In Ezra Edelman’s Academy Award-winning 2016 documentary, O.J.: Made in America, attorney Carl Douglas discusses O.J. Simpson’s 2008 conviction on armed robbery and kidnapping charges. And in doing so, he draws an analogy to high school football.
Douglas, a member of the so-called “Dream Team” that earned Simpson an acquittal in the 1994 murders of his estranged wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ronald Goldman, says in the documentary that the 33-year sentence rendered by judge Jackie Glass in the subsequent case was unduly harsh.
“That was at most a two-year crime, dripping wet,” he says of the verdict, handed down after Simpson led a group of men into a Las Vegas hotel room in an attempt to recover some of his memorabilia in 2007.
Glass also held the jury out until 11 p.m., 13 years to the day after Simpson’s acquittal.
“And that in my mind,” Douglas says, “was not a coincidence.”
Nor was the length of the sentence, seeing as the families of Simpson’s victims were awarded over $33 million in a wrongful death suit against him in 1997.
Douglas recalls in Made in America that his high school football team was never any good, but excelled at one thing – winning the postgame brawl or “fifth quarter,” as he calls it.
Glass’ verdict, he concludes, “in fact was the fifth quarter.”
Taken in a vacuum, then, the decision last week to parole Simpson after nine years in prison was a just one.
The problem being, of course, that Simpson can never be viewed in a vacuum.
Nor should he be.
Jeffrey Toobin, a former attorney and the legal analyst for CNN and The New Yorker, put it best in a piece last week for the magazine:
… Like so many people who followed the criminal trial, I can’t pretend to evaluate Simpson’s current fate by the principles that should apply. I see the bloodied corpses of Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman in the technically unrelated case of today. Simpson belongs in prison, and he should remain there.
I’d have to agree, having just read Toobin’s masterful 1996 book about the murder case, The Run of his Life. In it Toobin outlines the blunders of the prosecution team (particularly those of Christopher Darden) and the ability of the defense team, led by the late Johnnie Cochran, to portray Simpson as the victim of a frame-up by racist cops.
The defense strategy played well with a largely African-American jury, especially given the climate in Los Angeles at that time, not long after the Rodney King debacle. When the verdict was handed down, Toobin quotes one juror, Carrie Bess (who also appears in Edelman’s documentary), as saying this: “We’ve got to protect our own.”
Toward the end of the book Toobin writes that he finds it “implausible” that race did not play a role in the outcome and adds that “any rational analysis of the events and evidence in question” leads him to conclude that Simpson was guilty.
Simpson nonetheless walked, but lost the fifth quarter. And if all goes according to plan, he will be a free man on Oct. 1.
Still clinging to him – and clinging to him for all time, really – will be the memory of the events of June 1994, and the belief in many people’s minds that he got away with murder. That will be in the first line of his obituary. Not the fact that he won the Heisman Trophy, made it to the Pro Football Hall of Fame or anything else.
Because the fifth quarter, it would appear, never really ends.