Simpson Acquitted, Freed, Vows to Hunt Down Killers
LOS ANGELES (AP) _ O.J. Simpson went home a free man Tuesday, spared by an unpredictable jury to pick up a life of privilege instead of a life in prison. Acquitted of murdering his ex-wife and her friend, he pledged to track down the real killers who are ``out there somewhere.″
In a courtroom on the verge of exploding with emotion, a hush fell as Judge Lance Ito’s clerk, Dierdre Robertson, read the two words: ``Not guilty.″
Simpson smiled, mouthed the words ``Thank you″ at the jury, then clasped his hands together. Lead attorney Johnnie Cochran Jr., standing behind Simpson, slapped him on the back and laid his forehead on his shoulder. Attorney Shawn Chapman cried and clutched jury consultant Jo-Ellan Dimitrius’ hand.
Tears of anguish and shouts of joy burst from the three families whose lives were torn apart by the bloody June 12, 1994, slayings of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman.
``Oh, my God!″ exclaimed Simpson’s grown daughter, Arnelle, embracing her brother Jason. ``We did it!″ a family member exulted to lead defense attorney Johnnie Cochran Jr.
At the courthouse, Simpson’s older son, Jason, read a statement from his father:
``My first obligation is to my young children, who will be raised the way that Nicole and I had always planned. ... But when things have settled a bit, I will pursue as my primary goal in life the killer or killers who slaughtered Nicole and Mr. Goldman. They are out there somewhere. Whatever it takes to identify them and bring them in, I will provide somehow.″
Police Chief Willie Williams, however, said he had no plans to reopen the investigation.
``It doesn’t mean there’s another murderer,″ Williams said of the acquittals.
One juror, Anise Aschenbach, was reported as tearfully telling her daughter she believed Simpson was guilty but that police Detective Mark Fuhrman’s compromised testimony could not be overcome.
``I think he probably did do it, Denise,″ the daughter told an ABC interviewer her mother had related in a telephone conversation Monday, after the verdicts were sealed.
``I said something like, `Gosh, you’re kidding me.′ And she said no and she’s crying. So I said, `Why? What happened? What was the thing?′
``She said it was because there wasn’t enough evidence. And I said, `Why?′ She said, ``Because of Mark Fuhrman.′ ″
Aschenbach, a 61-year-old retiree, had long been regarded as sympathetic to the prosecution. On her jury questionnaire, she said she’d once been the lone holdout in a murder trial and persuaded everyone else to come over to her side.
In his statement, Simpson noted that many will surmise he is guilty, acquittal or no acquittal.
``I can only hope that someday, despite every prejudicial thing that has been said about me publicly, both in and out of the courtroom, people will come to understand and believe that I would not, could not and did not kill anyone,″ his statement said.
Eerily, the Simpson saga ended much as it had begun, with the fallen football superstar being transported in a white van to his estate while news helicopters tracked him overhead. Tuesday’s televised verdicts were the most-watched event since June 17, 1994, when Simpson, in a white Bronco with his friend Al ``A.C.″ Cowlings driving, led police on a surreal slow-speed chase viewed by millions.
Cowlings was at the door to embrace Simpson when he arrived home an hour after the verdicts were read. Later, family members gathered for a champagne party on the lawn of Simpson’s lush estate.
Florists, caterers and musicians pulled up to the house and told reporters they were there for a celebration.
The gaiety stood in marked contrast to the solemn mood in the district attorney’s offices and at the victims’ graves.
More than 100 people gathered at Ms. Simpson’s Ascension Cemetery grave in Lake Forest. They left flowers, poems and tears.
Kim Goldman visited her brother’s gravesite in Westlake late Tuesday. Although she was by herself, a few people did walk up and hug her as she mourned.
``Last June 13, ’94, was the worst nightmare of my life,″ Goldman’s father, Fred, said at a prosecution news conference, referring to the day he learned of his son’s murder. ``This is the second. ...
``This prosecution team didn’t lose today. I deeply believe this country lost today. Justice was not served.″
Juror Brenda Moran told CNN: ``I know we made the right decision and we did weigh the evidence. Therefore, I’m happy. I can sleep tonight.″
At a defense team news conference, Cochran insisted the issue of race, which he played heavily in the trial, did not overcome the facts.
``This verdict speaks justice,″ Cochran said. ``This was a case based upon the evidence.″
He denied playing ``the race card,″ saying instead that credibility had won out.
``Race plays a part in everything in America,″ he said. ``But this stuff about playing a race card is preposterous.″
But fellow defense attorney Robert Shapiro disagreed, saying he was ``deeply offended″ that Cochran had compared Mark Fuhrman, the police detective who found the bloody glove, to Adolf Hitler. He said would never work with Cochran again and would never talk to attorney F. Lee Bailey.
Cochran replied in a CBS interview that he was ``very sorry″ about Shapiro’s remarks. ``On this, our happiest day of our whole careers, I feel bad for him .... He’s the one who has problems. We don’t.″
Earlier, Cochran said he hoped the Los Angeles Police Department would alter shoddy investigative practices exposed in the trial.
As the words setting Simpson free were spoken in court, his elderly mother, Eunice, seated in a wheelchair, wiped her eyes, held up her hands prayerfully and murmured words of thanks.
``I was always in prayer. I knew my son was innocent,″ she said at the defense meeting with reporters.
Across the room, Goldman mouthed the word ``murderer″ as the verdict was announced. Kim Goldman, who spent most of a year in court honoring her dead brother’s memory, doubled over and sobbed along with a younger brother and sister.
The jurors who acquitted Simpson in less than four hours of deliberations refused to speak with attorneys or explain their verdicts to reporters. The usually dapper jury came to court in uncharacteristically casual clothes. One black man smiled at the defense team as he entered the courtroom.
``We won,″ whispered defense attorney Carl Douglas, almost in amazement.
The verdicts, returned Monday but held overnight by Judge Lance Ito to give lawyers and families time to assemble, caught everyone by surprise. There was immediate speculation that Simpson had been convicted because jurors had asked the court to read them a segment of testimony considered favorable to the prosecution.
Simpson’s sister, Carmelita Durio, said the family spent the night on ``an emotional roller coaster,″ praying together and steeling themselves for what lay ahead.
Her sister, Shirley Baker, who joined Durio in the courtroom almost every day at the trial, said she was elated.
``I just feel like standing on top of this table and doing a jig,″ Baker told reporters.
The Brown family waited several hours before responding to the verdicts. Tuesday evening, in an appearance on CNBC’s ``Rivera Live,″ Lou Brown, Ms. Simpson’s father, and sister Denise Brown seemed subdued.
``The jury has rendered a verdict,″ Denise Brown said, reading a statement. ``The trial is over. Whatever our personal feelings about the right or wrong of their decision, the trial is over. Now we have to get on with the rest of our lives.″
The verdict reverberated from Los Angeles to the White House, where President Clinton watched the verdicts on TV, then wrote a statement.
``The jury heard the evidence and rendered its verdict,″ Clinton said. ``Our system of justice requires respect for their verdict. At this moment our thoughts and prayers should be with the families of the victims of this terrible crime.″
Earlier, Clinton was briefed on federal government plans to assist California authorities if the Simpson verdict triggered civil unrest. But the streets remained calm.
Outside the courthouse, most of the crowd of more than 1,000 people pressing police barricades cheered wildly as the innocent verdicts were transmitted on portable radios.
Some chanted, ``Justice means acquittal, acquittal means justice″ followed by shouts of ``Free O.J.!″
Across town in Brentwood, where Ms. Simpson and Goldman were slain, the mood was less jubilant.
``You make a lot of money and I guess you can commit murder,″ said Elizabeth Condelli, who said she knew Ms. Simpson through their children’s school.
The verdict was reported in blazing headlines worldwide. Within hours, local newspapers had issued ``Extra″ editions featuring Simpson’s smiling face and the words, ``Not Guilty.″
The 1st Add, a0730, is not repeated.