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THE SPIN / BILL BOYARSKY

THE SIMPSON VERDICTS : This Case Isn't Open and Shut

October 04, 1995|BILL BOYARSKY

The O.J. Simpson murder trial is over--but it won't go away.

It left a mountain of unfinished business that will take years to clean up in courtrooms, the halls of Los Angeles city and county governments, and along the volatile political trail.

Too many emotions were touched. The outcome was too controversial, the verdict too speedy, to put them aside as yesterday's news. The drama that riveted a nation was too long and powerful not to leave an impact just because Simpson is home free and the lawyers have packed up their briefcases and gone on to other cases.

I'm saying that out of instinct, not with any special knowledge or insight.

On Tuesday afternoon, as I write this, understanding the Simpson trial and its implications are beyond my intellectual capabilities.

Earlier, as I stood outside the Criminal Courts Building pressroom listening to the commentators, I marveled at how they thought of something to say. I was drained of thought and emotion.

One colleague said he wished he'd studied more as a young man so he'd better understand what he was seeing today. Don't worry, I assured him, people who've learned a lot more than us feel just as inadequate.

Maybe in a few years I'll completely understand it, and comprehend why African Americans cheered and whites were furious over the fate of a famous ex-jock who meant nothing to them personally.

But as the day unfolded, I picked out parts of this long experience that might illuminate some of the meaning the trial will have.

*

There was Ronald Goldman's father, Fred.

At a news conference in Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti's office after the verdict, Goldman spoke to reporters, his family at his side.

"I and my family will do everything in our power to bring about the kind of change that won't allow what happened today to ever happen to another family again," he said.

Later, his attorney, Robert Tourtelot, said that he and Goldman will join the victims' rights movement, the most powerful force in the state in recent years in toughening criminal laws.

The father of another murder victim, Mike Reynolds of Fresno, was a key leader in persuading California voters to adopt the "three strikes" measure.

I haven't talked to Goldman during this long trial, but I have become acquainted with his wife, Patti, and his daughter, Kim. Patti and Kim seldom missed a day, and I thought they were courageous for sitting there, for reminding the world that Ronald Goldman was a human being.

For them, the end of the trial merely meant the continuation of their sorrow, to be exacerbated every time they see Simpson interviewed on television or read about his post-trial career in the papers.

But as Goldman made clear, they've got a message and, together, they will constitute powerful messengers in a state receptive to emotional campaigns on the crime issue.

The other piece of unfinished business concerns the Los Angeles Police Department.

We knew about the subculture of racism. As many said when the Mark Fuhrman tapes were played, "What's new?" But we didn't know about the archaic conditions of what has become a key component of a modern police department: the forensics lab.

Why was defense attorney Barry Scheck able to humiliate criminalist Dennis Fung and the others in the crime lab? Why was he able to poke holes in their procedures, to reveal the lab as archaic in a time of rapid advances in scientific crime investigation?

We were like Poland, sending horse cavalry against Nazi tanks at the beginning of World War II. How did this happen? Does anyone in Parker Center ever read a book or a professional journal?

And what about the county coroner's office? Why were defense witnesses able to carve up its already bad reputation as neatly as a skillful autopsy surgeon working on a corpse?

If L.A. were a country and had lost a war because of antiquated planning and equipment and poor leadership, the parliament or Congress would investigate.

Don't expect that here in Southern California, where politicians make a habit of ducking responsibility.

*

When I return to writing about government and politics, I'll look in vain for any effort to get to the bottom of law enforcement's failure in the Simpson case.

I can tell you the content of the debate right now. The cops will say you're for us or against us, you're a friend or a scumbag. Politicians will line up along those lines. Nobody will have the brains or patience to check out the crime lab and the coroner.

Nor will the pols have the courage or skill to tackle racism in the Police Department.

So the action will come from the grass roots, in the political reaction to the Simpson verdict.

That is why "the Simpson matter," as Judge Lance A. Ito called the Trial of the Century, will be part of our lives for a long time.

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