think both juries made the proper decision, given the standards of proof under which they labored and the different kinds of evidence placed before them. These things, not the differences in the racial makeup of the juries, account for verdicts that are diametrically opposed.

In the criminal trial, jurors were left with many reasons to doubt Mr. Simpson's guilt. There was a troubling time line that cast into question his ability to be at the crime scene long enough to perpetrate double homicides, and reasons to doubt that he alone could have slain both victims.

The panel at the criminal trial saw a lying racist detective, Mark Fuhrman, who might have planted a bloody glove at Mr. Simpson's estate in order to facilitate his conviction. That jury saw Mr. Simpson trying to put on the ''murder gloves'' that did not fit. There were many reasons to believe that blood and other evidence had been tampered with to frame him.

Better job of lawyering

Mr. Simpson's ''dream team'' simply outlawyered the Los Angeles prosecutors who failed to prove guilt, so the ''not guilty'' verdict was proper.

The most fateful difference in the civil trial was that Mr. Simpson was forced to testify. He may not have incriminated himself, but he sure destroyed whatever credibility he had. In the face of 31 photographs of him wearing shoes of a type allegedly worn by the killer, Mr. Simpson insisted that he had never owned such shoes. When the plaintiffs produced a letter written by Nicole Simpson saying that her husband ''beat the holy hell out of me,'' and when photographs showed her bruised, swollen face, Mr. Simpson insisted, ''I never hit Nicole,'' and ''I only rassled her.''

He was contradictory, just plain unbelievable, in his stories about where he was at the time of the murders. He was his own worst witness.

Reasonable doubts may have remained, but it was easy for civil case jurors to conclude that a ''preponderance of evidence'' said Mr. Simpson ''probably'' committed the crimes.

It was easier for this jury because Judge Hiroshi Fujisaki had limited sharply the extent to which Mr. Simpson's lawyers could exploit Mr. Fuhrman's racism and argue that the Los Angeles police were covering up for drug peddlers who were the likely killers.

Mr. Simpson is likely to appeal this verdict. The judge did seem to favor the plaintiffs in some disturbing ways. Still, I'll be mightily surprised if appeals judges do anything to keep alive one of the most divisive, corrosive cases in America's history. They, like millions of Americans, may want to just let this tragedy slide into history.

Carl T. Rowan is a syndicated columnist.

Pub Date: 2/07/97

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