By Erick Johnson, Gary Crusader
It’s been 32 years since the dramatic trial of O.J. Simpson concluded with a stunning verdict that had Black America celebrating and white America angry. After nine months of testimony, grisly details, cross examinations and endless hours of national television coverage, a 12-member jury acquitted Simpson of first-degree murder in the brutal deaths of ex-wife Nicole Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman.
Today, many still believe the Simpson case was the most publicized criminal trial in American history.
While Simpson’s life was in the national spotlight, so were the savvy legal skills of his defense team and its powerful lead attorney, the late Johnnie Cochran, who spearheaded a successful, but controversial defense that ran along racial lines. But behind the scenes, another talented Black attorney was busy at work to save Simpson’s life.
His name is Carl Edwin Douglas, a New Haven, Connecticut native, who was among 11 attorneys known as the “Dream Team.”
The name was a fitting example of a case that brought together Hollywood intrigue and murder. Three decades later, it’s a case that’s still being told in documentaries and made for television dramas. ESPN captured an Emmy in 2016 for its five-part series, O.J.: Made in America. Also last year, on the FX cable channel, The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story drew high approval ratings from critics and swept the Emmy Awards with nine wins, including Outstanding Limited Series. The 10-episode series also won several Golden Globe and BET Awards.
But the Simpson case is also appealing to a young generation of millennials according to Douglas, who gave a telephone interview to the Crusader just hours after he was honored at the 5th Annual Katie Hall Luncheon on Saturday, April 8.
“O.J. is probably the most famous person ever charged with murder and in my lifetime, there will never be another case like this,” Douglas said.
Douglas said with police shootings against young Blacks around the country, the Simpson case continues to fascinate the Black millennials because unlike today, justice turned the other way in the case of a Black man accused of murder.
One may argue that unlike most Black males, Simpson back then was a wealthy celebrity, who could afford to hire the best attorneys that money could buy. It’s a reality that Douglas acknowledged during his interview with the Crusader.
“Mr. Simpson was blessed to have a large amount of money and was willing to spend it,” Douglas said.
Douglas credits Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz for his legal input and guidance in the case. He didn’t say whether or not he believes Simpson committed the murders, but America’s thirst for what really happened continues to burn.
From the infamous police chase in Simpson’s white Ford Bronco on California Interstate 402, the case was real Hollywood drama. The trial alone was genuine reality television at its best, long before it became the contrived, scripted drama it is today.
Here was a charismatic, handsome, prominent Black celebrity who won the hearts of America with his dazzling athleticism as a Heisman trophy winner, and as a charming NBC sportscaster. Suddenly, Simpson was accused of stabbing to death two white people in the Los Angeles upscale Brentwood neighborhood, where a trail of blood covered the walkway of a condominium.
Simpson was married to Nicole from 1985 to 1992. When Nicole’s body was found, police say she had been stabbed multiple times in the head and neck, and had defensive wounds on her hands. The wound on her neck was so deep, her larynx could be seen. Goldman, a Chicago native who graduated from Adlai Stevenson High School in northwest suburban Lincolnshire, was found stabbed to death nearby.
In a famous trial scene, Simpson struggled to put on a pair of gloves that were found near the crime scene, and many remember Cochran’s phrase, “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.” Jurors did just that.
“We were confident that we would win,” Douglas said. “We had to force the prosecution to prove that O.J. beyond a reasonable doubt committed these murders, and they didn’t.”
Douglas told the Crusader that under Cochran, he learned to be a fearless attorney even when the odds are high.
“I learned the highest level of legal techniques and how to use them in a high profile trial,” he said.
Douglas was the managing attorney at the Law Office of Johnnie Cochran Jr., who died in 2005. He started his own firm, The Douglas Law Group, in Beverly Hills in 1998. The latter firm is now known as Douglas/Hicks Law. Douglas’ other high profile clients have included: singer Michael Jackson, actors Jamie Foxx and Queen Latifah, and former NFL safety Darren Sharper.
Douglas attended Northwestern University in Chicago’s northern suburb of Evanston.
While Blacks supported the not guilty verdict, whites in America were outraged by the decision and strongly believe Simpson committed the murders. The families of Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman were awarded a total of $33.5 million — $8.5 million in compensatory damages, and $25 million in punitive damages — in a wrongful death civil suit in 1997. The families have been unable to collect any money from Simpson. In 2008, Simpson went to jail for an unrelated armed robbery at a Las Vegas hotel.