DAVE DAVIES, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross, who's off this week.
(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "O.J.: MADE IN AMERICA")
O.J. SIMPSON: When I first came here, I was a porter, which comprised of cleaning things in the unit that I was in. And basically, after a relatively short period of time, I started working as a gym worker. I'd start each day disinfecting the workout equipment in the gym, mopping floors with the other group of us that work in the gym. I've coached teams since I've been here. And I'd like to say we won the championship. And we were old guys and a totally mixed group of players. I didn't play. I just coached.
DAVIES: That's O.J. Simpson, now 68, describing his life in a Nevada prison from a new documentary series called "O.J.: Made In America."
If you're old enough to remember Simpson's trial for the 1994 stabbing deaths of his ex-wife and her friend, you might think there's not much you can learn about the O.J. case. But this series includes interviews with key figures who haven't spoken publicly before, including prosecutor Marcia Clark and LA Police Detective Mark Fuhrman, as well as interviews with close friends and associates of Simpson and two of the jurors in his murder trial. There are dramatic moments, some revelations and important context that illuminates the jury's quick deliberation that resulted in Simpson's acquittal. Simpson's now serving a 33-year sentence for a kidnapping and robbery, charges unrelated to the murder case.
Our guests are as Ezra Edelman, who directed the series, and legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, who appears in it. Edelman is a documentary filmmaker best known for the 2010 film "Magic & Byrd: A Courtship Of Rivals." Toobin's a legal analyst for CNN, a staff writer for The New Yorker and the author of "The Run Of His Life: The People V. O.J. Simpson," which was the basis of a series which aired earlier this year on FX. "O.J.: Made In America" premiered Saturday on ABC and continues this week on ESPN.
Well, Ezra Edelman, Jeffrey Toobin, welcome to FRESH AIR. This is a remarkable documentary. And there's quite a bit of time that passes before we get to the murders. And a lot of it is about O.J.'s early life. But a lot is about Los Angeles and what happened in the years preceding it. Jeffrey Toobin, take us there just a bit. I mean, what else is covered here?
JEFFREY TOOBIN: Well, the history of Los Angeles is a history of real racial struggle. And because Los Angeles is not the South - because Los Angeles is famous for Hollywood and, you know, the beaches and good times, I think people outside, who didn't grow up there and didn't study it, have not realized just how painful the racial history of Los Angeles has been and, particularly, the relationship between the Los Angeles Police Department and the - and African-Americans. And, yes, you know, people have seen the nine-second clip of the Rodney King beating, which became so infamous.
But if you look at, you know, who the - Chief Parker was and who - where LA cops were recruited from and what their relationship was like with the hundreds of thousands of African-Americans who lived in the city, that's the necessary preamble for the O.J. Simpson case. And it's part of what Ezra explores so brilliantly in this documentary.
DAVIES: Ezra Edelman, there were riots in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles in 1965. They were a huge event in Los Angeles, a huge national event. Where was O.J. in his life and career as Los Angeles was sort of recovering from that event?
EZRA EDELMAN: Well, I mean, it's interesting that when you think of the Watts riots, which began on August 11, 1965, O.J. comes into public consciousness really in the fall of 1965 so almost concurrent to that when he was a running back at City College of San Francisco Junior College. And the way I looked at the story is, you know, all O.J. Simpson, a black kid from Potrero Hill, the projects in San Francisco, what he had to do to become recognized was run a football.
And concurrent to that, however many miles south in California, you had a whole neighborhood community of people who burned down their community to get recognized. A year and half later, O.J. arrives at USC, an incredibly white, conservative, elite place in Los Angeles.
And that's where O.J. is acculturated in this white bubble. And so when you look at O.J. and you start to sort of see how he rose to fame and went up through the world, it really starts there in that juxtaposition when you look at this story.
DAVIES: You know, I'm old enough to remember O.J. as a football player. And there's a whole generation of people who just know him as the guy who probably murdered his wife. But he was a magnificent guy to watch on the field in college and in the pros. And you really spend some time on that.
I wonder if you could talk a little bit about the importance of his talent and his ascendance and how he defined himself in relation to the growing black power movement?
EDELMAN: Right, O.J. wasn't just a brilliant football player. Yes, he's in the Hall of Fame. Yes, he set an NFL record at the time. He's the first person ever to rush for 2,000 yards. But when he got two USC, immediately when people started watching him play, they weren't looking at someone who gained a lot of yards and scored a lot of touchdowns.
They were looking at one of the more beautiful, majestic athletes they had seen.
TOOBIN: I think that's exactly right. And those of us who do follow football, there's an additional point to the greatness of O.J. as a runner because, you know, I think people who don't follow football think of it all as, you know, just people running into each other and violence. O.J. Simpson was a graceful athlete.
He was someone who succeeded as a running back by running around people, by making people chase them. He was not known for violence on the football field, quite the opposite, in fact. He was known for avoiding violence and being so fast and so graceful that he was not someone who had to run over people
EDELMAN: And to the point that you brought up, Dave, when he came to being, you know, came to national prominence, it was in 1967 and 1968. You know, one of the more tumultuous periods in 20th century America. And because of him being at this place, at USC, all white, not political at all, you know, he was sort of in this bubble.
And concurrent to him being there, you know, there was this group of black athletes who were increasingly militant, political. Most famously, obviously, Muhammad Ali, who in June of 1967, refused induction into the Vietnam War. And so it's that climate in which O.J. came to prominence.
And when O.J. was approached towards the end of 1967 by a guy named Harry Edwards, who was a sociologist and an activist, a professor at San Jose State, he had organized something called the Olympic Project for Human Rights, where he really wanted black athletes at the time to be closer aligned to the Civil Rights Movement, to the struggle. And he approached O.J. to be a part of it.
He wanted athletes to boycott the '68 games in Mexico City. And when O.J. was approached - O.J. was also a track star at the time, not just a football star. O.J.'s response, famously, was I'm not black, I'm O.J. Now, what O.J. really was saying was, look, I have in ambition for myself. I'm looking to be famous. I'm looking to be rich.
And I'm looking to be loved by everyone. He was going to blaze his own trail. And that's what he did. Before he'd even played it down in the NFL, there he was on TV honking Chevrolets and RC Cola. He chose a different path. And that path was followed by the likes of Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods.
DAVIES: And, of course, he built a career for himself as a celebrity - his commercials for Hertz, running through the airports. And then he became an actor. He was in "The Naked Gun" films. And he became, you know, a Hollywood celebrity. Did he completely separate himself from the black community? Was he immersed in white LA?
EDELMAN: I mean, he was in the sense that, you know, he lived in Brentwood, which is a predominately white area. He was married to a white woman from the - dating her from the late '70s on. And so, yes, he lived in a white world in that way. I mean, he played golf every day at these Tony country clubs in West LA. And so, yes, it's easy to say that he lived in a white world.
It's much harder to sort of get inside someone's brain to parse their racial identity. But it's clear that O.J. sort of - he literally, in terms of where he lived, distanced himself from the black community in LA. And based on the choices as far as how he wanted to ingratiate himself to America, he distanced himself in that way, too.
DAVIES: O.J. had a first wife, Marguerite. And he was still married to her when he met Nicole Brown, who was, I think, 18, just out of high school. And, Ezra, you interviewed an old friend of hers, David LeBon, who described, well, their first date. You want to share that with us? I had not heard this story until I saw the documentary.
EDELMAN: I mean, yes. David LeBon was one of Nicole's best friends from growing up. When - he met her when she was a teenager down in Dana Point in Orange County. And when Nicole graduated high school, she moved to Los Angeles and moved into - with David LeBon - platonically, they were just friends. And David LeBon was a photographer at the time.
And within a couple of months of living there, she got a job as a waitress at this hot restaurant/club called The Daisy, where a lot of stars hung out. And within the first few weeks of being there, O.J. walked in one day and saw this 18-year-old, beautiful blonde girl and remarked to a friend of his I'm going to marry that girl. And they went out on a date, and she came home - you know, David LeBon was almost like a concerned parent. He was more of an older brother figure in her life. And he said that she came home and she had - her jeans chains were ripped and that according to David LeBon that O.J. had been a little forceful with her.
And David asked her, you know, why would you have let him do that? And all she said was don't be mad, Dave, I really like this guy. And that was the beginning of it. It's a terrible story to hear, especially where you know this story is going.
DAVIES: They, of course, did marry and had two children. And there were numerous instances of 911 calls for domestic violence. And I'm going to play a clip from the documentary, and we're going to hear one of these. We'll hear a bit of the 911 call and then the recollections of John Edwards, who was a police officer you interviewed describing it. Let's listen.
(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "O.J.: MADE IN AMERICA")
UNIDENTIFIED DISPATCHER #1: 911 emergency.
UNIDENTIFIED DISPATCHER #2: (Unintelligible) Hello?
NICOLE BROWN SIMPSON: (Screaming).
UNIDENTIFIED DISPATCHER #2: (Unintelligible) Screaming woman, 360 North Rockingham Avenue - female we heard screaming over the phone with the lady that spoke to (unintelligible) incident 1376.
(SOUNDBITE OF SIRENS)
JOHN EDWARDS: When I got there, I saw an electronic buzzer system, so I pushed the button. Almost simultaneously, a tall female blonde came running out of the bushes. She's wearing nothing but a bra and sweatpants, covered in mud. And she kept yelling he's going to kill me, he's going to kill me.
When that gate opened, she ran up and just put her arms around me and collapsed on me. She was so wet and cold that you could feel her shivering to her bones. And I said well, who's going to kill you? She said O.J. She says you guys have been up here eight times before. All you do is talk to him. You never do anything. He's going to kill me.
Her face had already swollen. She actually had an imprint on one side of her face and her forehead. So I said do you want him arrested for beating you? She said yes. And about that time, O.J. Simpson came right up to the fence, and he started yelling I don't want her in my bed anymore. I got two other women. I don't want her in my bed anymore.
He's got a receding hairline, so you can see his forehead. And this vein was popping out, pulsating. And it was right up to his forehead. I told him I'm placing you under arrest for beating your wife. You're going to have to go get dressed so I can take you to jail. He turned around and went back in the house to get dressed.
Suddenly, I saw a Bentley pull out the other driveway. So I said back up. He's trying to get away in a car. And we backed out of the driveway, and I never caught up with that car. I never found him.
DAVIES: It's pretty chilling. Jeffrey Toobin, why was - I mean, this was a different era. This incident was 1989, I think. Why was O.J. Simpson never really held to account for these incidents?
TOOBIN: I would say two reasons. One was domestic violence was simply not taken as seriously by the police as it is today. These were considered largely personal matters. It was not really the concern of law enforcement. It was just societally perceived in a very different way.
The second point is that O.J. Simpson got special treatment because he was a celebrity. I mean, especially in light of how the trial unfolded, one of the many crazy ironies of this whole case is that the Los Angeles Police Department, far from conspiring to get O.J. Simpson, had been conspiring to protect O.J. Simpson from arrest for domestic violence for years. Now, it is true that eventually he was actually arrested, and he did plead - I believe he pleaded no contest. And he got one of these totally ridiculous community service sentences where he held a fundraiser down near where Nicole's parents lived. But this was just something that was not taken very seriously.
DAVIES: Ezra Edelman directed the new documentary series "O.J.: Made In America." Also with us is Jeffrey Toobin. He's an attorney and legal analyst and the author of the book "The Run Of His Life: The People V. O.J. Simpson." We'll will continue our conversation in just a moment. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. And our guests are Ezra Edelman, he's a documentary filmmaker, directed the new documentary series "O.J.: Made In America." The first episode premiered Saturday on ABC, the other four parts being shown this week on ESPN. Also with us is Jeffrey Toobin, an attorney and legal analyst. He is also a staff writer for The New Yorker and the author of the book "The Run Of His Life: The People V. O.J. Simpson."
So June of 1994, Nicole Brown Simpson, then O.J.'s ex-wife, is found stabbed to death along with Ron Goldman, a friend. O.J.'s quickly identified as a suspect. He'd flown to Chicago. He's brought in by police for questioning. And there's considerable evidence pointing to him. There's blood - a trail of blood.
There's blood on his Bronco. And he's interviewed by two veteran detectives. And Ezra Edelman, you spoke to the surviving detective as well as Marcia Clark, the prosecutor. There are questions about how that interview went. What happened and didn't happen?
EDELMAN: You know, they did everything but pin him down on what actually he did that night and allowed O.J. to hem and haw as to where he was and during that period of time where the murders were supposed to have occurred. You know, and what Tom Lange says in the film was like, hey, you know, I was trying to...
DAVIES: Tom Lange is one of the detectives who did the interview, yeah.
EDELMAN: Tom Lange was one of the detectives. And what he was saying was I didn't need to and didn't want to antagonize him 'cause what I wanted was to get photos and fingerprints and to get his blood. That was his explanation for why they didn't interrogate him harder.
TOOBIN: To this day, this interview is something that really sticks in my craw as something that is just so outrageously bad. All you had to do was say, OK, just take us through your day. Where did you go? What time did this happen? If they had done that, they certainly would have had a timeline that would have certainly shown that he was lying at many different points in that chronology because, in fact, what he was doing was killing his ex-wife.
The failure of that interview is, I think, a good metaphor for the failure of the LAPD to pursue him sufficiently, not to excessively pursue him.
DAVIES: In the next few days, the case against O.J. is building. Suspicions are swirling. And at a point, they want him to surrender. He has agreed to surrender himself. And he doesn't show up. And then it turns out he slipped away with his friend Al Cowlings. And in one of those bizarre media events of our lifetimes, there's - the police are following him in this slow-speed chase of this white Bronco moving through Los Angeles.
It's all carried live on television. I mean, this is one the most memorable events, I think, in my lifetime. Ezra Edelman, you just got incredible video interviews. Want to just talk a little bit about presenting this episode?
EDELMAN: What you said is correct. It is one of the strangest days. If you're me and you're trying to figure out a way to tell this story anew and tell it freshly, my take was let's take all of these people who were a part of this day, be it the police themselves, David Gascon, who was the spokesperson, a commander in the LAPD who we famously remember announcing to the world that O.J. was on the run and they didn't know where he was, or Jim Newton, a reporter at the LA Times, Gil Garcetti, the DA at the time.
Zoey Tur ne Bob Tur, who was this helicopter pilot, really sort of someone when we think of the movie "Nightcrawler," it's someone like that who got in her - got in his helicopter to find O.J. on the 405 and is the person who got the first shots of him.
And you hear in the documentary Zoey talking about how conflicted she was about the fact that, wait, this is a terrible tragedy and look at what's happening, but I have this exclusive footage and news story. I want him to blow his brains out or the cops to blow his brains out so I have the best piece of footage that anyone will have ever had.
And that sort of speaks to what this media culture, you know, sort of - and what this whole episode would mean for our culture, as far as this transformational media event. And that day sort of set the tone for everything. And so, for me, it was really trying to tell that story through the eyes of people who lived it.
DAVIES: Yeah, it's gripping stuff. And then, of course, there's the bizarre element of Bob Kardashian, his friend, and, yes, it's Bob Kardashian of the Kardashians, reading a suicide note. Jeffrey Toobin, what are your memories of that day?
TOOBIN: Yes, it was bizarre and unusual. But in Los Angeles, it wasn't as unusual as all that. Zoey, who has had - who's become transgender since that time, that's why it's a little confusing, but she talks about how it was her job to follow cars from helicopters. I mean, that was not all that uncommon in Los Angeles.
But this was the first time the country as a whole got to see one of these chases. And, of course, what made it so extraordinary was that it was O.J., and he was a fugitive. And no one knew where he was going until the very end when he turned back to his home in Brentwood.
DAVIES: Jeffrey Toobin is a legal analyst who appears in the five-part documentary "O.J.: Made In America." Ezra Edelman directed the five-part documentary. The series premiered Saturday on ABC and continues this week on ESPN. After a break, we'll hear about the trial, the accusation that police planted evidence and we'll hear two jurors explain why they voted for acquittal.
I'm Dave Davies, and this is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross, who's off this week. we're talking about the new five-part documentary series "O.J.: Made In America." It premiered Saturday on ABC and continues this week on ESPN. Our guests are filmmaker Ezra Edelman, who directed the series, and legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, who appears in the film and is the author of "The Run Of His Life: The People V. O.J. Simpson." When we left off, they were discussing the days after the murder of Simpson's ex-wife and her friend when suspicion focused on O.J. and he briefly eluded police in a low-speed freeway chase carried on live television.
So after the bizarre slow-speed chase in the Bronco, O.J. turns himself in and everybody prepares for trial. Marcia Clark, the prosecutor, said it was an amazingly strong case - amazing physical evidence against him and a history of spousal abuse that would establish a motive. O.J.'s team was what was called a dream team of defense attorneys. And a central figure for the prosecution was Detective Mark Fuhrman who found the bloody glove outside - at O.J.'s property, which matched a bloody glove found at the crime scene. Jeffrey Toobin, just tell us the significance of this evidence.
TOOBIN: At the crime scene, there was a bloody glove which quite clearly had been dropped by someone during the course of these murders. So it was obviously a critical piece of evidence. On the night of the murders, the three detectives - Lange Vannatter and Mark Fuhrman go to O.J.'s house. They interview the famous houseguest Kato Kaelin, and Kato says there was a big thump outside my window over the course of the previous evening. Fuhrman goes back to the tiny little path behind Kato's window, and he finds a matching bloody glove.
It is obviously a key piece of evidence tying the crime scene to O.J. Simpson's residence. And it turns out once the DNA testing is done that it contains the blood of both victims on the glove itself.
EDELMAN: As well as O.J.'s, as well as O.J.'s...
TOOBIN: And O.J.'s blood, of course.
DAVIES: Right. So if Fuhrman's believed by the jury that he discovered this glove where he says he found it at O.J.'s property, it's bad news. He becomes a terrible liability to the prosecution. And Jeffrey Toobin, you were one of the first people who found out that Fuhrman's past would be a problem, weren't you?
TOOBIN: Right. I wrote a story for The New Yorker very shortly afterwards where I found in the bowels of the Los Angeles Superior Court a lawsuit where Mark Fuhrman had sued the city of Los Angeles asking for early retirement and a pension on the grounds that he had become so twisted by rage against African-Americans that he was disabled from being a police officer. It tells you a lot of what you need to know about the LAPD that he lost his case and was told no, go back to work as a cop.
That led to my interviewing for the same New Yorker story Robert Shapiro, one of the lead counsel for the defense. And he said well, if you think that's bad, we think Mark Fuhrman planted the glove at O.J.'s house as part of a conspiracy to get O.J. So it was through my story at The New Yorker that Mark Fuhrman was identified as the principal villain, according to the defense.
DAVIES: Right. So you found this information out. You went to the defense for comment as a journalist, right?
DAVIES: It wasn't like you were bringing them evidence to...
TOOBIN: No, they knew.
DAVIES: ...And they knew about it. This wasn't the worst thing we learned about Fuhrman, as it turned out. You want to just take the story from there?
TOOBIN: What happened in the middle of the trial is the defense learned that Fuhrman had been giving interviews to an aspiring screenwriter who was trying to write a sort of gritty urban feature about the LAPD. And Fuhrman, in really graphic horrible detail, told this screenwriter stories about how he and other cops had had abused black suspects and repeatedly called them the N-word. And the defense tried to introduce that evidence to show that Fuhrman was a racist and a liar. And after a lot of complicated legal wrangling, Ito allowed them to introduce some of those tapes, but not all of them.
DAVIES: But they were pretty devastating.
TOOBIN: Very devastating.
DAVIES: Then of course, the defense effectively showed that the LAPD's evidence-gathering techniques were sloppy and potentially vulnerable to tampering. And that was, of course, very helpful to the defense. And then there was this fateful decision on whether they would have O.J. try on this pair of gloves - one found at the crime scene, the other recovered by Fuhrman at the house. And they did not appear to fit. And Ezra Edelman, you have an interesting backstory to that. Share it with us.
EDELMAN: Or I have an addendum to that, which is...
EDELMAN: ...This is sort of one of the key moments of the trial and one of the couple moments that when - even those who didn't follow the trial closely, they remember the glove and they remember Johnny Cochran saying if it doesn't fit, you must acquit.
But we have an interview with O.J.'s former agent Mike Gilbert, who is someone who worked closely beside O.J. for six or seven years before the murders and stuck by him for 11 or 12 years afterwards. And he tells a story about visiting O.J. in jail. He had gone and visited O.J. almost every day in jail because he was responsible for helping O.J. generate money through the sale of memorabilia. And so O.J. would sign cards and jerseys and things while in jail, and that helped fund his defense efforts.
But during one of these conversations, O.J. expressed reservations about trying on the gloves. He really didn't want to. And according to Mike Gilbert, Mike just said hey, why don't you just maybe not take your arthritis medicine for a couple weeks? And O.J. looked at him kind of quizzically, and he says but what - what would that do? And then you get - then the light bulb went off, and he thought oh, hands would swell up, you know, wouldn't be able to bend his knuckles, glove maybe wouldn't fit the same way. And so according to Mike Gilbert, that's what happened.
DAVIES: And it was not a helpful moment for the prosecution.
TOOBIN: Well, and I mean, that is a completely fascinating story from the documentary. But the incredibly stupid decision to let O.J. control the process in the courtroom of whether the gloves fit or not - you know, it is the oldest truism of trial lawyers is, you know, you don't ask a question to which you don't already know the answer. The corollary is you don't do a demonstration without knowing how the demonstration is going to turn out.
This decision, which was really by Chris Darden and not by Marcia Clark, was truly a fiasco for the prosecution.
DAVIES: I want to hear a little bit of the closing argument by Johnnie Cochran to the jury. Jeffrey Toobin, you made the point in the documentary that everybody remembers the phrase if the gloves don't fit, you must acquit. But there was a much more fundamental and effective message.
(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "O.J.: MADE IN AMERICA")
JOHNNIE COCHRAN: A racist is somebody who has power over you who can do something to you. A police officer in the street, a patrol officer is the single most powerful figure in the criminal justice system. He can take your life. And that's why - that's why this has to be rooted out. Stop this cover-up. Stop this cover-up. If you don't stop it, then who? You think the police department's going to stop it? You think the DA's office is going to stop it? You think we can stop it by ourselves? Has To be stopped by you.
DAVIES: And that's Johnnie Cochran's closing argument to the jury in the O.J. Simpson case from the documentary "O.J.: Made In America." Jeffrey Toobin, you made the point that everybody remembers the phrase, you know, if the gloves don't fit, you must acquit. But there was really a more fundamental message he was delivering.
TOOBIN: Which was which side are you on? Are you with the cops or are are you with your people? You know, think about it - it was miles afield from any issue in dispute in the O.J. Simpson case. It had almost nothing to do with the facts of the case.
But it was a message to this largely African-American jury that you have the power to discipline the LAPD. You have the power to strike back at the LAPD for all the misdeeds of the past. And that was a very powerful and very appealing message because there had been this terrible history. And the perverse message of the O.J. Simpson case is that here this man who was the totally undeserving beneficiary of the LAPD's history winds up getting acquitted because of events that he had nothing to do with.
DAVIES: Ezra Adelman directed the documentary series "O.J.: Made America." Also with us is Jeffrey Toobin, an attorney and legal analyst and author of "The Run Of His Life: The People V. O.J. Simpson." We'll continue our conversation after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us, we're speaking with Ezra Edelman, the director of the documentary series "O.J.: Made In America." The first episode premiered Saturday on ABC, the other four parts being shown this week at 9 on ESPN. Also with us, Jeffrey Toobin, an attorney and legal analyst who appears in the documentary. He's also the author of the book "The Run Of His Life: The People V. O.J. Simpson."
You know, for the jury to acquit O.J, they didn't need to believe that he was innocent. They simply needed to be convinced that the prosecution had not met its burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. And I want to ask you both - I mean, was there basis for reasonable doubt if you accepted that you couldn't trust their evidence-gathering techniques - that they were sloppy, that they were vulnerable to tampering and that maybe Fuhrman didn't plant the glove, but maybe he did. I mean, there's evidence of prejudice in his past. Thoughts from either of you?
TOOBIN: There was enough evidence for a jury to convict this guy seven times over. People talk about reasonable doubt as if it's some unclimbable mountain. You know what? Our prisons are full, and every single person in there either was convicted under that standard or pled guilty because they knew they'd be convicted. And when you look at the volume of physical evidence against a man who, by the way, was a convicted domestic violence abuser against the initial victim in this case. So you had everything in this case. You had motive. You had opportunity. You have physical evidence. And it is an outrage to this day that O.J. Simpson was not convicted of these two murders.
DAVIES: There are two jurors interviewed in the documentary. And I want to play a clip from them. We hear them both in succession. Both are African-American women. And they give their takes on the reasons for the verdict. Let's listen.
(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "O.J.: MADE IN AMERICA")
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Do you think that there are members of the jury that voted to acquit O.J. because of Rodney King?
UNIDENTIFIED JUROR #1: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: You do?
UNIDENTIFIED JUROR #1: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: How many of you, think, felt that way?
UNIDENTIFIED JUROR #1: Oh, probably 90 percent of them.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Ninety percent. Did you feel that way?
UNIDENTIFIED JUROR #1: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: That was payback?
UNIDENTIFIED JUROR #1: Uh-huh.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: You think that's right?
UNIDENTIFIED JUROR #2: The majority of the world or the majority of Americans think that we're a group of idiots who didn't get it right. I think that the jury was made to be the scapegoat for their faults. It was a mistake to present Fuhrman the way they did. It was a mistake to let Darden get up there and be a part of the case. Had they come correct, had they had the right attorneys up there putting on the case they need to put on, they would have won. It wasn't payback. They messed up.
DAVIES: Any comment here, Jeffrey Toobin?
TOOBIN: Well, I - just those juror interviews - they just made me so sad. I mean, just sad. You know, I don't think this jurors are idiots. I think they were caught up in a huge, national event that they really didn't want to be caught up in. They were overthinking the evidence in the case. Judge Ito let this case go on for way, way too long. They were sequestered. They were separated from their families. It was a sad situation for them. It was a difficult situation for them. But that doesn't excuse, in my opinion, that they made a huge, huge error with their verdict.
EDELMAN: And can I add one last thing, which is, you know - and it's unquantifiable, but the pressure that they must have felt knowing that they'd have to go back to those communities who were overwhelmingly invested in O.J.'s innocence and looked at this as a chance for payback in many ways - and so I wonder how much they were swayed by that. Just as Robert Shapiro had to go back to west LA and try cases amongst a group of people who believed O.J. to be guilty. And they were playing the race card. I think that the jurors were swayed by the same thing.
DAVIES: The period after the verdict is so fascinating. And Ezra Edelman, it appears that O.J. thought he could be a popular celebrity and live happily in Brentwood again.
EDELMAN: Well, I mean, I think what O.J. wanted to do was, you know, reclaim his life as O.J. Simpson, and - which meant, you know, receiving the love and adulation from the world. But what he found were, you know, the gates of white America as embodied by the community he lived in, Brentwood, he found that people weren't so welcoming. These were people who did believe him to be guilty of murder. And, you know, O.J. basically realized that he had to go somewhere else for that fix, for that - for his adulation. And so you see a guy sort of trying to find his way through the world. And he ended up hanging out with people that were diametrically opposed to the group of people that he had worked so hard to affiliate himself with over the course of three decades.
DAVIES: Yeah, the images of his life in Florida are really striking. Tell us about, you know, what he did and what kind of people he hung with.
EDELMAN: Well, after he was found responsible for the murders in the civil trial in 1996 and lost this judgment, which forced - the judgment was that he owed $33.5 million to the families of the victims. One of the things that happened was he ended up, you know, leaving his house in Brentwood and moving to Florida to protect his assets. And where - what he found in Florida was a life that was more debaucherous. He did a terrible reality show called "Juiced," where he was trafficking in every black stereotype known to man. And then he ended up writing a book called "If I Did It," tempting the public, once again, about the notion of him being a murderer. And all this culminates in one day in 2007 of him going into a hotel room with a bunch of rent-a-thugs (ph) in Las Vegas and going in to try to steal back his memorabilia, stuff that had been in his house in Rockingham that had been surreptitiously taken away after that civil judgment. The whole thing is so strange and bizarre you just - you can't - you couldn't make this up.
DAVIES: You know, it is fascinating in that part - that period. And one of the things is this apparent ability to charm people and not just, you know, kind of random gawkers on the street. And there's a clip here from the film. And we hear a magazine writer named Celia Farber who had written about O.J. and spent a lot of time with him. And we're going to hear her talking about him. And then we'll hear O.J. in some banter on a radio program with the radio personality Wendy Williams. Let's listen.
(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "O.J.: MADE IN AMERICA")
CELIA FARBER: Something takes over when you're in his presence. He's taking you away from the sordid, dark reality that you're sitting across from somebody who probably committed murder.
SIMPSON: The truly righteous are not the self-righteous. Just remember that. I read that in the Quran (laughter).
WENDY WILLIAMS: O.J., I want to say I don't like you. I can't stand you. I want to call you names. I want to throw you right out of here. But you know what?
SIMPSON: Your husband's watching. You better watch (unintelligible).
WILLIAMS: You've done it to me. Can I invite you to a party?
SIMPSON: Sure. I'll be there.
FARBER: His friends would call it the O.J. effect. They would say yeah, you got O.J.'d (ph). Being O.J.'d is being charmed, the confusion that you feel after you've been in his presence. I don't think he was not guilty. But I was in touch with the fact that I wanted to think he was not guilty.
DAVIES: And that's from the documentary "O.J.: Made In America." Maybe something a little more than celebrity there, I don't know.
EDELMAN: Well, celebrity and charm. I will say that I believe in Jeffrey that I'm sitting - or we're talking to someone that I'm pretty sure would be immune to the charm of O.J. Simpson. Am I wrong?
TOOBIN: Yeah, I think I'm pretty immune. You know, I - look, I am obviously aware that he had this effect on a lot of people. But he is, to me, a deeply enraging figure.
DAVIES: Ezra Edelman directed the new documentary series "O.J.: Made In America." Also with us is Jeffrey Toobin. He's an attorney and legal analyst and the author of the book "The Run Of His Life: The People V. O.J. Simpson." We'll continue our conversation in just a moment. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. And our guests are Ezra Edelman. He's a documentary filmmaker, directed the documentary series "O.J.: Made In America." The first episode premiered Saturday on ABC, the other four parts being shown this week on ESPN. Also with us is Jeffrey Toobin, an attorney and legal analyst. He is also a staff writer for The New Yorker and the author of the book "The Run Of His Life: The People V. O.J. Simpson."
You know, one of the things that you see in this documentary are the crime scene photos. And I don't know whether these had been made public or not. And, you know, you don't indulge in them in this documentary. But you see enough to see the savagery of this crime. You want to just talk a little bit, Ezra Edelman, about how you considered the use of those photos?
EDELMAN: Sure. You know, we got the photos from the deputy district attorney Bill Hodgman. I'm not so sure that those specific photos that we have in the one scene where Bill Hodgman is clinically going through his - you know, the series of events of the murder on June 12, 1994 - if those photos have been ever broadcast. It's - I can't validate that.
But what I can say, and especially when you listen to - to Jeff talk about this, for those who believe in O.J.'s sort of innocence or want to slough this off and say there's a lot of stuff going on and there - you know, and I wanted to think that with all this history of injustice that, you know, maybe we needed to win one or maybe there was someone else there or maybe he was responsible and he knew - you know, he knew what was happening. I just think you need to look at those photos and look at the brutality of the crimes and think to yourself can you look at - you can't look at O.J. Simpson the same way because it's - those crimes and, you know, really in terms of the circus that the trial became - you know, the people - Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman - in many ways were forgotten. And I think just to sort of see the savagery of those crimes is very important as an audience to understand why we were here in the first place, why we are telling this story. And for anyone who wants to sort of give O.J. a pass in some very strange way, no, I challenge you to be able to look at those photos then look at him the same way.
DAVIES: O.J.'s in prison today for this bizarre episode in which he and some tough guys go to a Las Vegas hotel room to get memorabilia he thinks has been stolen from them. And because there's actually an audio tape - somebody did an audiotape of it, you hear him saying nobody leaves. He gets convicted of kidnapping and armed robbery and all kinds of stuff. And the defense attorneys make the case that the sentence here - 33 years - was excessive, and they note that it matches the $33 million civil judgment in the civil case related to the murder. Jeffrey Toobin, share us your thoughts here. Was the judge imposing a tough sentence in a way as payback for his apparently having gotten got away with the murders?
TOOBIN: Totally. Absolutely, without question. I think - you know, it's the perfect perversity of the O.J. Simpson case that he was acquitted of the crime he was guilty of and convicted of a crime he's innocent of. I think the Nevada case is totally bogus. I don't think he would've even been prosecuted had he not been O.J. Simpson. I think as someone who's supposed to believe in the criminal justice system that it's an outrage he's in prison at all for that crime. Now, as far as I'm concerned, it couldn't happen to a nicer guy, and I don't stay up at night, you know, feeling terrible about the injustice. But it was a bogus case from top to bottom, and the sentence was insane.
EDELMAN: Wait, so Jeffrey, you don't believe he should be in jail at all for that crime?
TOOBIN: Absolutely not. Absolutely not. He never even would have been - it was a bunch of lunatics fighting over garbage memorabilia that - you know, they all deserved each other. And none of them should even have been arrested. The guy who had the gun got probation. O.J. didn't have a gun. I mean, the whole thing was ridiculous.
DAVIES: You know...
EDELMAN: I agree. By the way, I'm laughing because it is so farcical. But it also is such a sort of perfect coda to this whole strange, bizarre tale.
DAVIES: Yeah. I forget who it was in the film that described that the robbery as the Marx Brothers - like a Marx Brothers episode.
EDELMAN: Oh yeah, no, it was a Celia, yeah. And by the way, all you had to do is look - it's not only that there was audiotape from within the room, just the surveillance camera of this group of shlubby guys walking around this low-grade hotel in Las Vegas trying to find this room. I mean, it's laugh-out-loud funny.
TOOBIN: It is. But I think it's also, I mean, indicative of how wonderful the documentary is is that, you know, towards the end when he's - when Ezra's portraying O.J.'s post-acquittal life, you just see how seedy the whole thing, you know, how - you know, his world in Brentwood, whatever else it was was not seedy. It was glamorous. It was beautiful. I mean, these are some of the most expensive houses in America. And instead, he's reduced to dealing with, you know, the sleaze of all time. And that's, you know, the level that he found himself until he found himself locked up in a Nevada prison.
DAVIES: You think he'll ever get out?
EDELMAN: Well, he's up for parole next year.
TOOBIN: You know, he's also I believe 68 years old now.
EDELMAN: That's right.
TOOBIN: They're not a lot of 68-year-olds still in prison. I mean, they do tend to let people out. And as far as I'm aware, you know, his record has been clean in prison. So I do think he will get out at some point, if not next year, then sometime relatively soon.
DAVIES: Ezra Edelman, Jeffrey Toobin, thank you so much for spending some time with us.
EDELMAN: Thank you, David.
TOOBIN: Thank you.
DAVIES: Ezra Edelman directed the series "O.J.: Made In America." It premiered Saturday on ABC and continues this week on ESPN. Jeffrey Toobin's a legal analyst for CNN and a staff writer for The New Yorker and author of "The Run Of His Life: The People V. O.J. Simpson." Toobin's new book "American Heiress," about the Patty Hearst story, comes out in August.
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