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Patt Morrison on the OJ Simpson verdict, 20 years later

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Twenty years ago, OJ Simpson was acquitted for the murder of his ex-wife and her friend. What happened next was a sordid souvenir blitz only a famous American trial could inspire.

In 1995, OJ Simpson was acquitted in the murder trial of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Lyle Goldman. Twenty years later, KPCC's Patt Morrison reflects on the national reaction to the verdict.

If you’re at least 40 years old, I can tell you exactly what you were doing at 10 a.m. Pacific Time on Tuesday, October 3, 1995. You — along with about one hundred million other people the world over — were watching twelve people, a Los Angeles jury, declare O.J. Simpson not guilty of murdering his ex-wife and her friend.

On the New York stock exchange, traders stopped to watch. In Congress, the honorable members canceled press conferences to watch. The Supreme Court justices, who probably wanted to watch, instead passed a note about the verdict from hand to hand as they sat listening to oral arguments.

In the 20 years since, other crimes and other outrages have eclipsed the Simpson case. The 9/11 attacks delivered some serious perspective.

But those 16 months, from the “plaintive wail” of a dog with bloody feet to the acquittal, had a singular hold on us. It was Subject A, every day, when the trial was on television and when it wasn’t. Even the popular topics like traffic and real estate were eclipsed in conversation; hi, good to see you, what do you think of O.J.?

Every obsession needs its totems and its trinkets. The last time a murder trial created a mania like this one was for the man accused of kidnaping and killing Charles Lindbergh’s son. Opportunists sold tasteless miniature ladders like the one used to carry off the little boy from the home of the most famous man in the world.

With O.J., the souvenirs leavened life and death with commerce and whimsy. Everyone connected with it was, at least momentarily, a celebrity. There were more buttons and bumper stickers than a presidential campaign: OJ innocent, OJ guilty, the defense ‘dream team,’ the prosecutors, the judge, Kato the house guest, Kato the dog. One hot souvenir was a wristwatch: one hand, a white Bronco being chased round and round by the other hand, a police car. Press photographers laminated fake press passes with fake DNA swatches: a patch of gauze with a drop of iodine. And oddest of all, the head of Judge Lance Ito, as a life-sized Jello mold, called, what else, Eat-an-Ito.

The carnival mood eclipsed some of the deep issues the Simpson case brought forward: race, class, celebrity, domestic abuse and checkbook justice. 

And, as with a really bad hangover, when it was all over, we were more than a little mortified about how overboard we’d gone. And we promised ourselves that we would never, ever, go that wild and crazy again. Because there would never be a case like this one, ever again. Until, of course, the next one.

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