Nearly 17 years after O.J. Simpson walked away from his Los Angeles murder trial a free man, a prosecutor at the center of the case has alleged that the lead defense lawyer tampered with a crucial piece of evidence.
Former Los Angeles deputy district attorney Christopher Darden on Thursday accused Simpson’s defense lawyer, the late Johnnie Cochran, of “manipulating” one of the infamous gloves that the prosecution said linked Simpson to the grisly double murder of his former wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman.
After Simpson struggled to fit the gloves on his hands – in one of the defining moments of the racially charged trial that captivated the nation – Cochran famously admonished the jury, “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.”
On Thursday, during a panel discussion about the trial at Pace Law School in New York City, Darden, a member of the prosecution team, declared: “I think Johnnie tore the lining. There were some additional tears in the lining so that O.J.’s fingers couldn’t go all the way up into the glove.”
Darden said in a follow-up interview on Friday that he noticed that when Simpson was trying on a glove for the jury its structure appeared to have changed. “A bailiff told me the defense had it during the lunch hour.” He said he wasn’t specifically accusing anyone, adding: “It’s been my suspicion for a long time that the lining has been manipulated.”
He said he had previously voiced similar concerns in TV interviews, but could not recall the details.
Darden’s charge surprised key participants in the trial and related legal action. Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz, who was a member of Simpson’s defense team, and Paul Callan, who represented Nicole Brown Simpson’s estate in a successful civil trial against Simpson, said it was the first time they had ever heard the allegation.
On Friday, Dershowitz called the claim that the defense had an opportunity to tamper with the gloves “a total fabrication” and said “the defense doesn’t get access to evidence except under controlled circumstances.”
Dershowitz said in a follow-up email that he “was certain” in this case that the defense team did not have access to the glove before it was tried on by Simpson in open court.
“Having made the greatest legal blunder of the 20th century,” Dershowitz said of Darden, “he’s trying to blame it on the dead man.”
Darden’s remarks came after Dershowitz, a fellow panelist, called Darden’s decision to have Simpson try on the glove for the first time before the jury “the most stupid thing” a prosecutor could have done.
Dershowitz said that if Darden had evidence that there had been tampering, he would have had an ethical obligation to report the alleged misconduct. He also questioned why Darden had not filed a grievance with the state bar association. Darden responded by saying that this would have been a “whiny-little-snitch approach to life” and that was not what he believed in because it did not change anything.