I just got done watching tonight's Frontline documentary on the 10th anniversary of the OJ Simpson verdict. It was quite good, done by Ofra Bikel, who's done a number of intriguing documentaries for Frontline on race and the American criminal justice system. If you didn't get a chance to see the doc, the web-page linked above has a lot of the same material,including extended interviews, and a chance to comment on the whole thing. I liked the way that many (presumably white) viewers said that they understood African-American reactions to the jury's verdict in the case as a result of seeing the film.
I recall my reaction at the time of the verdict. Although I had ignored the case - with the exception of the Cochran's cross-examination of Furman and the closing arguments - I experienced the verdict the way many Americans did. I was in a meeting of (white female leftist) composition teachers...we turned on the radio to hear the verdict, and then all of sat with our mouths hanging open in shock. I had a lengthy conversation with my neighbor and friend in my South Minneapolis apt, where at that time I was one of few white tenants. He, an African-American stage manager and director in the local theater scene, had followed the trial much more closely than I had. I think this was also generally true, that Black Americans as a group knew more about the case than most whites did. He convinced me that there was more to the verdict than I thought, and I talked to him about my experience as a domestic violence crisis counselor, which was why I believed Simpson to be guilty. From the day I heard that Simpson had a history of attacking his wife, I assumed that the case was a typical murder by a husband determined to maintain control over his wife, for as these linked statistics show, 1/3 of all female homicide victims are murdered by boyfriends /or spouses. The overkill in Nicole Simpson's case suggested that her death was personal. Later on, after the Civil trial, which my neighbor also followed, he said he saw my point more than he had before.
But, as Bikel's documentary points out, mere feelings of someone's guilt, mere circumstantial leaps are not enough to convict a person of murder, beyond a reasonable doubt. I'm guessing that my experience as a domestic abuse counselor would probably have kept me from the jury because I would have been prejudiced against the defendant from the get-go, BUT, had I been on the jury, or had I followed the case, it's likely that I too would have found reasonable doubt and voted to acquit. It's one thing to speculate about guilt and innocence based on general patterns, it's another to see real evidence linking and individual to a specific crime.
It was up to the prosecution to establish the connection between domestic violence and murder and to not use tainted evidence in building their case, because they couldn't just count on people making the leap. Maybe the problem with the prosecutors was that they weren't used to the presumption of innocence actually working, especially with a Black defendant accused of killing a white woman.
As I was thinking back on that year at the U, and about that verdict, it did bring up all my old feelings about domestic violence and spousal murder. Those were intense years when I was often reminded of violence against women, which I don't encounter nearly as much as I used to. In the nineties in Minnesota, not only did I have a female student drop my class and leave town because her ex-husband was stalking her. Not only did I live next door to a woman whose husband used to smack her against the adjoining wall until she kicked him out, not only that, but I remember now how only a few months after the "Simpson verdict" we at the University of Minnesota were all affected by the murder of a student, Kami Talley who was murdered by her boyfriend on Valentine's Day 1996. He shot her in broad daylight while she was leaving work.
As Ann Jones explains it, there is a lot of ignorance about domestic violence. People often wonder why women don't leave, but might not know that the risk of murder goes up when a woman leaves an abusive spouse. It might be a bit dated, but it's still worth it to read Jones' book on domestic violence and murder, "Next Time She'll Be Dead."