Guest column: Can we trust another jury with a new O.J. Simpson trial?
O. J. Simpson will face another jury in his second criminal trial in April. That trial will happen unless he enters into a plea bargain at the last moment, something which is most unlikely at best. And when that trial date is set, many will be nervous about the possibility of a jury making a bad decision once again. However, I want to argue here that the judge and the government made the fatal mistakes in the 1995 trial, not the jury. It may also be the case today that the district attorney in Las Vegas, David Roger, is setting things in motion for another potentially failed trial against Simpson.
It is not a matter of trusting the jury, but a matter of trusting the other three elements in our justice system. Verdicts, after all, are a result of how effectively the judge, the government and the defense do their jobs. For example, most observers agreed that Judge Lance Ito in Simpson’s first trial made quite a number of mistakes. His decisions help create a setting where things could and did go wrong. Based on that history, it is reasonable to assume that the trial judge in this upcoming trial will be very careful to avoid any similar judicial mistakes.
Next, the government both before and during the 1995 trial bungled about everything it touched. Those failures in addition to the prosecutors’ poor trial strategy combined to open the door to the point where a sure-win case was to go up in smoke.
Interestingly, this current district attorney may be creating some dangerous story lines for this new trial itself. He has made questionable deals with three co-defendants, facts which may not play well at all in front of a jury.
Maybe this prosecutor is a gunslinger who wants to establish his name for being the one to take down O. J. Simpson. Yet, giving away too much to get his witnesses to testify may be the first step toward a failed strategy.
It further appears that this district attorney is both overreaching and overcharging. An apparent and successful attempt by Simpson to steal or get back some of his own sports memorabilia (and likely some which did not belong to him) had expanded to 12 felony counts before the preliminary hearing began and Simpson by then had been accused of just about everything except international terrorism. The government is also depending on the testimony of some pretty shady characters to make its case.
As to the part played by the defense in the 1995 trial, it seemed clear that that team took advantage of every mistake made by the judge and the government. Yes, the defense played the race card and much more, but that was the good hand the government had dealt them. Once again, the new defense will effectively play every card they are dealt and that may well include the government’s zealous overreaching and their giving away too much for anti-Simpson testimony.
Of course, Simpson has enjoyed 12 years of freedom he did not deserve. And he should be prosecuted for any laws he has broken this time around. But Mr. David Roger should be cautious about setting up any case circumstances which the defense could use to cause a good jury to think twice about a conviction. The 1995 jury did the best it could as they saw it and their verdict came from failures other than their own. This new jury will also call it as they see it and their verdict will emerge from what they are handed.
Finally, I want to offer some free advice to the district attorney in Las Vegas, Mr. David Roger. “If you think O. J. Simpson should go to prison for his actions on Sept. 13, 2007, treat that case like any other robbery case. Jurors will not convict him simply because of his name. Additionally, the government’s overcharging and overreaching can backfire in front of a jury. And remember, when you pay too high a price for a witness’s testimony, jurors are free to reject the sale.”
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