Bringing one of history's most riveting courtroom dramas to a stunning climax, O.J. Simpson was acquitted of two counts of murder Tuesday, verdicts that set the football Hall of Famer free 474 days after he was arrested and charged with a brutal double homicide.
At 11:16 a.m., Simpson returned home to his Brentwood estate, embracing his longtime friend Al Cowlings in the same driveway where the two were arrested on June 17, 1994. As night fell, crowds of well-wishers and detractors gathered beyond police barricades while the Simpson entourage partied inside the famous home.
Within hours of the verdicts--broadcast live and bringing businesses across the country to a temporary standstill--family members of the victims retreated in grief, and the first of the anonymous jurors emerged to give The Times an interview in which he dismissed the prosecution's physical evidence as "garbage in, garbage out."
While jurors scattered to their homes, prosecutors, defense lawyers and family members of the victims and defendant gathered in an extraordinary series of news conferences.
In a statement read by his eldest son during one of the media sessions, Simpson expressed relief, gratitude and a commitment to finding whoever murdered his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Lyle Goldman.
"I am relieved that this part of the incredible nightmare that occurred on June 12, 1994, is over with," Simpson said. "My first obligation is to my young children, who will be raised in the way that Nicole and I had always planned."
Simpson vowed to pursue "as my primary goal in life" the killer or killers responsible for the murders, concluding: "I only hope someday that--despite every prejudicial thing that has been said about me publicly, both in and out of the courtroom--people will come to understand and believe that I would not, could not and did not kill anyone."
After 266 days of sequestration at the Inter-Continental Hotel in Downtown Los Angeles, jurors deliberated a mere three hours before accepting Simpson's contention that the charges against him were unproven.
Their verdicts, which were delivered in a courtroom so tense that some spectators trembled visibly in anticipation, united jurors and Simpson in a strangely triumphant moment.
Simpson smiled thinly and mouthed the words "thank you" as the not guilty verdicts were read. Two jurors smiled back. Another, Lionel (Lon) Cryer, raised his left fist in a salute toward Simpson as the panel left the courtroom.
But the same finale was greeted with shock by the family of Nicole Simpson, and it wrenchingly broke the spirits of Goldman's relatives.
Nicole Simpson and Goldman were knifed to death outside her Brentwood condominium on June 12, 1994, a foggy summer evening in an otherwise quiet neighborhood. O.J. Simpson pleaded not guilty to the crimes, but he was the only suspect, and members of both victims' families came to believe that he was responsible for the murders.
In court, Fred Goldman, the victim's father, stared in pain at the ceiling, his wife in one arm and his daughter in the other, both sobbing openly as the verdicts were read. In the quiet courtroom, Kim Goldman's gulping sobs were the only sound that accompanied the reading.
"Oh my God," Patti Goldman said, turning to her shaken husband.
"Murderer," he said under his breath, repeating that later as he left the courtroom.
Kim Goldman, Ronald's sister, fought to keep herself from speaking out while court was in session--Superior Court Judge Lance A. Ito had warned that any outbursts would be grounds for ejection. But after the verdicts were delivered, she could not contain herself. She quietly burst out a short string of expletives, then turned to the people sitting near her on the courtroom bench and apologized.
"I'm sorry," she said, repeating that twice more as her long red hair cascaded over her tear-stained cheeks.
Later, Fred Goldman said the night of the murders "was the worst nightmare of my life."
"This," he added, "is the second."
Prosecutors Solemn, Defense Celebrates
For the police who investigated the case and the prosecution team that brought it to trial and spent six months presenting what Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti labeled a "mountain of evidence," the quick verdicts were a devastating repudiation.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Christopher A. Darden turned toward the panel as it was being polled and glared at its members, his mouth half open in disbelief and dismay. None of the jurors would meet his gaze.
Next to him, Deputy Dist. Atty. Marcia Clark refused even to turn toward the jurors. She looked over her right shoulder and pursed her lips, expressionless but for the exhaustion in her eyes.
The two lead police investigators, Tom Lange and Philip L. Vannatter, sat a few feet away. They showed no emotion and declined to comment at length afterward. Asked whether he could believe the verdicts, Vannatter responded only: "No, not at all."