OJ Simpson Murder Trial

The famous OJ Simpson murder trial started with him in the middle. He was the only suspect in this case, and he was accused of stabbing to death his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend, Ronald Goldman. Prosecutors claimed that in the years of joint living with his wife, Simpson was consistently abusing his wife, which so sadly ended up on June 12, 1994. On this day Simpson surprised her at her home, overpowered her and slit her throat. It happened so, that at this time Goldman, a waiter, had accidentally stopped by the house, were murder was taking place, to return the eye glasses that that Nicole’s mother had left at a restaurant that evening. He unwittingly interrupted Simpson and paid with his life for it, prosecutors said. There were no witnesses for the crime, but prosecutors bet on the blood found in Simson’s car and his house to prove the he was the murder. Simpson asserted that he was at his house when the crime occurred, getting ready for a business trip to Chicago. The defense’ argument was that the racist police officer setup the evidence. After nine months of murder trial, the jury carried out the verdict: they acquitted Simpson on October 2, 1995.

So what exactly happened on the Sunday morning of June 12, 1994? Nobody can tell for sure, but most likely a single male came through the back entrance of condominium on Bundy Drive, that belonged to Nicole Simpson. Without compunction, the man slashed Mrs. Simpson almost separating her neck from the body. After this, he engaged in the struggle with Ronald Goldman and repeatedly stabbed him about thirty times. Only after midnight on the same day, one of the neighbors discovered the bodies. That is when the ill-fated investigation of the Brown-Simpson and Goldman murders began.

The main suspect, O.J. Simpson was persecuted for the murder of his ex-wife Nicole Simpson, and her friend. Friend, Ron Goldman, both of whom had been found with multiple knife wounds. The case was solid as rock from the start, but to the surprise of most of people watching the trial, the jury never found O.J. Simpson guilty of the crime. There are many explanations for the given verdict; they include emotional bias of the part of jury, pre-trial media exposure, cultural background of the jury, and cognitive processes influencing the jury members. However, the version that jury made a rational decision as not convicting Simpson exists as well.

There are several psychological theories that attempt to explain the jury’s decision, I’d like to point out the following five:

  1. Explanatory coherence. The jury would not convict Simpson because they did not find it plausible that he had committed the crime, where plausibility is determined by explanatory coherence.
  2. Probability theory. The jury found O. J. Simpson not guilty because they thought that it was not sufficiently probable that he had committed the crime, where probability is calculated by means of Bayes’s theorem.
  3. Wishful thinking. The jury found O. J. Simpson not guilty because they were emotionally biased toward him and wanted to find him not guilty.
  4. Emotional coherence. The jury found O. J. Simpson not guilty because of an interaction between emotional bias and explanatory coherence.
  5. Pretrial media exposure. The jury was significantly under pressure to make a decision, from all the people that were following the development of events.

Let us discuss explanatory coherence theory. In the beginning of the murder trial case, the evidence against OJ Simpson was enough to convict him. After the murder happened, he took a plane to Chicago carrying a bag that was never found, probably it contained the murder weapon. Drops of blood were found in his car, and his house, and matched the blood of Ron Goldman. Police also found a bloody glove and a sock in his bedroom that could have been the artifacts of clothing that he committed the crime in. Simpson had a cut on his hand and his blood was found not far from the gate near the murder place. In addition, O.J. Simpson had a motive to kill his wife, he was physically abusing her and was jealous of other men after the divorce.

All that evidence made people think that O.J. Simpson was guilty. We can try to explain this though using the theory of explanatory coherence. This theory says that a belief that Simpson killed his ex-wife is accepted, if doing so maximizes the overall coherence among pieces of evidence and the conflicting hypotheses that compete to explain the evidence. Thagard in his works had summarized some of the principles of explanatory coherence that may have impeded the jury’s decision.

(a) A hypothesis coheres with what it explains, which can either be evidence or another hypothesis;
(b) hypotheses that together explain some other proposition cohere with each other;
and (c) the more hypotheses it takes to explain something, the lower the degree of coherence.

Analogy. Similar hypotheses that explain similar pieces of evidence cohere.

Data priority. Propositions that describe the results of observations have a degree of acceptability on their own.

Contradiction. Contradictory propositions are incoherent with each other.

Competition. If P and Q both explain a proposition, and if P and Q are not explanatorily connected, then P and Q are incoherent with each other.

Acceptance. The acceptability of a proposition in a system of propositions depends on its coherence with them.

According to above explained principles, the hypothesis that O.J. Simpson killed his wife is true. It shows the correlation between Simpson’s blood on a gate and in this car, the bloody glove and a sock with the fact that Nicole and Ron Brown are dead. Fourteen lawyers who had to convince the jury that the guilt of Simpson is very doubtful defended Simpson. Their task was to provide alternative explanations of the solid evidence against Simpson. The lawyers knew how the jurors decision making scheme worked. The jury reached their decision because of the more appealing story presented. The trial was not really a struggle between opposing lawyers but between opposing stories. In accordance with the theory of explanatory coherence, the defense lawyers set out to generate and support hypotheses that explained the deaths and other evidence using hypotheses that would compete with the hypothesis of Simpson’s guilt.

Next comes the probability theory. The jury came across the probability that evidence against O.J. Simpson was insufficient for conviction. The conditional probability that Simpson was guilty given the evidence, P(guilty/evidence), can in principle be calculated by Bayes’s theorem, which says that the posterior probability of a hypothesis given the evidence, P(H/E), is a function of the prior probability of the hypothesis, P(H), the likelihood of the evidence given the hypothesis, P(E/H), and the probability of the evidence: P(H/E) = P(H)*P(E/H) / P(E). To calculate P(guilty/evidence), we need to know the prior probability that Simpson was guilty, the probability of the evidence in the trial given the hypothesis that Simpson committed the murder, and the probability of the evidence.

Probability theory has to rely on subjective information, so the degree of belief is directly dependent on how subjective the information is. But this approach is hardly appropriate for legal applications, since there is no guarantee that the degree of belief of jurors conforms the principle of the calculus probabilities.

It is true that emotional bias on the part of jurors could have contributed to the verdict. Simpson defense team hired a consultant who made a research on statistics as to individuals liking or disliking O.J. Simpson. The consultant then worked intensively with 75 people and found that black, middle-aged women were Simpson’s most aggressive supporters. Almost any middle-aged black woman supported him. Thus we can be quite sure that the jury was biased towards finding Simpson not guilty. One can even go further and accuse the jury in wishful thinking; they found O.J. Simpson not guilty because they wanted to. Therefore if this one is true, then explanatory coherence, probability theory and other cognitive processes do not have anything to do with the verdict. The verdict was based on the jury’s emotional attachment to Simpson.

However psychology scholars agree that emotional bias could not be the only sufficient factor contributing to the jury’s decision. They think that the interactions between the jurors’ emotional attitudes and the evidence and explanations made up the decision. All those interactions can be explained by the theory of emotional coherence.

The theory of emotional coherence serves to explain how people’s inferences about what to believe are integrated with the production of feelings about people, things, and situations. On this theory, mental representations such as propositions and concepts have, in addition to the cognitive status of being accepted or rejected, an emotional status called a valence, which can be positive or negative depending on one’s emotional attitude toward the representation. For example, just as one can accept or reject the hypothesis that Simpson was the murderer, one can attach a positive or negative valence to it depending on whether one thinks this is good or bad.

The involvement of emotional coherence in jury decision making also explains another aspect of legal practice that would be puzzling if juries used only cold cognition. One way in which the common law attempts to protect accused persons against irrational jury deliberations is the exclusion of evidence, which has prejudicial effect outweighing its probative value. Evidence can be prejudicial if it is of a kind to which a jury is likely to attach more importance than is deserved, or if it is likely to raise within a jury an emotional reaction to an accused that will distort calm and rational deliberation.

I conclude that the best available account of the decision made by the jurors to acquit O. J. Simpson is provided by the theory of emotional coherence. The two cold-cognitive explanations I considered, based on explanatory coherence and on probability theory, neglect the emotional considerations that appear to have been part of the psychological processes of the jurors. But the jurors did not engage in pure wishful thinking either: their emotional biases were integrated with considerations of explanatory coherence to produce a judgment that was in part emotion-based and in part evidence-based.

The court had seen 150 witnesses over 133 days, it was the time to make a decision, which followed soon enough. In three hours the jury announced its verdict: “We the jury in the above entitled action find the defendant, Orenthal James Simpson, not guilty of the crime of murder.”

OJ Simpson murder trial showed the different opinions of people on racial issues in law enforcement that still exists in United States. Possibly that is the reason why the case got some much media and society attention, why it is still remembered and will be remembered.  But it did more than that, it pulled on the surface awareness of domestic violence issues, provided lessons in how not to run a criminal trial, slowed the trend toward the use of cameras in courtrooms, and created a new type of “immersion” journalism that still flourishes today.

Incredible popularity of OJ Simpson murder trial within media still remains the subject for discussion among psychological analysts of the world. Contradictory discourses surround this double murder case. Exploring the relationships between OJ Simpson murder trial and media involvement, we might as well think about the social diversity of the audience, watching and reading about Simpson case. The audience of course consists of different race, gender and class representatives and they all look at the case from their own perspective. This is far beyond the obvious scandal around celebrity. Otherwise,  why was America so obsessed by this case – celebrity scandals are happening every day. While analyzing this trial case we should consider the apparent racial divide in attitudes about the murder case. OJ Simpson murder trial incorporates insights from sociology and cultural studies to examine the implications for race relations in the United States at the end of the twentieth century.

A vivid example of such differences would be the reactions to the verdict. How contrasting would be the Howard University law students seen rejoicing on TV and the picture of white females in California shopping mall. Surprisingly both these places are a part of one country. In the same way the acceptance of the case and racial issues, raised by it was very different in the black and white communities. A few factors are involved here, according to Peter Brimelow’s work called Adolph Hitler’s posthumous revenge on America;” the fear of whites, that by considering race or ethnic differences important or a matter for discussion brands them as budding Hitlerites.” Usually people with black skin don’t have this fear; partly they can’t be racists because they lack power. The white fear controls most of the conversations among whites and also between whites and blacks. As a consequence of that, whites are always at a disadvantage in any such black-white conversations. The lack of fear naturally prevails. When white talk about racial issues, they deny any significance to their words, they usually agree that race is not involved here and they are surely against it. For black people race is something very personal, from the other hand for the majority of whites, race is something pertaining to other people and irrelevant in everyday situations. It is also important that black can’t understand that race for whites is irrelevant and sometimes white fail to see that it very personal for black. In the complex situations like OJ Simpson murder trial, the problem would not be as complicated and the solution much more easy to come up with if only the recognition and understanding of those differences came around.

As the murder trial progressed, the LAPD’s history of racism and outrageous conduct in dealing with Blacks, Mexicans, women and poor people were major contributing factors in the successful playing of the race card by Simpson’s lawyers. More over, racism became a part of the defense strategy of Simpson lawyers. And that was probably the best game plan they could have used, the “Dream Team” was composed of very good city-slicker defenders that were calculating everything starting from the physical evidence and ending with the social situation in the country at that time. The defense team was very lucky with Simpson case: The lead prosecutors, Marcia Clark and Christopher Darden, lacked the in-depth trial experience the case demanded and were unable to deal with the constant provocation offered up by the defense lawyers. They were temperamental to a fault and let their egos get in the way of convicting O.J. Simpson, a defendant whose own lawyers thought he was guilty. The case was solid as a rock from the beginning but was very poorly presented and witnesses were easily discredited.

The second part of the defense strategy was if you didn’t like the message, kill the messenger. A good example of such a technique would be the denouncement of Mark Fuhrman as a racist, which may have been true, but the whole story of planting the evidence sounded way to fantastic to be true.

This case represented the first time the American public felt a black man “got off” for a crime without receiving any punishment. Some people are confident that he beat the justice system. It is very interesting how the fact of Simpson beating the justice system has especially aggravated white America to such a degree that they have been watching his every move afterwards, waiting for him to slip and ask forgiveness for the murders.

According to one of the Cleveland attorneys: White America would not be satisfied until OJ Simpson was dead. I do think it makes sense. White people could not let Simpson go without him asking for mercy. It’s rather sad that so many people, who never knew the victims or the accused, took this case so personally.

The real question that must be answered is why many people take the outcome so personally and want to see OJ Simpson dead. What makes his case so different from the other aforementioned celebrated cases? Do some people not understand why the “reasonable doubt” standard is used in the criminal system? Are we, as a society, ready to toss the system created by my Founding Stepfathers just because some people do not like one jury’s verdict? Perhaps this case will never die because it has provided more jobs to out-of-work and washed up trial attorneys as commentators that any other event in American history.

OJ Simpson murder case have taught minorities a very important lesson. No matter how the law is written, I will always be stopped more often by the police. I will always be the last recipient of a home loan. I will always cause white women to immediately clutch at their purses at the sight of me. Mere change of the laws, in isolation, will not alter people’s conduct and attitudes. Until we can begin the dialogue about those views and potentially see past those dangerous attitudes, we cannot progress as a society.

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