TIME Magazine

November 25, 1996 Volume 148, No. 24



THE FRAMING OF O.J. SIMPSON

THE VIEW FROM NEXT SUMMER: A CONSPIRACY UNRAVELS

By GARRY TRUDEAU

So perhaps it really did boil down to race, after all. How else can we explain white America's bland willingness to accept the mass of physical evidence on face value, assuming that motive, state of mind, lack of alibi, opportunity, matching blood, fiber and hair samples and flight from the law meant that O.J. Simpson had murdered two people?

We were so smug about it.

Of course, from the moment he laid eyes on the crime scene, Mark Fuhrman understood how it would play. "Look, it was dark, 3 a.m.," the former L.A.P.D. detective recalled at his internal-affairs hearing. "I was surrounded by 16 other cops who I knew would cover for me. It was the perfect opportunity to frame one of the most beloved public figures in America for murder. What would you have done?"

While the question was rhetorical, its implication still lingers, still troubles. Who among us wouldn't have been tempted to scoop up that bloody glove on the off chance that it could be used to pin the murder on the wrong party?

At the sentencing of L.A.P.D. criminalist Dennis Fung, he as much as said the same thing: "When I heard what Mark had done, I immediately drew him aside and asked, 'What can I do to help?' I knew that if I were caught, my career would be in the toilet, and I'd probably go to jail, but it seemed worth it to get a black guy in trouble."

It was Fung, of course, who later degraded the Bundy blood samples by baking them in his crime-lab truck, thus making it necessary to enlist forensic specialist Collin Yamauchi. Yamauchi, in his memoir, recalled taking Simpson's reference sample and swabbing it across the evidence swatches, thus obscuring the real murderer's blood with Simpson's dna-rich cells. "That was difficult," boasted Yamauchi, "but painting the socks with Nicole's blood was even more complicated. Since no one had seen blood on them, I had to use an airbrush to get a subtle effect."

Fortunately, the rest of the evidence tampering was pretty routine. Planting hairs on the knit cap and the victim's shirt; planting fibers on the glove, the socks and the shirt; planting carpet fibers on the cap--as a racist cop, Yamauchi had done these sorts of things a thousand times before. Even his boss, Michele Kestler, didn't deem it necessary to oversee Yamauchi's work, preferring to focus on the ongoing cover-up.

What remains astonishing, of course, is that while 21 police employees in three departmental divisions were required to frame O.J., there was no security breach (although the J.F.K.-assassination conspiracy of 212 people from seven federal and state agencies remains the record to beat). This was especially remarkable given their diverse reasons for involvement. Of the 21 co-conspirators, five indicated they were motivated by racism, 13 were covering for fellow cops, and three said they were attracted to the purely technical challenge of framing a completely innocent man in full view of the world media.

Still, if O.J. had been convicted according to plan, the wall of silence might well have held. It was not until the jury in last fall's civil suit found for Simpson that an outraged Yamauchi broke ranks and signed his book deal. "Two long, costly trials, and O.J. walked," the criminalist wrote. "After all our hard work, it was too much. The physical evidence we'd fabricated was massive, irrefutable. The system just didn't work."

Of course, the defense would argue just the opposite. Many court observers contend that Simpson attorney Robert Baker's surprisingly persuasive argument that O.J. had cut his hand while napping was a turning point in the trial. Jurors were also seen nodding in seeming agreement when Baker contended that 6 billion-to-1 DNA odds still represented reasonable doubt. And certainly the plaintiffs' case suffered a blow when Kato Kaelin admitted he had initially testified for the prosecution in the vain hope that with O.J. behind bars, he'd be allowed to move into the main house.

There is a lesson to be learned here: once committed to a point of view, people develop a vested interest. Although Oliver Stone's upcoming Framed! clearly overstates the case in its ugly, baseless claim that White House lawyer Vince Foster killed Nicole (highly unlikely since Foster was "murdered" a year earlier), Stone's case for Goldman's being killed by Al Cowlings in a cleanup operation probably shouldn't be dismissed out of hand.

Fuhrman, as always, remains unrepentant. "Framing someone is pretty complicated," he told a prison visitor recently. "I've framed people in the past, and believe me, it can backfire. But I had something special going for me. I had the cover of 20 other police officers who would lie for me in a heartbeat. These people were the best."