The Trials Of Two Centuries

The bar for the term “trial of the century” is indeed a high one. Prior to January, 1995, historians could debate whether that title was reserved for the ones involving Adolf Eichmann, the kidnappers of Charles Lindbergh’s infant son, or even the one involving one Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, which prior to this one was perhaps the last time a prominent celebrity was accused of murder.

But O.J. Simpson was a far more transcendent celebrity than Arbuckle, and the seeds of anticipation for his trial had been intrinsically sown when 95 million people saw him flee from justice five days after he allegedly ended the lives of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her 25-year-old dinner date, Ron Goldman.  We heard him making threats to take his own life while he crouched in the back seat of his onetime Buffalo Bills teammate Al Cowlings’ white Ford Bronco.  Yours truly actually saw this with his own two eyes while the slow-moving parade of police vehicles , media helicopters and detectives passed directly in front of the synogague I was awaiting a blessing ceremony called an aufruf with my fiance and her impatient, annoyed family who were much more upset that dinner reservations now needed to pushed back after this disruption than about anything else.  (Given the eventual fate of that marriage, in hindsight perhaps this was ominous).

And for the next eight months, we were transfixed as this all played out on television, not only live but on nightly wrap-up shows, the likes of which had not been seen since the AMERICA HELD HOSTAGE reports that ABC commissioned regarding those ongoing negotiations with Iran that eventually became NIGHTLINE.  In Los Angeles, where all of this occurred, it was especially unavoidable.  Two stations pre-empted their regular prime access programming for recap shows and talking head analyses.  A third’s three-hour prime time news block became a virtual loop of such coverage.  A much larger and journalistically sound version of the Los Angeles TIMES than exists today devoted a special section to each day’s proceedings.

In the wake of Simpson’s death from cancer last week, we have yet again been reminded of exactly why we cared so much.  Simpson was truly beloved by football fans who remembered his dazzling on-field exploits , first winning a Heisman Trophy at USC and then not only breaking the all-time NFL record for rushing yardage in a single season, but also cracking the 2000-yard barrier for the first time on a snowy December afternoon on the turf of Shea Stadium, with even exacerbated Jets fans wildly cheering him.  He was a Monday Night Football announcer for a spell, right on the cusp of becoming the goofy Nordberg character in a series of NAKED GUN movies, including a turn where he is nearly murdered himself by a vicious criminal played by none other than Khan and Mr. Roarke himself, Ricardo Montalban.  And in real life, he was able to woo and marry the stunningly attractive Brown, a much younger and much more Caucasian from Orange County with whom he produced two absolutely adorable biracial children.

And yes, those adjectives were chosen carefully and with intent, because anyone who doesn’t think there was an element of initial envy from his fans that he had by all evidence a partner and a life most could only dream of that eventually escalated the rage and resentment when we learned that Simpson was an abusive husband, regularly beating Brown and sending her into panicked fits of terror begging for police intervention–tapes that we heard during those eight exhausting months, and ones that supporting the case that said rage, and the eventual jealousy that he could no longer control who and why his onetime trophy wife chose to have meals with drove him to the point of viciously stabbing her and her unfortunate companion to premature deaths–increased the amount of interest we had in what happened is either not a student of psychology or more detached from reality than perhaps Mr. Simpson was.

But as we know, that trial of THAT century successfully dusted all of that under the rug because, ultimately, a jury of his peers was convinced that a racially biased and often careless LAPD determined to make a conviction had somehow made Simpson a victim in his own right, and the brilliant Johnnie Cochrane took full advantage of the overmatched team under Gil Garcetti’s watch, including two defenders named Marcia Clark and Christopher Darden that we later learned may have been the inspiration for Fani Willis and Nathan Wade to, shall we say, find ways to make those long collaborative hours go by a little less painfully.

Which, of course, now brings us to what is being called the trial of THIS century, the one that begins today with jury selection in Manhattan, the one where, for the first time, a former U.S. president will face criminal charges in court, a scenario which THE NEW YORK TIMES’Jonah E. Bromwich and 

(P)rosecutors and defense lawyers (will) convene in a Manhattan courtroom to begin selecting the jury that will decide Donald J. Trump’s fate.

The Manhattan district attorney, Alvin L. Bragg, has charged Mr. Trump with 34 felonies, accusing him of falsifying documents to conceal a sex scandal involving a porn star. Jury selection could last two weeks or more and the trial may spill into June. Mr. Trump is expected to be in the courtroom for much of it, bringing campaign theatrics to the sober atmosphere of a criminal proceeding.  The spectacle will be remarkable: a former president face-to-face with a part of his past that he has tried to bury but that could instead make him a felon. In 2016, Mr. Trump’s former fixer, Michael D. Cohen, paid $130,000 to the porn star, Stormy Daniels, to buy her silence about a story of having had sex with Mr. Trump a decade earlier.

And while the charges are not quite as dire as those of the ones Simpson faced, the consequences from the eventual verdict are arguably even higher, as THE DAILY BEAST’s Jose Pagliery reminds:

Trump is staring down the possibility of jail time. And instead of Trump opting to attend court, like he did most days in his recent bank fraud trial or the two Carroll lawsuits, he is obligated to be there for this criminal case.

He will be forced to listen, quietly this time, to the Manhattan District Attorney tell jurors a story—a story about a presidential candidate trying to save his campaign from catastrophic embarrassment. The DA will detail how Trump, reeling after comments he made on video about his predatory sexual behavior were leaked to The Washington Post in the closing weeks of the 2016 campaign, allegedly paid several women to keep quiet about his extramarital affairs, employed a trusted lawyer to cut the deals, and then oversaw longtime accountants faking business paperwork to throw anyone off the scent.

Once more, a famous person beloved by millions who somehow got a hot blond into bed with him is facing a day in court.  Once more, said famous person has been accused of heinous behavior and an overwhelming need to exert control over her.  And while in this case it thankfully did not involve murder, there has still been substantial damage done to Ms. Daniels’ life and ability to live it, as anyone who objectively watched the documentary about her now running on Peacock knows.  (If you’re a regular reader, based on our recent coverage, you might have been motivated to do so; you still could be if you click on this link.)

And once again, there will be attempts to convince jurors that the accused is a victim, this time by politically motivated prosecutors determined to derail what so many see as a preordained reascension to once again lead the free world.  And indeed, current polls indicate he is the presumptive candidate of his party, and at worst is within statistical tolerance of winning a general election in spite of not only these charges but the other 88 he is facing that may or not go to trial before November.

And once again, there will be cheering zealots rooting for what they perceive as true justice, only this time from a safer venue than a freeway overpass.

The parallels are undeniable, so much so that even today’s version of the Left Angeles TIMES got them confused in their version of Simpson’s obituary,  as HUFFPOST’s Ron Dicker pointed out last week:

The Los Angeles Times on Thursday mistakenly used Donald Trump’s name instead of  O.J. Simpson in an obituary detailing Simpson’s release from prison in 2017.  Simpson died at age 76, his family announced Thursday, ending a life that careened from football superstardom to infamy. He was acquitted in 1995 for the murders of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ron Goldman, but a civil jury found Simpson liable for their deaths less than two years later. In 2008, he was convicted of armed robbery in another case. His stay in prison ended in 2017.   That’s where the name of the GOP’s criminally charged presumptive nominee popped up in place of Simpson’s. “Long before the city woke up on a fall morning in 2017, Trump walked out of Lovelock Correctional Center outside Reno, a free man for the first time in nine years,” the Times’ obituary read. “He didn’t go far, moving into a 5,000-square-foot home in Las Vegas with a Bentley in the driveway.”

So yeah, it’s deja vu all over again, Yogi.

NEWSWEEK’s Aron Solomon offered an intriguing perspective on all of this on Saturday:

The American jury system is built on the concept of a jury of one’s peers. Yet O.J. Simpson had no peer, and nor does Donald J. Trump.

There is a strong argument to be made that in deep and foundational ways, their only peers may have been each other. Two men who not only, in the parlance of our times, shared an unparalleled vibe among their base of admirers, but also commanded the kind of attention and admiration that few could even dream of.

“To say that juries are unpredictable would be a massive understatement,” Roger V. Archibald, Esq., a Brooklyn criminal defense lawyer, said. “In high-profile cases, the normal challenges of jury selection become exponentially more difficult. In celebrity cases, we need to factor in jurors’ predisposition to have opinions of the defendant. None of this is easy.”

It sure isn’t.  And from the sounds of it, Trump’s defense team doesn’t seem to have anyone of Cochrane’s ability or F. Lee Bailey’s celebrity.  Per the NEW YORK TIMES:

Mr. Trump’s lead lawyer is Todd Blanche, a former federal prosecutor and white-collar defense lawyer who has bet his professional future on representing the former president.

Also on the defense team are Susan Necheles, an experienced New York defense lawyer who represented Mr. Trump’s company in a Manhattan criminal trial in 2022, and Emil Bove, who worked as a federal prosecutor in Manhattan and who has taken the lead on some of Mr. Trump’s delay efforts.

Maybe Blanche will prove to be a breakout performer, and perhaps Necheles and Bove won’t bollux up their deliveries to the extent Clark and Darden often did.  Since the Trump trial won’t be televised, their chances of infamy even if they do are negligible.

But they can take some solace that the track record of acquittals is pretty decent in these sorts of “Trials of the Century”.  Fatty Arbuckle was eventually tried three times, the first two times resulting in mistrials and the third resulting in his exoneration.  He eventually lived eleven more years and even returned to work, before dying of a heart attack after a night of partying.  Simpson lived 29 years and, as the LA TIMES was able to report, found a way to live out his days in relative comfort.  So MAGA Nation, on precedent alone you seem to be in decent shape.

And for the rest of us–well, do keep in mind that Trump and Arbuckle apparently have more physical similarities than Trump did with Simpson.  And we know there’ll be some partying going on in the next few months.  One way or the other.

Until next time…

 

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