Friday, February 24, 2017

Meaning of Justice - the case of OJ Simpson ( Jottings - 105)

On June the 12th 1994, in a posh, upscale locality of Los Angeles, in the wee hours of morning, a middle aged man taking his dog on a stroll found the bodies of a young male and female lying beside each other battered, stabbed and decimated near the front gate of an elegant home. The policemen who arrived immediately at the scene were taken aback. Such brutality with blood stains all over the place seemed out of context in a neighborhood such as this. When they started looking around, they identified the female to be Nicole Simpson brown, the ex-wife of the legendary footballer O J Simpson and the young man to be Nicole’s friend Ron Goldman. For strange reasons inexplicable ( which defense lawyers would later use to their advantage) the puzzled detectives drove over to OJ’s house to ensure he was alright. But when they got there, their probing instincts quickly pointed out suspicious blood marks, an oddly parked white Bronco with few stains on it, and an used glove. Within a day, visible evidence pointed to OJ, and a warrant was issued to take him into police custody. Before they could do it, OJ, distressed, and in a fit of eccentricity, decided to escape from his home in his Bronco to speed along the spreading freeways of LA with a gun to his head threatening suicide. Incidentally, NBA finals was happening that day and it was showing live on television. And for sports fans, it was strange to see their favorite game interrupted by most infamous real life car chase in American criminal history. It was chilling scene, straight out of Hollywood movie, with ten police cars, unwilling to shoot because they had orders not to, trailing OJ on the winding roads of LA, requesting him to stop and surrender. Roads were cleared, traffic was diverted, road blocks were placed, excited public congregated on bridges and balconies to watch a spectacle they have never seen before or probably will never after. Finally, after hours of chase, on 17th morning ,OJ’s car slowly drove into his mothers home, and he surrendered himself to the police. Thus began one of the most important, controversial, divisive, publicized trials of the twentieth century. The repercussions of this case will have far reaching effects on what it means to be a celebrity and black American, the use of DNA as forensic evidence, the role of media in private and public life and importantly, the thin line that exists between moral and legal justice, or in a philosophical tone - the meaning of the very word “justice” itself within a courtroom.
Who was OJ Simpson and why was his arrest so pivotal . Anybody having a casual interest in American football will know that OJ was one of sports greatest Running backs. His popularity as a talented sportsman was unquestionable, but it is also true that his success was to great extent fueled by the fact that he rose to fame and celebrity in a post-segregation world, despite all early odds of childhood, His success vindicated to the Black community the meaning, purpose and goal of the Civil rights movement which culminated in the Civil rights act of 1965 . In essence then, OJ was a flower of the post civil rights era, who had proved that it is possible for a Black American to be successful and talented. When OJ retired from the sport in 1979, after establishing numerous records and breaking old ones, he was not only one of the richest sportsman in the world, but a social and cultural celebrity leading a life style hardly conceivable to Black Americans a decade ago. With homes in posh localities, cars, endorsements, girls, parties, Oj transformed himself from a superlative athlete to demigod worshipped by millions, achieving cult status cutting across demographies. His marriage to young blonde and beautiful waitress Nicole, after divorcing his high school friend and wife Marguerite , was the icing on the cake. Not many believed such a union could happen or sustain beyond few months, but it did, and the husband and wife outwardly showed all signs of successful marriage. There were occasional incidents of abuse in the Oj household, but nothing really came out of it. While this dream love story was running its course, there was in parallel a strong undercurrent of resentment and condescension in White American’s perception of black that continued unabated In spite of all claims of the civil rights movement. Despite all outward forms of respectability and equality ,racial prejudices were not fully obliterated, but simply brushed under the carpet. White supremacists were still active, Los Angeles Police department ( LAPD) had a bad reputation for victimizing blacks for no reason at all. Every now and then an awkward incident would flare up, bringing into doubt and question the flimsy balance of equality pervading the surface.
It was in these circumstances that Nicole was found murdered, and the needle of suspicion fell upon OJ. from the day he was arrested, a nation was divided. While all evidence pointed to his guilt, the verdict of the trial proved otherwise. What a trial it turned out to be. It was eleven months long, and everything about the trial was historic and momentous. From the moral dilemma of Judge Lance Ito; to key witnesses turning out flawed and racist; to flared tempers of Jury members juggled around, cloistered and restless in a Five star hotel for nine months; to the star team of OJ’s lawyers including Robert Shapiro and John Cochrane who manipulated the case to suit their own professional and political agenda; to public prosecutor Marcia clark who wanted to nail the case of the century to her advantage and redeem her own abuse and rape as young lady; to Robert Kardashian ( yes the father of the famed Kardashians today) who remained a loyal friend of OJ throughout the case, even though he was convinced that OJ was guilty; to controversial tapes of lead detectives spewing racial invectives to disbelief and despair of public; to the incontrovertible DNA evidence used for the first time in criminal case , but was discredited for lack of surety and procedure; to the toll it took on the emotional and family ties on everyone involved; to the glare and spotlight of media already showing portent signs of the ominous effect it would have in times to come on private lives - everything about those eleven months was otherworldly. What started off a case of murder with crystal clear evidence transformed itself into a fiasco of racial prejudice, media morality, lure of money and the janus faced truth of Justice.
When the verdict was finally delivered in November 1995, Jury took just 4 hours to deliberate reaching a verdict of “not guilty” on both counts of murder. OJ walked free out of court room full of smiles and hugs. The tragic question that remains unanswered is whether Justice was done or not. Was Simpson acquitted only because of prosecutorial incompetence, subversive defense strategies and the issue of race which played such a prominent role towards the last few months of trial? Was all the evidence that pointed to Simpson fabricated by LAPD. if so, how ? These questions remains unanswered till today. What is palpable, real, irredeemably tragic is that two young lives were brutally cut short on that horrific night, and their deaths still remain heavy on American conscience. The lawyers who tried the case for prosecution and defense went on to become famous and rich in their own ways, and Robert Kardashian regretted his friendship with OJ, cut ties with him, and eventually died of Cancer in 2003. He was the only man who stood by OJ because he was his friend, and not because he believed OJ was innocent.
OJ lost his celebrity status, and his familiar world of pomp and wealth disappeared as quickly as it came. He may have won the case, but lost everything else in the process.. Sometimes, justice that reality metes out is much more poignant that legal justice. For ten years, an ostracized Simpson lived out off his money he had, paying off compensations, taking custody of his children and moving to Florida to safe guard his assets. In 2008, in one more eccentric act of foolishness, he attempted burglary and extortion at gun point. This time however, the courts were swift in their judgement. It did not take them long to imprison for 33 years. As I write this article, OJ is seventy years of age, leading a mellowed life in prison and waiting parole sometime later this year. Some would way, Justice was finally rendered.
Many years later, Megan Kelly the Ex-fox news reporter during an interview with aged and wise Robert Shapiro( the lead defense lawyer), asked him “
“Rob, do you believe justice was done in OJ’s case”
Rob grew pensive for few moments, and looked into Megan’s eyes
“Megan, There are two kinds of Justice - Legal and Moral. In Oj’s case, I believe Legal justice was done…”
There was a long pause and Rob didn't compete the sentence.
But his unsaid words resonated loud and clear in the studio.
God bless…
yours in mortality ,
Bala

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