Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Murder Trial of O.J. Simpson

Hit the Road Jack

By noon on June 14th, Dr Irwin Golden had carried out autopsies on the two murder victims. He had joined the coroner's office in July 1980 and had carried out over 5,000 postmortems. He performed his investigations in the presence of the two lead detectives.

Nicole had received four deep penetration wounds,one of which was the slash across the neck that had almost decapitated her. She had also received a large contusion to the back of the head, which indicated blunt-force trauma. There were slash wounds to her hands, which showed that she had tried to defend herself against the attack. Judging by the details of the wounds, the pathologist determined that the attacker was probably right-handed and had slashed her throat from behind, from left to right.

Ronald Goldman also had a large contusion on the back of the head, which suggested he also might have been struck from behind by the attacker. There were six wounds found on his face and neck and several more on his body, a grand total of 19 in all. Some of the wounds intersected, indicating a frenzied attack; four of the lacerations were fatal penetration wounds.

The single set of bloody footprints leading away from the bodies argued in favor of there being one killer. The knife used to kill both victims had to have a blade that was at least six inches long. Later it was learned that Simpson had recently purchased a knife fitting that description.

At about 8:00 a.m. on June 15th, Detective Vannatter visited the coroner's office and signed out the two vials of blood that had been taken from the victims and stored at the autopsy the previous day. He delivered them in person to the LAPD serology unit, which was to carry out the tests on the blood samples from the crime scene and Rockingham Avenue, and signed them over to Colin Yamauchi, a LAPD/SID blood specialist. The SID serology unit would carry out all the tests on blood samples except the RFLP tests. These were too complex for the unit to perform and would be farmed out to a specialized civilian testing agency.

The DNA testing of the blood would focus on the two major areas known as PCR and RFLP. The PCR method is generally used to eliminate suspects, whereas the RFLP, a much more definitive analysis can single out one person in a million or even a billion to the exclusion of everyone else in the world. Deoxyribonucleic acid or as it is more commonly known, DNA, is a genetic code material found within the cell nuclei of all living things. With the exception of identical twins, the complete DNA of each individual is unique and DNA fingerprinting or typing has been used in criminal and civil cases since 1988.

In the middle of the day, Lange and Vannatter met up with Los Angeles attorney Robert Shapiro who told them that he had taken over as Simpson's lead attorney.

That afternoon, Allan W. Park, the limousine driver told police that he had been instructed to be at the Rockingham estate that night no later than 10:45. He got there about 20 minutes early. He tried repeatedly and unsuccessfully to make contact with the house using the gate telephone. At about 10:50 p.m. he saw a man in dark clothing hurrying up the drive towards the house from the Rockingham gate side of the estate. Shortly after, calling the house again on the gate phone, he made contact with a man who identified himself as Simpson, saying he had overslept and would be right down. When Simpson arrived he was sweating profusely and insisted on the air-conditioning being kept on all the way down to LAX.

This was critical information from an independent witness, who had clearly seen a man about six feet in height (Simpson was six feet-one inch), dressed in dark clothing, seemingly enter the property only minutes before Simpson himself answered the telephone which had gone unanswered for 20 minutes or so.

The lead detectives also received a telephone call from a neighbor of Nicole's called Jill Shively. She claimed that on the Sunday evening as she was driving to a nearby market, she saw two vehicles almost collide at the intersection of San Vicente Boulevard and South Bundy. A white Ford Bronco came barreling north across the junction, driving through a red light and almost hitting another car traveling west down the boulevard. She recognized the Bronco driver as O.J. Simpson, timing the near accident at about 11:00 p.m. Shively was a local and had seen both Nicole and Simpson in the neighborhood many times.

Although she subsequently gave her evidence before a grand jury on June 21st, she impeached herself as a witness by lying as to whether or not she had discussed the incident with anyone. She claimed only her family, but in fact, that night she appeared on a tabloid television show to discuss it and was paid $5,000. As a result, the prosecution refused to call her as a witness.

On Thursday, June 16th, preliminary DNA test results on the glove found at the Rockingham estate confirmed that the blood was Simpson's and both of the victims. It needed confirmation by the complex RFLP tests that were a long way off at that time, but it was expected that these additional tests would confirm their first analysis.

That evening, Vannatter and Lange reviewed the evidence they had collected with Captain William O. Gartland and Lieutenant John Rogers. It all pointed to Simpson as the killer. Later,they filed a formal complaint.

Earlier in the day, Nicole Brown had been buried by her family and friends in Lake Forest Cemetery, Mission Viejo, in Orange County about 45 miles south of downtown Los Angeles. Juditha Brown later recalled how on the day before at a wake held for Nicole, O.J. Simpson had leant over his ex-wife's open coffin, kissed her on the lips and murmured, " I'm so sorry, Nicki, I'm so sorry."

The next morning, Lange, Vannatter and Marcia Clark prepared a four-page arrest warrant, which was checked and approved by the District Attorney, Gil Garcetti. Then Tom Lange telephoned Robert Shapiro and instructed him to accompany his client to the Parker Center to surrender at 11:00 a.m., failing which the detectives would come and arrest him. Simpson was staying at the home of Robert Kardashian in the San Fernando Valley. He had gone there after attending the funeral of Nicole. 

By 12:35 p.m., Simpson and his lawyer had not turned up so three patrol cars were sent to Kardashian's to get him. The police learned that Simpson had left with his close friend Al Cowling in a white Ford Bronco.

At 2:00 p.m., Commander David Gascon, the LAPD's official spokesperson, held a press conference at the Parker Center, announcing that a warrant had been issued for the arrest of O.J. Simpson, who was on the run and being sought as a fugitive.

Attorney Robert Shapiro
Attorney Robert Shapiro

At 5:00 p.m., that evening, Robert Shapiro made an appeal on television to Simpson, asking him to surrender immediately. Robert Kardashian, who read out what seemed to be a suicide note, written earlier in the day by Simpson, followed Shapiro. It was long, rambling, sentimental and morose, and proclaimed his innocence.

By now, the LAPD had received confirmation through traced cellular phone messages that Cowling and Simpson were traveling somewhere in Orange County. At about 6:45 p.m., an Orange County Sheriff's deputy spotted the Ford Bronco driving north on Intersate Five. Although ordered to pull over and stop, Cowling kept rolling, but switched on his hazard lights and slowed down to a sedate 40 miles an hour. At about that point, Cowling dialed 911 on his cellular phone and told the police to back off as Simpson was suicidal and had a gun to his head.

By this time, the media had been alerted and the sky above the Ford Bronco filled up with helicopters carrying television camera crews and reporters, as well as the law enforcement ones. The slow-speed chase became the most widely watched impromptu event in American television history. The only event that came close to matching it in the last 50 years was the moon landing.

There were so many choppers buzzing around, it looked like a scene from a war movie. At one time, a Channel 7 helicopter had to break to refuel and the station had to link into a competitor's coverage to maintain its spontaneity. As a result, people watching the Channel 7 news were confronted with the Channel 5 logo on their screens.

Crowds of spectators, alerted by the television coverage and the radio airwaves that literally crackled with the news, gathered along the freeway and crowded out the overhead bridges, shouting and cheering as though they were watching some July 4th, parade. The slow speed chase developed all the trademarks of a carnival or circus performance, a harbinger of what lay ahead in the months to follow.

As the convoy proceeded north up the 405 Freeway, Cowling requested that he be allowed to go straight to Simpson's home on Rockingham Avenue. Captain William O. Gartland, head of the Robbery/Homicide Division, agreed to the request and then ordered the LAPD Metro Division to dispatch its negotiation and SWAT teams to converge on the estate and secure the perimeter.

By now, the cavalcade had crossed the borderline into the city of Los Angeles and, although LAPD helicopters assumed the air space, the Orange County patrol cars continued on with the chase, now under the control of the LAPD black-and-whites.

The Bronco headed north, passing LAX, and left the freeway at the Sunset Boulevard exit ramp. Swinging left across the freeway, it headed west towards the Pacific Ocean until it reached Rockingham Avenue. At approximately 7:50 p.m., the long, slow, maniacal journey came to an end as Al Cowling pulled into the driveway of Simpson's home and switched off the engine.

Here gathered, as a welcoming committee, was a small army of police officers. Twenty-seven members of the LAPD SWAT unit, a vehicle assault team, a full element of Metro specialists, and a two-man negotiating team headed by Officer Peter Weireter. Above, fluttering about like demented mechanical moths, were the helicopters of the media assault teams trying to get the definitive landscape montage on record for their rapacious audiences, who were glued to their television screens across the nation and the world.

Almost an hour later at 8:45 p.m., after non-stop pleading and cajoling by Cowling and the negotiating team, Simpson finally emerged from the Bronco and surrendered. The chase was over, but the hunt for justice was just beginning.

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