WASHINGTON: O.J. Simpson, the American football star and actor who was sensationally acquitted in 1995 of murdering his former wife in what US media dubbed the “trial of the century”, died on Wed­nesday at the age of 76.

His family said in a social media post that he had died after a battle with cancer.

Simpson was found not guilty in the 1994 stabbing deaths of former wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman in Los Angeles, although he was found responsible for her death in a civil lawsuit.

Simpson later served nine years in a Nevada prison after being convicted in 2008 on 12 counts of armed robbery and kidnapping two sports memorabilia dealers at gunpoint in a Las Vegas hotel.

Nicknamed “The Juice”, Simpson was one of the best and most popular athletes of the late 1960s and 70s. He overcame childhood infirmity to become an electrifying player at the University of Southern California and won a trophy as college football’s top player.

After a record-setting career in the national football league with the Buffalo Bills and San Francisco 49ers, he was inducted into the “pro football hall of fame”.

Simpson parlayed his football stardom into a career as a sportscaster, advertising pitchman and Hollywood actor in films including the Naked Gun series.

All that changed after Nicole Brown Simpson and Goldman were found fat­ally slashed in a bloody scene outside her Los An­geles home on June 12, 1994.

Simpson quickly emer­g­ed as a suspect. He was ordered to surrender to police, but five days after the killings, he fled in his white Ford Bronco with a former teammate, carrying his passport and a disguise.

A slow-speed chase through the Los Angeles area ended at Simpson’s mansion and he was later charged in the murders.

Media circus

What ensued was one of the most notorious trials in 20th century America and a media circus. It had everything: a rich celebrity defendant; a black man accused of killing his white former wife out of jealousy; a woman slain after divorcing a man who had beaten her; a “dream team” of pricey and charismatic defence lawyers; and a huge gaffe by prosecutors.

Simpson, who at the outset of the case declared himself “absolutely 100 percent not guilty”, waved at the jurors and mouthed the words “thank you” after the predominantly black panel of 10 women and two men acquitted him on Oct 3, 1995.

The trial transfixed America. In the White House, President Bill Clinton left the Oval Office and watched the verdict on his secretary’s TV. Many black Ameri­cans celebrated his acquittal, seeing Simpson as the victim of bigoted police.

Many white Americans were appalled by his exoneration.

Simpson’s legal team included prominent criminal defence lawyers John­nie Cochran, Alan Der­showitz and F. Lee Bailey, who often outmanoeuvred the prosecution. Prosecu­tors committed a memorable blunder when they directed Simpson to try on a pair of blood-stained gloves found at the murder scene, confident they would fit perfectly and show he was the killer.

In a highly theatrical demonstration, Simpson struggled to put on the gloves and indicated to the jury they did not fit.

Delivering the trial’s most famous words, Co­chran referred to the gloves in closing arguments to jurors with a rhyme: “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit”.

Published in Dawn, April 13th, 2024

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