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News Story
Updated: 06/08/2014 01:19:05AM

O.J. Simpson case at 20

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FOR USE SUNDAY, JUNE 8, 2014, AND THEREAFTER - This combo photo shows file photos of O.J. Simpson. The left photo shows Simpson on Oct. 3, 1995, after the jury acquitted him in the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman in Los Angeles. The center photo shows Simpson in court on the first day his trial for armed robbery and kidnapping, on Sept 15, 2008, in Las Vegas. The right photo shows Simpson in Clark County District Court seeking a new trial, claiming that trial lawyer Yale Galanter had conflicting interests, on May 13, 2013, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/File)

FOR RELEASE SUNDAY, JUNE 8, 2014, AT 12:01 A.M. EDT In this Monday, June 2, 2014, photo, Shannon Spicker, right, sits on her porch beside her daughter Maryana, 2, in Coraopolis, Pa. and talks about the feelings she had at the time of the O.J. Simpson arrest, trial and decision 20 years-ago. Spicker said "Most of us didn't understand why it was racially charged." (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

FOR RELEASE SUNDAY, JUNE 8, 2014, AT 12:01 A.M. EDT In this Monday, June 2, 2014, photo, Shannon Spicker, right, sits on her porch in Coraopolis, Pa. and talks about the feelings she had at the time of the O.J. Simpson arrest, trial and decision 20 years-ago. Spicker says "Most of us didn't understand why it was racially charged." (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

FOR RELEASE SUNDAY, JUNE 8, 2014, AT 12:01 A.M. EDT In this Monday, June 2, 2014 photo, management consultant Todd Looney poses for a photo at his home with his daughters in Santa Clarita, Calif. Looney, 46, remembers when a police caravan trailed O.J. Simpson down the 405 freeway as crowds lined the overpasses and more than 90 million people watched on live television. "It was such a surreal scene," he said. "I remember seeing people on the overpass by Sunset Boulevard, cheering as he went by, and most of them were black. I'm thinking, why are you cheering? Somebody's about to kill himself. It was kind of disgusting, as if it was O.J. versus the police." (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

FOR RELEASE SUNDAY, JUNE 8, 2014, AT 12:01 A.M. EDT - In this Saturday, May 31, 2014, photo, Carlos Carter talks about the feelings he had at the time of the O.J. Simpson arrest, trial and decision 20 years-ago while sitting on his porch in Ambridge, Pa. Polls show that 20 years after Simpson's case captivated and divided the nation, few opinions about the saga have changed. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

FOR USE SUNDAY, JUNE 8, 2014, AND THEREAFTER- In this June 17, 1994 file photo, a white Ford Bronco, driven by Al Cowlings carrying O.J. Simpson, is trailed by Los Angeles police cars as it travels on a Southern California freeway in Los Angeles. Cowlings and Simpson led authorities on a chase after Simpson was charged with two counts of murder in the deaths of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ron Goldman. (AP Photo/Joseph Villarin, File)

FOR USE SUNDAY, JUNE 8, 2014, AND THEREAFTER - In this June 21, 1995 file photo, O.J. Simpson holds up his hands before the jury after putting on a new pair of gloves similar to the infamous bloody gloves during his double-murder trial in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Vince Bucci, Pool, File)

By JESSE WASHINGTON

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The O.J. Simpson murder trial exposed many painful truths. None hit harder than the idea that white and black people often look at the same facts and see different realities.

Today, 20 years after the case divided the nation, few opinions have changed. Despite two decades’ worth of increasing racial acceptance, the saga still reflects deep-rooted obstacles to a truly united America.

Most people still believe that the black football legend killed his white ex-wife and her friend, polls show. But for many African-Americans, his likely guilt remains overwhelmed by a potent mix: the racism of the lead detective and the history of black mistreatment by the justice system.

For these people, Simpson’s acquittal is a powerful rebuke to what they see as America’s racial crimes. Others simply see a murderer who played the race card to get away with it. Across the board, emotions remain vivid.

“We were consumed with it,” recalls Carlos Carter, who at the time was one of the few black people working in the trust department of a Pittsburgh bank. “It represented something bigger than the case, the battle between good and evil, the battle between the white man and the black man. It was at that level.”

It was at a different level for Shannon Spicker, a white woman working her way through college in Ohio at the time.

“Most of us didn’t understand why it was racially charged,” she says. “We didn’t understand how people could defend him ... We knew he was guilty, but they defended him because he was black. It was weird.”

On June 12, 1994, Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman were found knifed to death outside her Los Angeles condo. Suspicion quickly focused on Simpson, who had beaten Nicole in the past and had no alibi.

Several factors heightened and complicated the drama:

Simpson had a mixed-race marriage in a nation that had historically punished black men who dared to explore interracial sex. He was the target of a Los Angeles Police Department that had a reputation for racism and corruption.

But Simpson also was a wealthy Hollywood actor and ad pitchman with little connection to the black community, a man who divorced his black wife for a young blonde and traveled in Los Angeles’ most privileged white circles. His money and fame placed him far from the poor, black men languishing in the criminal justice system.

After the infamous slow-speed Bronco chase, Simpson was charged with double murder, punishable by the death penalty. The prosecution had a pile of evidence, including something relatively new then: DNA analysis. Prosecutors said that DNA matched Simpson’s blood to samples from the murder scene. They said they found blood matching the victims’ in Simpson’s Bronco, on a glove at his property, and on a sock in his bedroom.

But the prosecution had a big problem: Lead detective Mark Fuhrman, who had produced the bloody glove from Simpson’s estate, was a white cop who used the N-word and then lied about it on the stand. (He was later convicted of perjury.)

Defense lawyers suggested Fuhrman planted the glove out of a racist desire to frame a black man. They said that other blood evidence could have been planted, too, or at least was unreliable due to sloppy police work.

“That was huge for me,” recalls Carter. “I thought (police) compromised it so much I can’t trust the evidence. The corruption overshadowed all the other things that may have been logical to me.”

Cameron Vigil, who is white, saw it differently.

“Clearly (Fuhrman) was difficult and lying and trying to obfuscate while he was up there,” recalls Vigil, a 45-year-old strategic retail analyst from Charlotte, North Carolina. But he separated that from the evidence.

“Just because he is a not very smart, racist guy,” Vigil says, “I don’t know that means O.J.’s not guilty.”

Yet that was the verdict from the 12-person jury. Nine jurors were black, two white, and one Hispanic.

Duncan literally jumped for joy when he heard the verdict on television.

“It wasn’t so much for O.J. I was jumping for joy. ... It was the victory over the United States justice system that has always had a different treatment for me and my brother.”

“I never said O.J. wasn’t guilty,” Duncan continues. “I just said he got off. That’s what it is: O.J. got off. There’s a side of me that’s annoyed by my jubilation. But my jubilation is motivated by the ills and pains of the past. There have been too many tears.”

The cheers that echoed across black America that day troubled Spicker.

“These two innocent people were killed, and you’re cheering because their murderer was just set free,” she said. “It was a shame. It feels racist against the white victims.”

Carter now thinks that Simpson was guilty, but he makes no apologies for his feelings at the acquittal 20 years ago.

“That pride that I felt, I don’t take it back. I don’t feel I was hoodwinked. I was just living in the moment, and it was a victory for my people,” says Carter, now 42.

“I could have cared less about O.J.,” he says, “but when I saw him, I saw myself.”

———

Jesse Washington covers race and ethnicity for The Associated Press. He is reachable at http://www.twitter.com/jessewashington or jwashington(at)ap.org.


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