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Double Jeopardy Round

O. J. Simpson may yet so shame law enforcement competence that good may come of it all.........or something

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, February 12, 1997.

While today we know that double jeopardy is alive and well in the United States, if Mr. Simpson is anything in the way of an illustrative example, perhaps we should review precisely why it is so hale and hearty so many years after we thought it had been put to sleep. To recap, Mr. Simpson was found not guilty of the murder of his wife and a young man. He was not found innocent. In the harsh light to hindsight, it is difficult to see how the jury in that criminal case could have found otherwise.

The Los Angles Police Department is corrupt - has always been so - primarily by its arrogance born out of Hollywood producers buying off their own shenanigans with glowing television tributes. Really, now, just look at the number of television shows over the years that painted the LAPD as heroic beyond even the normal adulation. Whether or not evidence was planted, it certainly could have been and by people who have a demonstrated willingness to do so for the usual reasons of racism and professional advance. If anything good came from the trial, it is that the national love affair with LAPD may come to a brutal end, and the city may never again have such crypto-fascists like Chief Gates warping the corps of officers, many of whom are first-rate by any standard.

But even the police looked like archangels compared to the bozos at the District Attorney’s Office. These homogenized haired geeks - so clearly trying to advance themselves through the case - have been revealed by the efforts of the Goldman-Brown legal team as - if not actual idiots - incompetents of world-class order. The GB team used evidence that the DA’s office said was two-edged, yet the reality is that it was a sharp, one edged sword that sank deep into Simpson’s credibility and bank account. Marsha Clark and Chris Darden relied totally on blood evidence, and somehow did not enter a virtual confession by Simpson during the slow-mo Bronco chase, did not discover Simpson lied not only about those shoes, but also about the sweat suit identical to the one worn by the killer. They did not, somehow, think it worth the risk to reveal that Simpson was prepared to flee with passport, cash, and other accouterments of the guilty. Memo: if you want to improve the LA DA’s office, simply forbid any more press conferences and issue written statements instead. Remember guys, even if the town you live in makes movies, you’re not in them.

But setting aside all that, Simpson was found not guilty. How can he be held financially liable for a crime of which he is formally not guilty? Good question, and only the magicians of law can make me understand it. It would seem that all the defense would have to do is say “But the courts have decided that my client did not do these murders....” but no. Obviously it should.

The reason is that during the 1960’s, even conservatives were uncomfortable that a black man in the South could be lynched for publicly suggesting he had an actual right to vote, or to send his kid to the nearest public school, or to have a valid chance at a good job, and that a pudgy white filling station manager-trainee, whose fingerprints were on the murder weapon he had used to hunt as a child, and who was now doing some loud bragging in public that he had killed the victim after some weeks of suggesting that such a fate was warranted, could be tried and freed by a local jury composed almost entirely of his blood relatives in less time than it took them to finish a round of beer. I would not say such things were common, but it happened often enough to get the nation’s attention. Most times, of course, right thinking Americans swung into action and failed to pursue the case at all.

So the Federal government, under some pressure, decided that the stunned wives and children of civil right workers, fathers with three jobs, sons in a northern college who had been murdered might receive some solace by bringing suit against the suspects as well as their fuelling organizations, like the KKK, for depriving the victims of their civil rights - life being first among them - before even freedom or personal fulfillment. A few such cases cleaned out the coffers of the KKK and heroes who shot unarmed men in the back, burned churches and children in their Sunday school, and murdered people because they wanted to vote. Money and its lack will catch the attention of even the stupidest bigot who has given up on Faulkner’s dream that southern whites could always pretend the charge had not been sounded at Gettysburg and the South could still win. Such folk had taken solace that, should evidence clearly point to their own inferiority, they could always shoot a black person to the quiet huzzas of the mob. This federal law changed a lot of that. Not all, but a lot.

The law that nailed O. J. Simpson - a black man - was designed to protect and solace the families of black victims. Irony seems, somehow, an insufficient description for a doubly deserved jeopardy.

This is Dark Cloud, see you next week. And Rita, have a good trip. I’m thinking of you.