The Cautionary Instruction: Simpson prosecutor says ‘It did fit’

Friday, 14 September 2012 06:00 AM Written by  Matt Mangino

20120914wap_ojsimpsongloves_150For about eight months in 1995, America was riveted to the televised trial of O.J. Simpson. The ‘trial of the century’ as it was known, sought to bring Simpson to justice for the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman.

Simpson was acquitted of both murders despite what prosecutors described as a "mountain of evidence" against him. The evidence included a blood-soaked glove found on Simpson's estate and a matching one found at the scene of the murders.

The mountain of evidence imploded when Los Angeles deputy district attorney Christopher Darden asked Simpson to try on the gloves in front of the jury -- in fact, in front of the entire nation. The gloves did not appear to fit Simpson’s hands.

Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz said that allowing Simpson to try on the gloves in open court was "about the dumbest prosecutorial decision I've ever seen.

 

Now, 17 years later, Darden suggested that defense attorney Johnnie Cochran, who died in 2005, tampered with the gloves. Cochran was celebrated for breaking down Darden’s ill-fated decision into a snappy line that continues to resonate today, “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.”

Darden told an audience during a recent panel discussion at Pace University Law School that Cochran “manipulated” one of the black gloves that Simpson tried on during the trial.

I think Johnnie tore the lining,” Darden said. “There were some additional tears in the lining so that O.J.’s fingers couldn’t go all the way up into the glove.”

Simpson’s former lawyers were quick to respond. "We were under the watchful eye of a sheriff’s deputy and court staff every moment the glove was being examined," defense co-counsel Carl Douglas said. "The very first time Mr. Simpson placed his hand inside the murder glove was when all of America saw that it did not fit his massive hand.”

Did Darden have an obligation to report the alleged tampering to the court? A prosecutor is duty-bound to report unethical conduct by another member of the bar. The California Rules of Professional Conduct provide that a violation of the rules exists if one, “knowingly assist(s) in…any violation of these rules.”

Darden’s response to his apparent ethical lapse was that reporting it would have been a "whiny-little-snitch approach to life."

Darden, as a prosecutor, had a duty to seek justice. The alleged suspected unethical conduct had an impact on the trial’s outcome. Darden cannot argue that his failure to disclose the conduct was a trial tactic. Any complaint would have been heard out of earshot of the jury.

Is Darden suggesting that he failed in his ethical obligation to avoid appearing “whiny” in the court of public opinion?

Most likely, Darden is presenting a revisionist history of the trial ‘trying to exculpate himself from one of the biggest blunders in the history of jurisprudence.”

(Top image: 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 Wednesday, June 21, 1995. Vince Bucci/Associated Press)


Matthew T. Mangino is the former district attorney of Lawrence County. He currently serves on the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole and the Pennsylvania Joint State Government Commission's Advisory Committee on Capital Punishment. He is a featured columnist for the Pennsylvania Law Weekly and a regular contributor to the Youngstown Vindicator. You can read his musings on crime and punishment at www.mattmangino.com and follow Matt on Twitter @MatthewTMangino.

Join the conversation:

To report inappropriate comments, abuse and/or repeat offenders, please send an email to socialmedia@post-gazette.com and include a link to the article and a copy of the comment. Your report will be reviewed in a timely manner. Thank you.