LA CROSSE, Wis. (WXOW) – It’s been 25 years since the trial of the century. On June 12, 1994, Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman were stabbed to death. The horrific crime led to the arrest of football legend O.J. Simpson and the ensuing “trial of the century.” The infamous murders and ensuing trial made a mark on society and the media.
The trial was particularly life-changing for former Fox News anchor and UW-Madison alum Greta Van Susteren. She grew up in Appleton and was a lawyer at the time. She became a daily fixture on CNN during what became known as the “trial of the century” as she provided instant legal analysis during live coverage of the proceedings.
She said it accidentally turned into a career for her, not one she ever intended to have. And she said it was much easier than being in the courtroom.
“TV is a million times easier than practicing law sitting there watching a trial and explaining what’s going on is so much easier than the actual responsibility of being the trial lawyer so to me it was a lark. Plus when you practice law you have to worry about things like paying for your staff, paying for lights, TV is a million times easier and think about this you don’t have people’s lives at hands if you make a mistake you embarrass yourself, shame yourself if you make a mistake while you’re practicing law you could hurt somebody’s life,” said Van Susteren in a podcast.
Local attorney Keith Belzer said the trial had a significant impact on the way the public views criminal cases in both a positive and negative way. “Because it was covered live on CNN and Court TV people got an education about the justice system, that’s had some positives and some negatives, people learned about DNA evidence how to collect it how it can be contaminated..they learned about the different parts of the justice system cross-examination things like that.”
Belzer goes on to say there were some negatives also, for example sensationalizing criminal justice. OJ’s fame and fortune leads some to believe that Simpson bought his freedom. “That’s been true forever for a lot of people I mean if you have money you can get better legal defense,” explained Belzer, who believes the trial exposed a lot concerns in the justice system.
“Sort of the underbelly that people don’t think about the relationship between race and the courts, money and the courts, the fact that not all police are as honest as we want them to be. That can contaminate the whole system in the same way the DNA can get contaminated.”
The not guilty verdict was a shock to many. Because of all of the publicity surrounding the case then and now, Belzer said that changed the public’s perception of criminal justice but more needs to be done.
“Have we made any progress with race in the criminal justice system? I think we have but it’s minimal the progress we made is a better understanding about how race plays about implicit bias which is the more difficult to challenge to go after than explicit bias. So I think we’re finally identifying and all acknowledging that yeah there’s an issue I don’t know that we made a lot of progress toward solving it though.”
OJ Simpson was acquitted for the murders but he did do jail time for other reasons. He was convicted of robbery, kidnapping and assault charges in 2008. He was released from prison last October after serving nine years of the 33-year sentence.