Mon, 08 Aug 1994

Lessons from O.J. Simpson case

By Frans H. Winarta

LOS ANGELES (JP): In June, Americans were shocked when O.J. Simpson was charged with a double murder. The black sports hero was suspected of killing his former wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and Ronald Goldman, her boyfriend.

The case had an ironic twist because O.J. Simpson was a football celebrity to the American public. He had accumulated a huge amount of wealth from his professional career and from his participation in various commercials -- especially for the Hertz Rent-a-Car company.

He has also played in several movies, increasing his wealth even further. After leaving his football career, he received many offers to play parts on the silver screen.

Therefore, it should come as no surprise that he frequently appeared in the company of beautiful Hollywood stars. Perhaps, this was one of the reasons for the breaking apart of his marriage to Nicole Simpson, a leading California model.

The violent murders of Nicole Simpson and Ronald Goldman allegedly took place while a reconciliation effort was being made and O.J. Simpson and his former wife, for the sake of their two children, Sidney and Justin.

The murders took place at the former wife's residence in Hollywood. The two victims were found in pools of blood. It seemed that both were killed with a knife, and that they died shortly after a violent attack.

Strangely, her two children and their neighbors did not hear any suspicious sound when the tragedy took place.

The speculation that emerged thereafter was that the murderer was O.J. Simpson himself. The suspicion was based on findings by the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD). They found Type-O blood at the murder scene, and Simpson had Type-O blood.

Subsequent developments further incriminated Simpson. His alibi that he was in Chicago at the time of the murder was not supported by evidence. Witnesses claimed and evidence showed that he was in Los Angeles at the time of the murder.

Worse, Simpson even failed to keep his promise to give himself up to the police. He disappeared for 24 hours. His defense lawyer had to call on Simpson through the mass-media to give himself up.

Just like in a Hollywood movie, eight police cars and a helicopter followed the white Ford Bronco in which O.J. Simpson was riding. It was being driven by his close friend to the house of the suspect's mother. It was there that Simpson -- armed with a handgun -- finally gave himself up. He was then taken to the Central Men's Prison of Los Angeles, where he was held.

It was very enlightening to follow the preliminary investiga tion of the case and the preliminary hearing conducted in the district court of Los Angeles. United States' Federal Law observes the principle of presumption of innocence. And under California State Law, the entire preliminary proceedings could be broadcast publicly, including the debates between the prosecutor and the defense lawyer.

As Simpson is a public figure, the investigation earned a lot of public interest and became a topic of discussion everywhere.

The district attorney prosecuting the case was Marcia Clark, the tough attorney who prosecuted the police officers involved in the Rodney King beating. The presiding judge was Kathleen Kennedy Powell, daughter of Robert Kennedy, who was an attorney general and candidate for the presidency in the 1960s. The defense team of three was led by Robert L. Saphiro, a noted defense lawyer from Los Angeles. He was assisted by his colleague, Professor Gerald Uelman. The latter was a former dean at the University of Loyola Law School and the University of Santa Clara Law School. The defense team was said to be "the best money can buy".

It turned out that the preliminary hearing was not attended by a grand jury, but was presided over by one judge. The case could be prosecuted only after the judge decided so during the preliminary hearing.

The above is an aspect of a legal system and measures that experts in the law and law makers in Indonesia should learn about. Not all criminal cases can be prosecuted. Prosecution must be based on the decision of a court.

In case there is not sufficient supporting evidence during the preliminary hearing, the case should be rejected and the suspect acquitted. Prosecution can be done only after the judge states so, based on the results of the preliminary hearing.

Bail is not applicable in cases involving a heavy sentence such as life imprisonment, which is possible in this double murder case.

During the fact-gathering sessions, all items of evidence were examined carefully. Questions were raised as to their legality, method of collection, quantity and quality, based on the existing criminal codes and criminological methods and techniques.

Investigators and detectives from the LAPD were questioned by members of the defense team, their experience, professionalism, methods and educational backgrounds, as well as the way they conducted their investigation, were examined.

One important thing to note here is that all of this was carried out without any hard feelings on the part of the witnesses and the prosecution and defense lawyers. The judge played a passive role. She was just directing the course of the investigation by stating her opinion on the objections raised by the prosecutor and defense lawyers.

Arguments and counter-arguments went on in a lively, scientific, in-depth and exhaustive manner. Unlimited opportunity was given to both the prosecutor and the defense team to raise questions.

When the results of the blood tests were discussed, the director of the LAPD lab, the blood test registrar and the forensic expert were present to provide their explanations. The literature that was used as the basis for the investigator's report was also questioned in one of the sessions.

The most heated argument took place as the session was discussing the suspect's alibi.

The knife that was allegedly used in the killing and the blood-stained glove found in Simpson's yard, not far from his white Bronco, were presented. This glove belonged to the same pair as the one found at the murder scene.

It was the procedure of obtainment of the glove as evidence from the residence of the suspect that was strongly argued against by the defense lawyers. They said the procedure used infringed on the suspect's constitutional rights.

The police had entered Simpson's yard without a search warrant, and therefore the defense team claimed the evidence was not valid as it had been obtained illegally. However, Supreme Court jurisprudence allows presentation of such evidence in emergency situations, such as in the effort to save evidence from being destroyed and to save human lives.

The prosecutor and the defense lawyers spent a lot of time discussing this very issue, supporting their own views with other evidence, criminal law theories, and criminological methods.

Having followed the entire preliminary hearing process of O.J. Simpson's case, we can conclude that the justice system of the United States provides the opportunity to seek the deepest truth. This minimizes the possibility of mistrials by judges, while the judges continue to be entitled to decide whether or not a case can be prosecuted, based on the results of the examination of the items of evidence and the questioning of witnesses.

The debates during the preliminary hearing indicated Simpson's involvement in the murders. It will be very interesting to see the final results of this controversial case, which kept millions of Americans glued to their TV sets during the two-week preliminary hearing.

Expressions of sympathy came from the entire American community, but particularly from among the black populace. One poll indicated that 60 percent of black respondents were of the opinion that the preliminary hearing was unfair and that Simpson was victim of a ploy that made him out to be a murderer.

On the other hand, 56 percent of white respondents said that the hearings were conducted in a fair manner.

O.J. Simpson himself offered US$500,000 for anybody who could provide information leading to the arrest of the real murderer.

The writer is country representative of the International Bar Association for Indonesia and associate member of the American Bar Association. He happened to be in Los Angeles when the O.J. Simpson case broke.