After former football star O.J. Simpson killed his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ron Goldman in June of 1994. He found himself in jail and involved in a trial that lasted for 15 months and, after the jury deliberated for three days, ended with a not guilty verdict. (He was later found “responsible” for their deaths in a civil trial and all but confessed to the murders in the ghostwritten book If I Did It and in a Fox interview released in 2018.) The Simpson trial is widely seen as the trial of the century. It had everything: an infamous black man who had killed his white wife and her friend; an accused killer worth millions; O.J.’s TV endorsements and his booming broadcast career with NBC; and Simpson’s famous associates, including Robert Kardashian, the late father of celebrity Kim Kardashian.
There was so much to watch during the trial. It involved testimony from a cop. Who said he enjoyed beating up black men and making false allegations against them. Domestic violence was a known issue in O.J.’s and Nicole’s marriage, as Simpson had verbally and physically beaten her. But with all the social problems brought to national attention during. The spectacle that was the Simpson trial, it was easy to ignore the discrimination faced by Marcia Clark, the county prosecutor on the case.
For his defense, O.J. hired what became known as the “Dream Team,” a group of lawyers who worked on very high-profile cases. The lead lawyer was Johnny Cochran, an arrogant and outspoken African-American attorney. Who had made a name for himself defending those who suffered discrimination and injustice at the hands of the American legal system. And the race was indeed a factor in this case, as it is to some degree in many cases in the United States.
But the unjust treatment faced by Marcia Clark every day in the courtroom and from the media was almost as gruesome as the pictures of Nicole’s and Ron’s butchered bodies. And the fact that she had to defend her personal choices in the courtroom was as inappropriate. As Simpson’s defense lawyers playing the “race card” by suggesting that Mark Furman, an LAPD officer who had talked about beating and framing black men, had planted the bloody glove that O.J. left at the crime scene. Even more unbelievable, Clark faced discrimination on national television, as the judge had allowed cameras into the courtroom.
Marcia Clark was a prosecutor in L.A. who had successfully prosecuted over 1,000 criminals since 1979. Now 66, the former lawyer indeed should have added Simpson to this list. After all, look at all the evidence Simpson had left at the crime scene: his, Ron’s, and Nicole’s blood on his socks; his bloody glove at Nicole’s house; their blood in his Jeep. Clark should have no problem scoring the final touchdown and winning this Superbowl.
O.J not guilty verdict and his reaction
But when Clark heard the words “not guilty,” it was as if the judge had had her place her hands on the table and had crushed them beyond them repair with a steel gavel. At that time, her grief was unstoppable. “I did,” she said. “I was done. For a while there, it was a loss of faith. I was exhausted. I was physically and emotionally drained,” she told Dateline’s Josh Mankiewicz several years later.
She shared similar thoughts with Stephen Galloway in his article A Conversation With Marcia Clark: Rape, Scientology, Flirtation and When She Last Saw O.J. “There was some form of depression going on,” she told the reporter. “But I wasn’t aware of it at the time. I was very torn up. Everything I believed in was shredded.” After the trial, she left her position in the district attorney’s office, never to return to work as a prosecutor. She earned millions for her book about the experience, money she earned through hard work, and the years of trial work she did not have as a result of her treatment during this national spectacle.
O.J. Simpson Trial
Lance Ito was the judge during the O.J. Simpson trial, and by all accounts, he generally mishandled the situation. But when it came to Clark, he did not even try to hide his sexism. For example, he often called Simpson’s lawyers “Mr.” while referring to Clark as “Marcia.” In another example, Ito made what was clearly a poor decision by allowing the jurors to visit Simpson’s home. During the tour, Clark could be seen wearing a short dress as she walked through the property. In response, Ito told the jurors “not to be distracted by counsel’s clothes.” Such a comment would never have been made about a man. He also told everyone “good morning” and then said, “You too, Marcia.”
O.J Showing The Gloves
Unfortunately, Clark’s unequal treatment didn’t stop at comments about her clothing or the use of her first name. Before the trial, Clark had filed for divorce from her husband; the pair had two young sons at the time. And as with many divorcing couples, the custody situation was challenging. The case was going for months, and the jury was getting weary, so to keep things moving, Ito attempted to have one of the hearings go late, past regular court hours.
A clearly torn Clark, who was suffering as much as anyone in the room, told Ito apologetically, gripping the lectern, “Sorry, but I can’t stay late tonight.” As she spoke, her voice sounded like a teenage daughter. She had missed curfew and now stood by the door, ready to run if her parents yelled too much. Clark was unable to stay due to child care issues, and she was reportedly already working 70 to 80 hours per week.
After Clark spoke, Cochran, who was supposedly committed to the fight against discrimination, showed his true colors. The defense had a woman on the stand who, at the last minute, said she had to return to her home in Mexico the next day. Referring to her, Cochran asked, “Are we really going to risk losing this witness because of a babysitting problem?” To her credit, an exasperated Clark fought back, letting Cochran, who would die several years later, know that he was out of line.
In 1995, many women took on what was considered “manly traits” as the best way to be heard and earn their colleagues’ respect. Now Clark was facing an uphill image battle, starting before the trial even began. A jury consultant informed her that people viewed Clark as “shrill,” and they thought she acted like a “B.” Clark was told to “speak softer, dress softer, and wear pastels” to improve her image. Clark said that she found herself “famous in a way that was kind of terrifying.” Here she was, working overtime, figuring out her new life as a single parent, and facing constant public scrutiny. It would have been no surprise if she had taken a more passive, traditionally feminine approach with Ito and Cochran.
“It’s critical to understand the difference between being liked. And being respected,” says Lois Frankel in her book Nice Girls Don’t Get The Corner Office. “[A woman’s] need to be liked will preclude you from taking the kinds of risks taken by those who are respected.” She adds, “If you are only concerned with being liked, you will most likely miss the opportunity to be respected.”
Clark had brought in a black lawyer named Chris Darden. But most people viewed him as a “token” to improve racial relations. Darden was seen as a weakling with a bland personality. So, in reality, Clark was facing powerful defense lawyers and an inept judge by herself.
Prosecutors Marcia Clark and Christopher Darden
Clark later revealed that at the age of 17, she had been raped while on vacation to Israel with friends. It took tremendous strength to survive that kind of trauma, so it was no surprise that as a lawyer, she developed the willpower. And vitality to use whatever power she could, not only in life but in the courtroom.
But her reserves had their limits. As time went on, her tough exterior gave way to a worn-down look: she developed deep circles around her eyes, and she changed her hairstyle. As a busy mother and a career woman, she had enough to worry about before focusing on her permed hair.
However, she dismissed media personalities like Jay Leno took advantage of, teasing her on late-night TV. Clark finally changed her hair for a straighter look, and know that no one wanted to talk about her hair, she could return her attention to the killer O.J. She was regaining steam–that is until someone leaked a revealing photo of her taken in 1979, just after she graduated law school. She had been on vacation with her then-husband, celebrating, when the topless photo was taken. Again, her work as a prosecutor was derailed by speculation about her personal life.
Marcia Clark Left The Public Defender’s
As a result of the O.J. verdict, Marcia Clark left the public defender’s office for good. And in hindsight, she appears to have made a wise choice. Despite all the discrimination/sexism Clark faced during the trial, today, she knows how to fight back and reclaim her power. “Most of all, don’t listen to the sexist nonsense that you’re bound to hear.
Don’t let it pull you off-course, and don’t let it distract you or depress you,” she told Robin Hilmantel for her article Clark: Stop Calling Women ‘Ambitious’ Like It’s a Bad Thing. “Hold your head up. Know that you’re every bit as good, probably better than a man in [your position], and don’t let them get to you… You have to stay focused. Try and remember, especially if you’re in the public eye, you may be hearing the voices of criticism. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t voices of support too.”
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