This article was originally published on Oct. 3, 2016.
On Oct. 3, 1995, “The Trial of the Century” took one final bow with an entire nation anxiously watching on live television.
O.J. Simpson: not guilty.
Some cheered as a sports hero was rescued. Others wept at the watershed of America’s legal system.
In Buffalo, the verdict was no different. In fact, O.J.’s relationship with the city still is awkward.
Some adore “The Juice,” who was deemed a savior for a franchise without much to be excited about. Fans didn’t come to the Rockpile or Rich Stadium to watch the Bills play, they came to watch O.J.
Others despise his name and want it ripped off the stadium’s Wall of Fame as someone who "got away with murder."
Now 21 years after the verdict that divided the nation, it’s still one of the most fascinating cases in American history. Simple things can’t be uttered without the reminder of O.J.
Bruno Magli shoes? O.J.
White Bronco? O.J.
Black gloves? O.J.
Despite Simpson off the hook criminally, he was ordered to pay $25 million in damages in a civil suit filed against him by the families of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald L. Goldman in 1997.
In 2008, he was sentenced to 15 years in prison for armed robbery and kidnapping stemming from a dispute over sports memorabilia.
Through all the ups and downs of Simpson’s life, nothing measures up to the hoopla his acquittal created.
Here’s former Buffalo News columnist Larry Felser’s story on the bizarre day.
Immense feeling of emptiness clouds acquittal
By Larry Felser
At 1:08 Tuesday afternoon, just like the rest of America, I was watching one of the television events of the ages, the O.J. Simpson verdict.
Normally, my preference is to keep the first-person out of my columns. In this case, it is impossible. The subject is too personal, too emotional, too close to even toy with the pretense of objectivity.
I’ve known O.J. for 26 years. We were friends, although not intimates. I’ve always tried to keep athletes and coaches at a professional arm’s distance. With him it couldn’t be done. He was too much fun; too likeably and approachable; too cable of small, thoughtful kindness; too decent a man. He’s been a guest in my house, stood in my garden, handed wallpaper to my wife, Beverly, as she stood on a ladder.
I knew Jason and Arnelle, his children, when they were little kids. I knew many of the people around him, his secretary, his personal lawyer, the ubiquitous “A.C.,” Al Cowlings.
When the verdict was announced, I didn’t gasp or experience a knot in my stomach. I certainly didn’t feel any exhilaration, not with the sobs of Kim Goldman, sister of the slain Ron, audible in the background as the reading continued.
What I felt was emptiness born of uncertainty.
When Simpson was first charged with the double murder it seemed out of focus with reality. I have a streak of cynicism within me. I could think of dozens of jocks I’ve known through the years whose involvement with such a grisly crime wouldn’t surprise me. My personal malarkey detector is loaded with experiences involving celebrities who charmed the birds from the trees one day and were monsters the next.
Not the O.J. Simpson I knew.
My knowledge of the trial was no deeper than that of any interested TV viewer or newspaper reader. Each week’s developments would leave me more confused and ambivalent. The justice system may be a game to the lawyers, but not to the rest of us.
For more than a year, I listened to the experts in court and out. Like most people, I asked opinions of friends who worked in the system.
I asked a veteran judge what he thought.
“No weapon, no witnesses, no bloody clothes,” he said. “I don’t see that mountain of evidence the prosecution keeps talking about.”
I asked a Chicago public defender, another old friend, how she saw it.
“I’ve handled murder cases where the jugular and the arteries were cut like Nicole’s were and the murderers were soaked with blood, even their eyelashes and eyes,” she said. “I can replay dozens of 911 calls where the wife abusers sounded more violent than O.J. did on those tapes. None of the cases ended in murder (convictions).”
She also said something about the testimony of Mark Fuhrman, long before there was suggestion that Fuhrman might not be Eliot Ness: “Cops lie.”
Like many people, I also talked to others who were convinced O.J. was guilty. I listened to the lawyer consultants on television. They reminded me of what Alfred Kahn said about economists: “If you placed all of them end to end, they still couldn’t reach a conclusion.” I read opinions in columns from newspapers all over the country, much of it blather.
Every day brought more confusion. Basically, like almost everyone else who knows O.J., I didn’t want him to be guilty. As the trial reached deeper into the evidence, some of which seemed damning to him, I called his old “Main Man” on the Buffalo Bills, Reggie McKenzie, who had spoken to him in jail periodically.
McKenzie had two observations.
“I’m not making judgements about guilt or innocence,” he said. “Nicole was a friend of mine, too.” I just want the justice system to take its course.” Of the possibility Simpson might walk, McKenzie said, “the last time I talked Juice, I told him that if he goes free he’ll probably have to leave the country, like Paul Robeson did.”
Robeson, famous black athlete and later a more famous actor and singer in the 1930s, was hounded from the United States as a political pariah for championing communism.
At 1:08 Tuesday afternoon a jury of his peers found there was reasonable doubt that O.J. committed those horrible murders. I hope to God they were right.