O.J. Simpson -- 10 Years After Acquittal

ByABC News via via logo

Oct. 2, 2005 — -- When O.J. Simpson was tried for the murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman, it was called the trial of the century. But it was the acquittal that shook America, seeming to split the country along racial lines.

This weekend, Simpson returned to Los Angeles from his self-exile in Miami to autograph memorabilia for money.

Ten years after his trial, he is essentially an outcast to whites and also to blacks, to whom he is more of a symbol than he ever was a hero.

"People aren't celebrating him at all,' said Charles Ogletree, a professor at Harvard Law School. "People aren't saying, 'Come speak at my school.' He has been banished forever. That's the price he has to pay."

To many white Americans, the prosecution presented a solidly convincing case that the former football pro had brutally killed Brown and Goldman.

"We saw white America feel an injustice," said Ed Gordon, host of the National Public Radio show "News and Notes." "I think it came down to race -- a white woman was murdered, they believe, by a black male, and they wanted justice done."

The families of Brown Simpson and Goldman would later win a massive monetary civil verdict against Simpson.

But to many black Americans, Simpson was set up by racist Los Angeles police, and the prosecution's case was riddled with holes.

An ABC News-Washington Post poll at the time found that 70 percent of whites thought Simpson was guilty and 74 percent of blacks thought he was not guilty. Sixty-four percent of African Americans cited a "police conspiracy" to frame Simpson.

It was as if, in looking at the Simpson trial, blacks and whites perceived two entirely different realties.

Some white Americans saw the verdict as evidence of a criminal justice system gone mad. Many were shocked to see black Americans not just supporting, but celebrating the verdict.

"I think they felt, and I think many blacks would have felt the same way, that you were cheering that a murderer had gotten away, and that simply was not it," Gordon said.

Many black Americans saw Simpson's acquittal as a rare instance of an unjust criminal justice system for once giving a black man a fair trial with a fair verdict.

After all, in 1995, the acquittal of four L.A. police officers on state charges in the Rodney King beating was still a fresh and bitter memory.

The Simpson verdict exposed some of the racial fissures buried beneath the placid surface.

"I think it simply says there are two Americas, one black, one white, and that we come to it from different angles, and look at it through different prisms," Gordon said.

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