In his sporting prime, Orenthal James Simpson – a.k.a. The Juice – was an American institution. Born in San Francisco in 1947, he played American Football for the University of Southern California, winning the 1968 Heisman Trophy for the most outstanding player of the major college conferences.
The following year he turned professional with the Buffalo Bills, with whom he played from 1969 to 1977 and made his name as a football legend.
In the twilight of his playing career, he returned to his hometown, playing for the San Francisco 49ers from 1978 to 1979 before launching a new career as a football commentator.
In 1994 he was accused of murdering his wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her companion Ronald Goldman.
On 17 June, after failing to turn himself in, he became the object of a bizarre 60-mile low-speed pursuit in a white Ford Bronco SUV that interrupted coverage of the 1994 NBA Finals, before being arrested in his own driveway and charged with the double murder.
The police chase to catch the fleeing OJ (around 95 million television viewers tuned in worldwide) and the resultant court proceedings dominated the news for 16 months.
On 25 January 1995, opening statements began in the case of The People of The State of California vs Orenthal James Simpson. It was the longest trial ever held in California and arguably the most famous court case in modern history.
With TV crews allowed into the courtroom by LA Superior Court Judge Lance Ito, the trial quickly became a circus; everyone from Simpson lawyer Johnnie Cochran to Judge Ito himself seemed to be playing to the cameras.
Prosecutors Marcia Clark and Christopher Darden painted a picture of Simpson as a control freak who had previously stalked and beaten Nicole, while Simpson’s “dream team” of Cochran, Robert Shapiro and F Lee Bailey argued that their client was the innocent victim of the LA Police Department or a massive conspiracy masterminded by racist LAPD detective Mark Fuhrman.
Polls showed that American opinions about the case were split along racial lines, with the majority of blacks believing OJ to be innocent, and most whites judging him guilty.
The world was gripped with the verdict on 2 October 1995 reportedly watched by 91% of the viewing public and listened to by 142 million on the radio.
Controversially – and despite compelling evidence pointing to Simpson’s guilt – OJ was acquitted by a jury of nine blacks, two whites and one Latino after only four hours of deliberation.
During the trial and its aftermath, fame smiled briefly on many of those involved with the case. Over 30 books about the trial were published in 1995, including the autobiography of Brian ‘Kato’ Kaelin, OJ’s hunky houseguest.
Kato parlayed his newfound celebrity into unsuccessful gigs as a stand-up comic and talk radio host, while Al “AC” Cowlings began appearing at autograph conventions in the company of the white Ford Bronco.
Paula Barbieri, who had broken off a relationship with OJ on the night of the murders, took the place of soft porn star Shannon Tweed in the straight-to-video Night Eyes series.
Simpson was subsequently found liable in a civil suit.