By RICHARD MEEHAN
The Cool Justice Report
Sept. 20, 2007
EDITOR'S NOTE: This column is available for reprint courtesy of The Cool Justice Report, http://cooljustice.blogspot.com
It was a sunny Saturday afternoon forty years ago in South Bend, Indiana that I first learned of O.J. Simpson. I was a sophomore at the University of Notre Dame, entertaining my girlfriend (now my wife of 38 years), Kathy, for a football weekend. The Irish were ranked number 5 in the polls and were hosting rival USC. Southern Cal entered the contest ranked number 1, and still smarting from a 51-0 thrashing at the hands of the Irish the year prior in Los Angeles.
We were sitting in the south end zone, at field level. The vista from those seats in Notre Dame stadium included the image of "Touchdown Jesus" a nickname given to the large mural of the resurrected Jesus entitled "the Word of Life" which is located on the Hesburgh Library, mirroring the raised arms of a referee signifying a touchdown.
Against this background a previously unheralded tailback, Simpson, scored three touchdowns right in front of us. Simpson's heroics lead USC to a 24-7 comeback victory that solidified its number one ranking and eventual national title. Displaying amazing foot speed, Simpson ran for 160 yards against a very talented Notre Dame defense, stunning the sell out crowd in South Bend, and ruining my reunion with my girl. I was left with this indelible image of him as he crossed into the corner of the end zone with his third score, deflating the Irish faithful.
Years later, in June 1994, Kathy and I were planning our 25th wedding anniversary. Suddenly the airwaves were filled with images of Simpson's now famous slow speed chase on the California Freeway. Like everyone else we became addicted to this new form of entertainment, the celebrity murder trial. For the last twenty years of our marriage, Kathy had sporadically attended criminal trials I had defended. She would come for a pivotal cross-examination or jury summation, but never sat through an entire trial, day in and out. With O.J., however, she couldn't miss a minute.
Lawyers, even the losers, became legends and "rock stars." Judge Ito was parodied on late night TV. Lawyers throughout the country were challenged to develop a catchy mantra for their jury summations to equal Johnnie Cochran's "If it doesn't fit, you must acquit."
Of course, the lasting image of O.J. from that trial was that incredulous look on his face as he displayed the shrunken leather glove barely covering his fingers. Marcia Clark and Chris Darden, the prosecution team, became an immediate teaching tool for trial practice instructors throughout the country for one of the most famous gaffes in a criminal trial. A decade of aspiring law students were reminded that you don't ask a question in the courtroom that you don't already know the answer to; and you certainly don't call for a demonstration without reasonably knowing what would result.
The civil trial and a verdict for the Brown and Goldman families remain in stark contrast to the speedy acquittal in his murder trial. The inevitable books followed. Simpson was applauded in some quarters and vilified in others.
USC has dominated Notre Dame in recent years in its succession of National Championships, producing more Heisman Trophy winners. Meanwhile, the Goldmans recovered over four hundred thousand dollars from the sale of Simpson's Heisman Trophy. Recently, they succeeded in convincing Simpson's bankruptcy judge to award them the rights to Simpson's fictional (?) account of how he would have committed the murders, if he did it.
Having flaunted his questionable acquittal for all these years, O.J. has once again thrust himself into the public domain. In an unbelievable display of just not getting it we now get O.J., the armed intruder. I certainly have changed in forty years; less hair and more belly. Television footage of an aging, now portly, 60 year old Simpson, shackled at the waist is the image we now have.
Prosecutors are piling on the charges, promising thirty potential years of jail. The new defense team is proclaiming that it's all a misunderstanding and is cautiously predicting an acquittal. The Goldmans immediately petitioned a court to release the now seized Simpson memorabilia to them when the latest criminal case is over.
Television producers are now scrambling to arrange coverage of every minute. The old Simpson team won't be there this time. Johnnie Cochran has passed away and Robert Shapiro has been recently mired in a lawsuit over his million-dollar retainer for the newest celebrity murder defendant, Phil Spector. After all of this let's hope that the last image we have of O.J. is the "perp walk" as he is led away to serve the rest of his sorry life in a Nevada prison.
Bridgeport attorney Richard Meehan Jr. was the lead defense counsel for former Bridgeport Mayor Joseph Ganim's corruption trial. Meehan is certified as a criminal trial specialist by the National Board of Trial Advocacy since 1994 and serves on the organizations Board of Examiners. He is a Charter Fellow, American Academy of Trial Counsel. Meehan has also obtained multi-million dollar verdicts and settlements in complex medical and dental malpractice and personal injury litigation. He is a past president of the Greater Bridgeport Bar Association and appears regularly on Court TV. Website, www.meehanlaw.com