The Run of His Life: The People Vs. O.J. Simpson

NOTE: This review was originally posted on Blogcritics

Football HOF & actor OJ Simpson with his attorneys, Robert Shapiro (left) and Johnnie Cochrane, captured during the trial of the century.

Well, he did it.

The blood samples, the witnesses, the motive, and, how could anyone who remembers the trial of the century forget about…the glove.

At the onset, the evidence pointed to O.J. Simpson as the killer. In fact, his attorneys, immediatley following O.J.’s unsuccessful televised freeway chase, were already contemplating a plea deal.

Referred to by the media as The Dream Team, O.J.’s defense team didn’t even attempt to concoct a theory that maybe it was someone else who killed O.J.’s wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ronald Goldman.

But, that’s not what The New Yorker’s legal correspondent Jeffery Toobin’s The Run of His Life: The People vs. O.J. Simpson is about. That book has been written, several times over.

Whether it was an intimate conversation in Judge Lance Ito’s chambers, the back story of LAPD Detective Mark Furman, or the bitter rivalry among O.J.’s narcissistic attorneys, Toobin, who’s also a lawyer, provided a well-crafted narrative that only a journalist with a legal background (and a lust for dispelling gossip) could create.

Between the cast (e.g., O.J., Johnnie Cochrane, Marcia Clark, and, who could forget, Kato Kaelin) and the setting–the racially charged, celebrity-obsessed City of Angels–, the trial had all the trappings for a movie of the week, complete with twists, subplots, villains and, who can forget (the media certainly did), the victims.

With the smoke still clearing from the Rodney King riots, the natives of Los Angeles (especially African Americans) remained bitter about the officers who were acquitted.

For O.J., whose ties to this community were tenuous at best, his defense would oddly benefit from this black resentment of the white establishment.

At this time, no one understood the cultural climate in the nation’s second largest city better than the charismatic, celebrated African American civil rights lawyer, Johnnie Cochrane. As the lead defense attorney, Cochrane saw this strategy as his only opportunity for his client to be set free.

After utilizing a number of focus groups, the defense team concluded that the trial could not be about its victims. If it was, O.J. was going to prison, Toobin argued. This case, which was obviously under intense media scrutiny, had to be about the racist LAPD, the organization who produced the officers who had used their batons to beat King, as he lay helpless on the street.

Thus, it was imperative that the jury selection be stocked with minorities, preferably African Americans and Latinos. The less whites, the better.

At every turn, the author noted, race would be the focus. The trial wasn’t about O.J. anymore. It was about retribution. And the jury bought it.

How far did the defense take it?

Beyond the obvious, such as the accusations that the detectives on the scene (i.e. Mark Furman) had planted evidence, the defense extended the topic of race literally to every nook and cranny of the trial.

During the questioning of a New York-based medical examiner, for instance, Shapiro asked the doctor to state his credentials.  He began listing the universities he attended. When the doctor mentioned he attended City College in New York City, Shapiro cut him off. Where is it located, Shapiro asked.

The doctor’s response: “‘It’s located in upper Manhattan, New York City.'”

Toobin, who clearly understood what was happening, wrote: “Then he [the doctor] caught on, and hastily completed his response: ‘Harlem area of New York City.”‘

Although we all know how the story ends, it’s how the trial evolved that makes The Run of His Life a fascinating, yet startling tale.

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