SALON Daily Clicks: Newsreal

Charles Manson's prosecutor sees little cause for celebration in the latest O.J. verdict. The white jury was better than the black jury, he says  and Mark Fuhrman was one of the victims.

Published February 6, 1997 8:00PM (EST)

the second phase of the O.J. Simpson civil trial got underway Thursday to determine the amount of punitive damages Simpson should be liable for in the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman. On Tuesday, a Superior Court jury in Santa Monica awarded the Goldman family $8.5 million in compensatory damages. The same jury is scheduled to hear testimony about Simpson's worth and how much he could earn in the future.

Defense attorneys have said they will likely file an appeal, largely aimed at rulings made by civil trial Judge Hiroshi Fujisaki. Public reaction to the verdict, so far, has been more muted than at the criminal trial, with those who are convinced of Simpson's guilt believing that some measure of justice was attained this time.

Salon talked with Vincent Bugliosi, the former prosecutor for the Los Angeles County District Attorney's office who successfully tried Charles Manson, and the author of "Outrage: The Five Reasons Why O.J. Simpson Got Away With Murder" (W.W. Norton).

Your book about Simpson's criminal trial was called "Outrage." Are you still outraged?

The latest developments do not diminish the outrage. What we have here is partial justice. Because the jury in the criminal trial found Simpson not guilty, there's never going to be true justice in this case. If there was true justice, Simpson would be in one of two places: either the main line at San Quentin or on death row.

If we define justice as a person getting his or her due, then there's only been a modicum of justice. After the verdict, Simpson stopped to get ice cream on his way back from the courthouse. Well, how is that possible? I coined a phrase about this: "Any problem that can be solved by money is not much of a problem after all." Simpson knows that regardless of the verdict, he can get up in the morning and get a cup of coffee, read the paper and drink some orange juice. He will still have the companionship of his children and female companionship -- and he can still play golf.

But don't get me wrong -- some justice is better than none.

Barry Scheck, the DNA expert on O.J.'s criminal defense team, said Tuesday night that we shouldn't turn the civil trial verdict into a race thing. Isn't that impossible, considering that in the criminal trial, a jury made up of almost all African Americans deliberated for three hours and found Simpson not guilty, while the Santa Monica jury, which had no African American jurors, deliberated for three days and unanimously found him "liable"?

I'm going to say something that at first blush might sound racist, so hear me out. The Santa Monica jury was better than the downtown (criminal trial) jury. White people have no built-in bias against O.J. Simpson. When news of the murders first came out, many white people, myself included, wished he was innocent. I mean, why would anyone want him to be guilty? He was a beloved national hero. Polls have shown that there was a built-in bias in favor of Simpson from the beginning.

So in fact the Santa Monica jury was a more impartial jury. And while recent polls show more African Americans now think Simpson was guilty, you still have many saying that of course the Santa Monica jury found him liable, because there was no black person on the jury. But the allegations that this is a racial verdict make no sense. If the evidence in this case was anemic, then maybe you could say the verdict had something to do with the demographic makeup of the jury. But my God! It's the consensus of virtually every trial lawyer that rarely have they seen a case with more incriminating evidence against the defendant.

As you pointed out in "Outrage," the prosecution did a lousy job in the criminal trial. Do you think the DA's office, the Coroner's office and the LAPD have learned anything from their mistakes?

Before "Outrage," no one was talking about how inept the prosecution was. People were saying that the prosecution had done all they could and it was all the fault of the jury. (Assistant prosecutor Christopher) Darden said he came into the courtroom, looked at the jury and knew the case was lost. "I saw a need in their eyes to settle a score," Darden said. Even Jeffrey Toobin -- two weeks after the verdict he wrote a summary of the case for The New Yorker and said the prosecution did a wonderful job, Marcia Clark was brilliant, there was nothing they could have done to change the verdict. Then later when his book ("The Run of His Life: The People V. O.J. Simpson") comes out -- after "Outrage" came out -- Toobin comes out with all these problems with the prosecution.

(Goldman family lawyer Daniel) Petrocelli called me before the civil trial and said he was going to present the case in court the way I laid it out in the book. He didn't do it exactly the same way, but he did do a lot of things I said in the book.

But again, what have the courts, prosecutors, police and coroners learned from this whole thing?

What this case did in terms of the police is expose the fact that their crime lab has some problems. The defense did not prove any contamination, but the crime lab there has been deteriorating in the last few years, due to a lack of funding. I think the LAPD is going to make the lab more state of the art.

With such a broken-down infrastructure, is it only a matter of time before another "outrage" happens?

I'm not sure the infrastructure is broken, though the potential for a breakdown is there because of sloppiness. That vulnerability was exposed by the defense and the DNA lawyers. Their attack on the scientific evidence on the criminal trial will have a very deleterious effect on other prosecutors' use of forensic evidence. Juries who used to accept scientific evidence are now wondering about its reliability.

Many of the players from the criminal trial, including Marcia Clark, Johnnie Cochran, Chris Darden and Mark Fuhrman, are raking in millions off this case.

I don't criticize the prosecutors for profiting from this. I criticize them for doing such an abysmal job, for their terrible lack of preparation, which showed a lack of responsibility. I am more dismayed by the American public than I am with Darden and Clark for writing books. It's the American public that treats them like heroes. They get standing ovations wherever they go. I mean, Clark got $4.2 million from her publisher (Viking) for losing a case!

You wrote the foreword for Mark Fuhrman's upcoming book.

I was the first public personality to come out in defense of Mark Fuhrman. Cochran compared him to Hitler. Marcia Clark said, "Do we wish this man did not exist on the face of the planet? Yes!" His superiors at the LAPD attacked him. What I point out is this: Fuhrman assuredly used to be a racist. But the last time he used the "N" word on tape was in 1988. In 1994 Mark Fuhrman had black friends. He was getting up early two or three days a week to play basketball with black officers. And I've confirmed that in 1994 Mark Fuhrman worked very hard to free a black man, Eric Harries, who was charged with the murder of a white man, when he came upon evidence favorable to Harries.

How can you be a racist one year and not a racist the next?

I'm not a psychologist, so I don't know. But there is an argument that he was never a racist, that he was just anti-criminal blacks. The foreword says simply that when you get past the two victims, Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman, and the survivors of the victims, Mark Fuhrman was also a victim.

But Fuhrman has retired to Idaho, he's going to make a lot of money on this new book, he's doing the whole talk-show circuit. A lot of people would argue that does not constitute victimhood.

Mark Fuhrman is awakened in the middle of the night to go to a crime scene where he does nothing wrong at all. There is no evidence that shows he did anything wrong at all. And now his life is ruined, to a certain extent, although he's making a comeback and I'm trying to help the kid out by agreeing to do the foreword. I talked to him about two months ago and he had just come back from his first meeting with his probation officer. So Fuhrman is a felon for the rest of his life while Simpson is out playing golf after he committed two murders. Fuhrman's the subject of ridicule, he had to take early retirement, he's a felon for the rest of his life, and he can't even own a firearm -- which means a lot to him because he's a hunter. All for what?

Didn't he commit perjury?

I'm not sure Fuhrman committed perjury. Lay people are under the erroneous impression that every time you lie under oath it's perjury. That's not true. Lying under oath is the most important element of perjury but not the only one. The lie has to concern a "material matter." In my opinion, Fuhrman lying about his use of the "N" word is immaterial; it had nothing to do with whether Simpson committed these murders. What we had was someone who was embarrassed to admit in front of a predominantly black jury that he used the word "nigger." The issue of whether or not Fuhrman used this word became a bigger issue than whether Simpson committed these murders.


Trumping the race card

O.J. is no longer able to function as a crystallizing point for all sorts of tensions on race and class in America. People are saying it's a black verdict and a white verdict. But I prefer to think of it as a wrong verdict and a right verdict. I think he's guilty as sin. I've talked to a lot of people who are not surprised, under these new rules of evidence, that the brother was found guilty.

--Henry Louis Gates Jr., head of African-American studies at Harvard University, quoted by Maureen Dowd in her column, "The Schism of the Union," in Thursday's New York Times.

By Lori Leibovich

Lori Leibovich is a contributing editor at Salon and the former editor of the Life section.

MORE FROM Lori Leibovich

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