Marcia Clark’s Final Verdict on The People v. O.J. Simpson

O.J. Simpson Criminal Trial - February 9, 1995
L-R: Marcia Clark and Christopher Darden during testimony in the O.J. Simpson criminal trial on February 9, 1995. Photo: Lee Celano/Getty Images

In the ten weeks the country has been riveted by FX’s The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story, Marcia Clark’s hope has been renewed as the general public has, for the first time, shown empathy toward her for the personal trials she endured while prosecuting O.J. Simpson. “Everybody revisiting it now has a better view, a better perspective on it all, and that has changed their attitude toward all of us,” Clark, 62, told Vulture. “But, most importantly, it has changed attitudes about big issues, like the reasons why minorities view law enforcement differently, the reasons why women get treated differently, why they have a unique struggle when it comes to navigating the world whether it’s at home or at work. The young men who have interviewed me have been really shocked and disgusted. Let me tell ya, I didn’t see that coming. Isn’t it amazing?”

Vulture spoke with Clark one last time, after she watched the series finale of The People v. O.J. Simpson, to get her final thoughts on the biggest show of 2016 yet. (Read our previous conversations with Clark here and here.)

What did you think of the final episode?
I thought it was great that they showed this ambivalent ending. It is absolutely true, even more ambivalent than they showed, actually. It was almost interestingly poignant in the moment they showed Johnnie watching President Clinton talk about the issue of race and the differences in the ways that minorities view law enforcement and how we need to talk about that. And it would have been great if that had happened. It didn’t. In the immediate aftermath of that trial, we had a vote here in California: Prop 187, which basically pushed back on affirmative action. It set us back 20 years. Now, can I say for sure this was the result of the backlash against the verdict? I can’t. But it certainly is not what Clinton was saying should happen, not what everybody was hoping would happen as a result of the verdict. It was the other way.

This is something I wrote about in the foreword of my trial book, Without a Doubt, which just came out again as an e-book. This case did shine a light on the big discrepancy between the points of view on law enforcement and the mistrust with which minorities view law enforcement, particularly in Los Angeles. That conversation should have happened. Clinton said it should happen. I didn’t see it happen. Not then. I see it happening today. 

That’s one of the things I thought about, too. Johnnie was portrayed as having a moment of pride for getting the conversation started. But look at where we are now. It really didn’t.
It really didn’t. And that’s why one of the more upsetting yet very profound questions I’ve been asked as a result of this series is, “Do you think things could be different today? If there were another very famous black man charged with these heinous crimes who was prosecuted with a jury pool that was so largely minority, would it come out differently?” I don’t know. I wish I could tell you, yes, we’ve had the conversations, we all understand now, blah blah blah. No! I don’t know if that’s true. We’re finally starting to have a conversation. You’ve seen the shootings that we’ve seen in the past several years — Eric Garner, there’s Laquan McDonald — I could go on and on. So what Johnnie thought he achieved back then, hoped to achieve back then, I am not sure that he did.

There’s that interesting conversation between Chris and Johnnie, and Chris tells him that he didn’t change anything [for anyone] except for famous black men that live in Brentwood. Do you have any idea if that conversation really happened?
I don’t know. That’s a private conversation they showed. It’s possible it did. All I can tell you is, whether they had it or not, Chris has been proven right.

What is your most vivid memory of the day of the verdict?
One thing they didn’t show, which is too bad, was the fact that we knew. First of all, they were wrong about [the jury deliberation being] four hours. It was two hours. They announced their verdict two hours after going back to the jury room. So, really, there was no deliberation. Also, what they didn’t show you is that during those two hours they asked for the “readback” of the limo driver, Alan Park. They wanted the court reporter to read his testimony.

Now, he was one of those witnesses that the defense could not shake. They could not lay a hand on him. He was straight, honest, true. Johnnie really didn’t try. And so, I argued to the jury: If you believe Alan Park’s testimony, and you have no reason not to, and you believe his testimony that he drove up to Rockingham and he did not see the Bronco, that he parked in the driveway and could not reach Simpson, that some period of time later, he finally saw a figure that was the size of Simpson outside coming from around the side of the house where the glove was dropped, and walk in through the front door. And that he then went inside the house. And then finally he answers the limo driver’s call. If you believe that testimony, then you must believe Simpson committed these murders because everything falls from that moment. If you believe all of that, then you know Simpson had no alibi, then you know Simpson was out of the house, then you know he was exactly where the glove was dropped. So you understand that all of that is true, and the defense never could touch that testimony. It stood there as true. If you believe that, then you must believe he committed these murders.

So when they asked for his testimony to be read back, the judge said, “I can read into it as well as anybody, if they’re asking for this testimony it’s got to be good for the prosecution.” I wasn’t there, it was told to me, but when I first heard that, I thought, That’s true! For a moment, the night before, I believed that. But then I was with Shari Lewis, who was on our team, and she said, “Marcia, that jury got to a verdict within two hours. It can’t possibly be guilty. Look who’s on your jury.” We knew how many people were against us. We could have produced a videotape and they wouldn’t have voted guilty. And so I came back down to earth and realized, Shari, of course you’re right. By the time I was walking into court, I was well aware of what was going to happen. It was still hard — it was one of those things: I can’t believe they really did it. I can’t believe they really did it. But I knew they did it. And then I found out why they had the readback. And it was one of the most ridiculous things.

Uh-oh. I’m afraid to ask.
Here it is! I think no clearer picture could ever be painted of the fact that a jury will believe only what they want to believe than this. They asked for his testimony to be read back because he stated that when he pulled up to the driveway he noticed two cars in the driveway. And when Johnnie was cross-examining him Johnnie laughed and said, “Well, of course, that’s not true, Arnelle was not home yet.” Alan Park was remembering the photos taken by the police after the fact. I asked him about that and he said, “Yeah that’s true so there might have only been one car.” It wasn’t really important to me how many cars were in the driveway. It wasn’t important to anyone. But the jury said, Oh see. He said there were two cars in the driveway, so we can’t trust anything he says. And if there could ever be a more clear illustration of the fact that a jury will buy exactly and only what they want to buy, that has to be it.

Were you really trying to go to Santa Barbara?
I don’t know. Yeah, I probably was. That’s where I ran to be with my friend Lynn all the time. And it was a great escape. Santa Barbara was just so mellow. But I never got to go. They came back in a second.

What was it like watching that day portrayed on the show? Did it bring up feelings again, or were you able to just watch it as a TV show?
I’ll never be able to see anything about this case as just a TV show. Of course, it reminded me of that horrible time. It reminded me of me on my way to court. It was just terrible. And it was really weird, because I got to court and Johnnie had a really defeated look on his face. We greeted each other and I said, “Why are you upset? You won.” And he was like, “Ah, I don’t know.” I thought, Wow.

Isn’t it widely believed among lawyers that the quicker the verdict, the better for the prosecution?
They say that. I don’t know that that’s true. I really don’t. It depends on the jury. Doesn’t this prove it? A quick verdict with this jury? No, that had to be bad news. The truth is that with this jury, a quick verdict meant that the majority squashed the minority. And they did.

Do you remember having any kind of moment with Robert Kardashian, like the one shown in the episode?
You know, I’m glad they showed that. This is where I’d say that the series is so good. It delivers an essential truth, because they don’t have time to deliver on the exact way it went down. But, essentially, it is correct. Robert Kardashian looked devastated when he heard the verdict. He knew. And he had always been very nice. He was a really good guy. I ran into him a few times at restaurants. We’d nod at each other across the room. And then the last time I saw him, he actually came over to my table and said, “Hey Marcia, how ya doing?” Very nice. I said, “Hi, Bob. How ya doing?” “I’m okay.” It turned out he wasn’t okay. Two weeks later, he passed away. So he was very ill, and I guess he knew it at the time.

But he never said anything directly about the case?
No, he didn’t have to. I could see it on his face. There was no need for words, just like in the series. That’s what I mean. They’re right.

What about that emotional conversation in Gil’s office before the press conference? That was a great scene, too.
We did not talk, period. We all went back to that conference room, standing up in front of the troops. That was not the speech I gave, either. I mean, I was looking out at the faces of these young lawyers and law clerks who had seen the biggest anomaly I’ve ever seen, and their crushed looks on their faces as they stood there absorbing that justice does not prevail. I just wanted them to know that it’s not like this. Don’t lose faith.

That must have been hard for you — not to lose faith yourself.
Yes. And, in fact, having suffered through that trial with every bit of it smacking me in the face every day, watching justice get subverted every single day, it was the most devastating, constantly maddening, traumatizing experience of my life. Because it was ongoing. It was every single day, one bad ruling after another, one ridiculous, bizarro moment after another. Letting a defendant stand up and just talk to the court to deny everything. They attempted to show how much Judge Ito pandered to the press and the way that he was constantly trying to curry favor, but they could never deliver on the truth of it, on the profound extent to which he let the defense completely run the courtroom because he was interested in how he was perceived.

Did you ever talk to him after the trial?
No. No, I did not.

Do you want to?
No. Why? I talked to him then. I let him know right then. There’s nothing left to say. I told him then what I thought, and he held me in contempt.

That was televised, wasn’t it — when O.J. was talking?
Yes. That’s why he did it. It’s cool what they show. The defense knew they could run roughshod over Ito. They took full advantage of it every single time.

I thought Cuba did a great job in that episode. Even when the verdict is announced, it so mirrored how it happened, it was really eerie.
Yeah, he did. But they did have the footage. [Laughs.]

But some of them get it right, and some of them don’t.
That’s true! The truth is, it was even more dramatic. When he went home, I believe there were already signs on the fence around his house saying things like “Murderer go home, we don’t want you here.” And the people outside were not cheering him. There were plenty who were furious that he was out, so they minimized his reception. The show did some very cool things, like showing he can’t get a table at the Riviera.

Or people don’t show up to his party.
Although the untrue part is Don Ohlmeyer. When he says, “Don, where’s Don?” at his party, he’s talking about Don Ohlmeyer, who was the head of NBC. Don Ohlmeyer was still very much on his side at that point. In fact, what they didn’t show was Don Ohlmeyer set up a pay-per-view interview with Simpson to be aired a few days after the verdict, and then a huge protest was launched against it. They were calling in bomb threats, and he had to pull the piece.

Did you hear that Discovery’s doing a documentary series about who the real murderer is?
I’m not going to talk about it.

Understood. There’s a lot of excitement about the upcoming ESPN documentary O.J.: Made in America. You did participate in that, right?
I’m not in it much, but it’s great. It’s really beautifully, powerfully done. I’ve seen it. You’re gonna love it. It’s not easy to watch. It’s all very real. The FX series is entertaining, and it has a softer story. It’s a storytelling thing, and it’s great. You know I’m a fan. But the ESPN piece is all documentary, and it is searing. It’s extremely impressive.

Have your sons watched the FX series? Do you ever talk about it with them?
No, they didn’t want to. My older son watched the first one, where they have him eating puzzle pieces. He goes, “Mom, I wasn’t that dumb. Come on.” I told him, “I think you have a really good lawsuit here.”

Hilarious. There was that episode that focused on Marcia that had that sweet moment with Marcia and one of the boys hugging her.
Yes. It was really wonderful to be able to go home and hug and kiss the boys and play with them and sing to them at night and wake up with them in the morning. They were such a wonderful counterpoint.

How old are they now?
They are 26 and 23 and a half. Yeah, they’re big. They’re not eating puzzle pieces anymore.

Well, you don’t know.
Yeah, that’s true. [Laughs.] Oh dear.

In a way, you have relived this whole thing twice. You relived it when you wrote your book many years ago, which was more of a solitary thing where you could deal with it privately. But now you’ve relived it again through someone else’s lens. Have you learned anything new either about yourself or that time in your life?
I did collaborate with Teresa Carpenter on that book, but yes, that’s true. If anything, reliving it again only makes me realize more clearly how futile it was. The forces we were up against that were in play long before we walked into court were so overwhelming. There was really no chance. I mean, here’s the thing: Because he was who he was, so famous and black, even if they had not used race as an issue, even if they had just gone after evidence the way that the defense usually does — Oh, this could’ve gone wrong, and that could’ve gone wrong — I think that would’ve still done it. So if anything it makes me aware of just how impossible the odds really were, even more than I realized then. And I knew then! But it’s just that much more obvious to me now.

How did you feel about the deeply personal stuff that was in this last episode? You were very open in your recent Hollywood Reporter interview about being raped, but was it strange to see it on TV?
In a way, yes. In a way, no. I wrote about it in my trial book, Without a Doubt. And I did that for a very specific reason — because I wanted to empower any woman who had suffered from sexual abuse or rape to report. And I thought if it gives even one more woman the courage to come forward and make the report and hold the guy accountable, then it’s worth it. That’s more important than my privacy. That’s why I told the story. So I don’t mind that they did it. I mean, I don’t like it. You know what I mean? I wasn’t happy being asked about it, I wasn’t happy seeing it on TV because it was a hideous, traumatic experience. But if it can empower any woman to come forward and report the crime, then it was worth it.

They brought it up in the context of how it gave you purpose for your life’s work. How did you feel about that?
I think they wanted to say that that’s what inspired me to become a prosecutor. It didn’t. I actually was a defense attorney first. It’s true enough, though, that I wound up leaving private practice and taking this big pay cut to become a prosecutor because I wanted to stand up for the victims. But to say that it was consciously because of what I had been through, it wasn’t. I can’t say that. Was there a subconscious component to it? Maybe. I don’t know. It was subconscious. [Laughs.] But I certainly did join the prosecutor’s office because I wanted to stand up for the victims. I don’t know that I thought of it in terms of the way they put it: vengeance. I didn’t think of it as vengeance. To me, that was wrong. It’s not about vengeance. It’s about justice. My feeling was, victims need someone to stand up and fight for them.

The line was “Justice is vengeance for victims to me.”
Yeah. Wrong. No. No, it’s not! I would never say that. I would never even think that. It’s not about vengeance because vengeance isn’t necessarily justice.

Marcia Clark’s Final Verdict on People v. O.J.