O.J. Simpson was formally cleared of murder charges in a headline-grabbing trial in 1995, but he's still spent the better part of the last two decades being prosecuted in the court of public opinion. And now, a new charge comes from former Los Angeles deputy district attorney Christopher Darden, a key member of the prosecution team. Darden says that Simpson's defense lawyer, the late Johnnie Cochran, tampered with a critical piece of evidence — a pair of infamous leather gloves — that linked Simpson, a former football star and actor, to the killing of his former wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ronald Goldman. Is this new charge worth looking into, or is it 17 years too late to make a difference? Here, a brief guide:
Remind me: What role did the gloves play?
Prosecutors said the gloves proved beyond all doubt that Simpson was the one who stabbed his former wife and her friend. One of the gloves was found at the murder scene, and the other, soaked in blood, was found on Simpson's estate. In one of the racially charged trial's most memorable moments, Simpson struggled to fit the gloves onto his hands. Cochran later told the jury, "If it doesn't fit, you must acquit."
How did Cochran allegedly tamper with the gloves?
"I think Johnnie tore the lining," Darden said at a panel discussion last week at Pace Law School in New York City. "There were some additional tears in the lining so that O.J.'s fingers couldn't go all the way up into the glove." When asked to elaborate the next day, Darden said something looked different about the glove when Simpson tried to put it on. A bailiff told him that the defense team had the glove during a lunch break before Simpson's display. "It's been my suspicion for a long time that the lining has been manipulated," Darden said.
What do members of the defense team say?
Friends of the late Cochran say Darden's claim is "slanderous." Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz, a member of Simspon's defense team who sat on last week's discussion panel with Darden, said the ex-prosecutor's claim was "a total fabrication." The truth, Dershowitz said, is that Darden is using this claim to cover up his own mistake — having Simpson try on the glove for the first time with the jury watching. Dershowitz said defense lawyers simply aren't allowed access to evidence like the gloves "except under controlled circumstances," and he's certain that in this case, Cochran would never have been able to tamper. "Having made the greatest legal blunder of the 20th century," Dershowitz says, "[Darden is] trying to blame it on the dead man."
Will anything come of the new allegations?
It's probably too late to really get to the bottom of what, if anything, happened to the glove. Cochran and another member of Simpson's so-called dream team, Robert Kardashian, are dead. And Simpson, who was ordered to pay $33.5 million in damages to the victims' families after being found liable for their deaths in a 1997 civil trial, is serving up to 33 years in prison for a 2007 armed robbery. This new twist, says Mack Rawden at Cinema Blend, will "simply go down as yet another layer to the most famous trial of most of our lifetimes."