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Laura Coates Live

CNN Presents The Life And Death Of O.J. Simpson. Aired 11p-12a ET

Aired April 11, 2024 - 23:00   ET




LAURA COATES, CNN HOST AND SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Tonight, for this hour, the life and death of O.J. Simpson. I will talk exclusively with the juror who tells us what it was like to deliberate in the trial of the century.

Plus, Kato Kaelin, who lived on O.J. Simpson's property at the time of the murders and testified in the trial, is here tonight on a special edition of LAURA COATES LIVE.


JOHNNIE LEE COCHRAN, ATTORNEY: If it doesn't fit, you must acquit.

UNKNOWN (voice-over): Orenthal James Simpson not guilty of a crime of murder.

UNKNOWN: Go find the killer. O.J. is innocent.

UNKNOWN (voice-over): He was an icon, a superstar, America's friend.

UNKNOWN: I just don't think justice was served. I don't think the jury did their job.

UNKNOWN (voice-over): Just let me get to my house.

ORENTHAL JAMES SIMPSON, FORMER NFL STAR WHO WAS ACQUITTED OF MURDER: They couldn't prove a case. They were wrong to begin with. I was innocent to begin with.


COATES: It is the story that transfixed America, an all-American star athlete turned movie star, his beautiful wife, two brutal murders, and a collision of crime, celebrity, policing, and race that obsessed millions and exposed America's racial divide.

Everybody and I mean everybody knew O.J. Simpson. If you didn't know him as a Hall of Fame running back, you knew him from commercials.





COATES: You knew him from movies like "The Naked Gun." But the story turned into a nightmare on June 12th, 1994 when his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and a friend, Ronald Goldman, were brutally murdered outside of her condo. O.J. Simpson was charged with two counts of murder. Then came the infamous hours-long slow-motion chase in that white Bronco. You know, 96 million people were watching it live.


LARRY KING, AUTHOR: I understand we're going to go to a live picture in Los Angeles. Police believe that -- that O.J. Simpson is in that car. Okay, police believe he is in that vehicle.


COATES: You know, Simpson eventually surrendering and pleading not guilty.


SIMPSON: Absolutely 100% not guilty.

COATES: Must see TV with shocking moments like this.

COCHRAN: If it doesn't fit, you must acquit.


COATES: Well, you know, 11 months later, a jury did exactly that.


UNKNOWN (voice-over): Orenthal James Simpson not guilty of the crime of murder.


COATES: The verdict dividing America along racial lines in a split screen that, frankly, could not be ignored. Thirteen years later, O.J. Simpson would go on to prison, but not for the murders. He was convicted of robbery and served nine years. His family says that he died at his home in Las Vegas at the age of 76 after a battle with cancer.

But let's not lose sight of what this is all about. Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman, two people who were brutally murdered, leaving their loved ones, including children, grieving to this day.

The Goldman family speaking out tonight, saying, "The news of Ron's killer passing away is a mixed bag of complicated emotions and reminds us that the journey through grief is not linear."

Well, our first guest knew Nicole Brown Simpson and O.J. He was living in a guest house on O.J. Simpson's property at the time of the murders. Kato Kaelin was a key witness for the prosecution in O.J. Simpson's murder trial, and Kato Kaelin joins me now.

Kato Kaelin, thank you for joining us tonight. I mean, it has been an extraordinary day to contemplate and look back to that time, which I'm sure feels very fresh to you. When you think back to that time --


COATES: Oh, go ahead. Excuse me.

KAELIN: I was -- I was going to say, listening to you and -- and -- and seeing everything that just came up, it encapsulates this last 30 years. And I -- I sat here and I relived everything that you had just said. And it's -- it's amazing that I'm older now, and when people say time goes by in a wink of an eye and you're a kid, you don't think that, but it does, and I -- all the stuff that has happened.


And -- and today, this morning, getting about 99 messages immediately and coming into 300 messages, so I knew immediately that it meant someone had died, and that's how I was -- I found out about all this.

And I got to tell you that it was because I had so many calls that came in, I decided to sit down. I didn't want to do anything, but I decided to sit down and to write something from the heart. And that's why I posted something on social media. And it's -- it is condolences to the kids of O.J., Arnelle and Jason and Sydney and Justin, because losing a father is never easy.

But my heart goes out to Fred Goldman and Kim losing a son and a brother. I don't know if it brings closure. I doubt after hearing that because they have to live through it every day. And, of course, for Nicole Brown Simpson, beautiful, who was this beacon of light, who always was bright and shining. I really stress, Laura, that people don't forget. It's really about those two human beings that lost their lives in their prime.

COATES: You know, Kato, when you were reliving it, even through our brief introduction to this conversation, where does your mind go? What does it feel like? Take us back to then.

KAELIN: You know, I went back to the -- the actual of living at the estate. Everything I'm listening because it's so -- it -- it's not in my mind anymore, but it's in the forefront now of thinking of -- of inviting myself, for instance, to that drive to McDonald's, which I didn't know was McDonald's. And I thought about that of -- I invite myself, but I could tell he didn't want me to go. And that's -- it becomes the most important timeline in the -- in the trial. And because of these sorts of things that happened 30 years ago, still to this day, I've marked down everything I ever do. If -- I'm married now, but I always make sure of where I was at this moment. I write down the time, what song I heard on the radio, just because I'm so aware of timelines that it has become so much a part of my life. And I think back of the invite. I think back of seeing the -- the Justin and Sydney growing up and laughing.

So, it's all these mixed emotions. It's like a videotape machine playing back all these memories.

COATES: You've said in the past that you think that he was guilty. Was there a time you doubted that?

KAELIN: In the very beginning, I doubted it because I thought that he -- he flew to Chicago. He -- there's no possible way. Even when four detectives came to my guest room, I didn't know what was going on. I just let these four guys in. They didn't say they're the police yet until they told me. And then they asked me what I was wearing. They -- they walked around the room. They looked at the bottom of my shoes. And I said, did his plane crash?

But nothing made sense. It was a -- it was a fog. And then with time passing and -- and more and more that would come out, I changed my mind. He's a guilty man, I believe.

COATES: Did you think there would be a time when you would speak with him, and he would tell you that?

KAELIN: No. As a matter of fact, there was a time, though. It's a great question, Laura. I remember a time where my mind was swayed when he, after the emergency, he brought me into the kitchen while there are people there having dinners and consoling, and he just said to me, you -- you remember, we ate -- we ate our food in the kitchen, and I remember completely that was such a lie.

When we came back from McDonald's, he was at the -- at the -- at his door of the car. I was 20 yards away, walking into his house, going to go in there. And then -- I looked and he wasn't there. I said, oh, he doesn't want to be around me. And that was the last. And that started the whole timeline. So, I knew that was a big lie, and I didn't know why he was lying.

COATES: You know, I've always wondered. I remember watching your testimony, and your name, frankly, became a household name. People knew who you were. It was such a high-profile trial. It went on for months. Everyone associated you with it. I have always wondered what this trial meant to your life and going forward.

KAELIN: You know, Laura, it's -- it's -- I came up from Milwaukee, Wisconsin to become an actor. I became famous for all the wrong reasons. I became worldwide famous. And it's something I always wish for. But I know it came for the wrong reasons that two people lost their life. I'm aware of that. And I can't change anything in the past. Everything I do is for the present and the future. And so, I always try to just not look back at dark and always look at light and always paid forward because that was my blueprint, that I was going to be involved. There's nothing I can change. But I can make everything so much better in my life.

And I hated that in the beginning. The court of public opinion that came out in the beginning just called me every sort of name that I knew wasn't true, from a liar, a freeloader, a dummy, a pariah, even an assassin's target. And I was none of those things, but I couldn't change the court of public opinion yet.


And it took so much time, Laura, to make sure that all those things that really affected me and hurt me as a person and my family, that I know I would overcome them. And I think it took almost 30 years. But I think everything came out now. I share I'm a better person for it.

And I really think that I paid it forward and I tried to always make other people better, and it's because my late parents are always saying to make the other person better. And I live by that motto, and that's -- I believe it's true. It's come to fruition that I've become bringing the light.

COATES: Well, that's a beautiful sentiment that your parents have instilled in you, and I thank you for joining us. I have just one more question for you. Did you ever stay in touch with him after this trial?

KAELIN: No, I never stayed in touch with anybody, really. I mean, I had some Facebook messages from Tanya (ph). I did Kim Goldman's podcast. But no, because I really, really believed that that was such a dark period that everybody had to grow. And so, I didn't want any more growing.

But I did see him in a deposition after the first break, an hour and a half. I said some many true things that were derogatory. And we ended up in the men's rooms together. And I was scared out of my mind, so I walked out, and that was the last contact. And he just said, hey, what's up, after I had just been taking a deposition on him.

COATES: Wow. Kato Kaelin, thank you so much for joining us.

KAELIN: Laura, thank you so much. And thank you for your time. It means a lot

COATES: Thank you. I want to bring in three O.J. Simpson insiders. Marc Watts, a former CNN correspondent who was the face of CNN's coverage of the O.J. trial. He is currently the chief brand officer at the African-American Leadership Forum.

Also with me, Michael Eric Dyson, distinguished professor of African- American and Diaspora Studies at Vanderbilt University. He's the co- author of "Unequal: A Story of America." Also here, Jeffrey Toobin, a lawyer who extensively covered the O.J. Simpson trial. He's also the author of "The Run of His Life: The People V. O.J. Simpson." I thank you all for being here today.

Jeffrey, let me begin with you here. Talking to Kato Kaelin seems a bit surreal for so many who remembered his testimony, like myself. What's your reaction to things he said?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, LAWYER WHO EXTENSIVELY COVERD O.J. SIMPSON TRIAL, AUTHOR: Well, you know, he certainly said nice things about, you know, how he wants to live his life and sympathy for the victims. But it is worth remembering that his testimony was equivocating and awful for the prosecution, and seemed to me and to many others very much shaded in favor of O.J. Simpson.

So, you know, it's all well and good that he thinks O.J. was guilty now, but if he had given more straightforward testimony in the trial all those years ago, who knows, the result might have been different. I mean, he -- he -- I don't want to pin the whole thing on him because there were so many factors at play.

COATES: Uh-hmm

TOOBIN: But, I mean, that was really bad testimony. That was a tremendous disappointment to the prosecution, and I can see why.

COATES: Well, the burden remained with the prosecution to prove their case. And obviously, each witness is going to be beneficial or detrimental in that endeavor. Mark, let me turn to you. You've covered every aspect of the O.J. Simpson trial for CNN. Talk to me about the racial dynamic at the time because that was very much part of the story. Did it change the way perhaps Americans viewed race and the justice system?

MARC WATTS, FORMER CNN CORRESPONDENT, CHIEF BRAND OFFICER AT AFRICAN AMERICAN LEADERSHIP FORUM: Well, it certainly showed us that 30 years ago. the country was tragically racially polarized. It's probably even worse today because of social media, how it has uncovered some of the covert aspects of racism.

We started out covering the trial and race was really never mentioned. Somewhere, somehow, along the way, I don't know who we point the finger at, race became a factor.

COATES: On that point, Michael, let me bring you in on that point. That's a very interesting one that you've just raised on that. You've written before in your books about race having three sort of key points, context, subtext, and pretext in your work.

I want you to watch this moment here that happened on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" when the verdict was read.


DEIDRE ROBERTSON, CLERK (voice-over): We the jury in the above entitled action, find the defendant, Orenthal James Simpson, not guilty of the crime of murder --


-- in violation of Penal Code Section 187(a), a felony on Nicole Brown Simpson, a human being as charged in count one of the information.



COATES: Interestingly enough, the public seems to be more aligned in this 2015 poll that we have than it was at the end of that trial where you look to see how many people who thought O.J. was guilty along racial lines. But talk to me about the role that race played in the perception of this trial.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON, DISTINGUISHED PROFESSOR OF AFRICAN AMERICAN & DIASPORA STUDIES, VANDERBILT UNIVERSITY: Well, there's no question, Laura, that there was a split screen of racial perception. The O.J. Simpson case was a race quake. It trembled the ground beneath our feet because it exposed to us, it didn't create it, it exposed to us the fault lines that trace beneath the terrain of American society.

There had already been two Americas, one white, one black, unequal, separate, as the Kerner Commission had predicted back in the late 60s. And then we saw Rodney King being -- you know, his assaulters, the police people who beat him mercilessly, acquitted. So, O.J. was the culmination of a long trail of travesties, of tragedies, of hurt and pain that African-American people had endured.

And O.J. Simpson was the perfect avatar for such beliefs. And the reason he was a perfect ideal is because he was the white man's Black person. He was beloved in white America. He was celebrated. The Jews Hertz commercials being celebrated for his racelessness.

But Time magazine darkened his face. America saw him through a different prism. And now, he became the very embodiment of all that was stereotypical about black masculinity and, of course, the hateful denunciation of, you know, what that blackness meant in America.

So, O.J., whether he wanted to or not, became a symbol and a prism through which we viewed the landscape of American race.

COATES: Let me turn to you --

TOOBIN: Laura --

COATES: Go ahead, Jeff.

TOOBIN: Well, no, Laura, I was the one who brought race into the -- into the case very early on because I was the person who broke the story in "The New Yorker" that Mark Fuhrman, who was the key detective in the case, who discovered the bloody glove, had once applied for a pension from the Los Angeles Police Department on the grounds that he was such a racist, that he couldn't function any more appropriately as a police officer. It tells you a lot about the LAPD that he lost his case and was told to go back to work as -- as a police officer. I mean, the LAPD had an appalling history when it came to race. And, of course, the Rodney King case was the most vivid demonstration of that.

However, the tragedy of the O.J. Simpson case, in my view, was that even though that was a legitimate complaint about the Los Angeles Police Department in general, O.J. Simpson got away with murder because he was the unjust beneficiary of that long and unfortunate history. O.J. Simpson killed those two people, and he got away with it by his lawyers doing their job, exploiting the ugly history of Los Angeles.

COATES: Well, let me bring you into this, Marc.

DYSON: I will tell you this --

COATES: Before you do, I want to hear all of you. But before you do, you know, I've obviously heard this throughout the years, you know, decades-worth, and my question is always the same, which is, can we have it both ways in America that we can believe in our jury system when it's the verdict that you'd like and disregard it when it's a verdict you don't like and suggest that the jurors were somehow misled in a different way? It's always an interesting question as we approach important trials coming up as well.

What was the point you wanted to raise, Michael?

DYSON: Well, I want to first address Jeffrey's point there about the heinousness. It is true that it was tragic, evil, and an unforgivable assault upon two human beings who lost their lives. But to say that was the greatest tragedy in light of the accumulated indignities, murders, denials of opportunity, failure to give just due to African- American people in the court system, that, my friend, is a weighted tragedy that we cannot merely dismiss. So, it's not either or. What happened to those two people was a heinous crime.

What has continued to happen to African-American people before that crime and after that crime are testimony to the deeply entrenched systemic inequities that continue to flagrantly deny opportunity for African-American people. We've lost so many lives as a result of that, and we've got to weigh those on the scale.

They are both -- I'm not trying to say one is worse than the other, but to -- to suggest somehow that those accumulated indignities are not themselves, the story of this would be equally problematic as well.


And, yes, we can't have it both ways. When we like the outcome, it's great. When we don't, it's horrible. This is what happened to white America. You got just a small taste of what African-American people have had to deal with daily. The refusal to acknowledge that a case that was, you know, should have been open and shut was against us. And that's -- look, that's from history, not only Emmett Till forward. We're talking about, you know, African-American people going to court every day and not having juries of their peers. We're talking about evidence that has been set in place to try to convict them.

So, the point is that this is a very complicated reality and the jury trial is the best hope we have for a right -- arriving at any sense of justice in America.

COATES: Marc, I'll give you the last word. I remember your coverage so well.

WATTS: The irony that it is being discussed this much and this heavily about race is -- is ironic because O.J. was someone who ran from his race. O.J. was the person who was supposed to be on trial. But the defense team was successful in putting the LAPD, the evidence gathering process, Mark Fuhrman and the botched glove on June 15th, 1995 on trial.

COATES: It's a really fascinating point to think about the ways in which the defense strategy shaped the perception of what otherwise could be described as a legal inkblot test. What a pleasure to speak to all three of you. Marc Watts, Michael Eric Dyson, Jeffrey Toobin, thank you so much.

DYSON: Thank you.

COATES: So, that was the perspective from just some of the people who covered the trial. We're going to actually hear from someone who decided it in a CNN exclusive. Juror number two is live with me next.






UNKNOWN: I think it's great. He deserves to go free. They had no evidence on him.

UNKNOWN: The jury was pretty irresponsible. Money can buy you justice.

UNKNOWN: Just don't think justice was served. I don't think the jury did their job.


COATES: Those are just a few of the very strong reactions to O.J. Simpson's acquittal for the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman 28 years ago. The reaction to that verdict put America's racial divide on, well, some would say full display. And some of the jurors are still dealing with the fallout from their decision to this day and the attention that it garners.

Now, this was the moment two decades after Simpson's acquittal that Kim Goldman, sister of Ron Goldman, met juror Yolanda Crawford.


KIM GOLDMAN, SISTER OF RON GOLDMAN: The decision that 12 jurors made changed the trajectory of my life and our family's life. And it's hard to understand how two people can sit in a room and hear the same exact evidence and come to two completely different thoughts.


COATES: Well, joining me now is the juror from that clip, Miss Yolanda Crawford. Thank you so much for joining me this evening. You know, I have been like so many people. I remember watching this all unfold for all the time that you were in the courtroom. You were sequestered, of course. I do wonder what you make of the continued fascination with that verdict.

YOLANDA CRAWFORD, JUROR IN O.J. SIMPSON TRIAL: It is like -- it has been 28 years, I look at as close to 30, and it's just overwhelming in that there's still such so much attention that has brought to that case. I was, you know, hoping that eventually, it would die down a little bit, but it just doesn't seem to go away.

COATES: Do you ever have pause or any thoughts that you made the wrong choice?

CRAWFORD: Never. I've always been very comfortable with my decision and the decision of the 11 other jurors. We were in that room. We know what went on. And again, our decision wasn't based on what we felt in our gut, whether he did it or not. It was based on what was presented at that trial, the evidence that was shown, that was given to us, and that we had to consider. And at that point, there was reasonable doubt, it was something that you could not deny, and that's why the verdict came so quick.

COATES: There are some who have talked about this. Many, in fact, have talked about this and this decision, in light of the fact that it came in the trial after Rodney King and the -- the recorded beating that we all were witness to, that this was somehow a referendum broadly on race in America. Did you see it that way when you rendered your verdict?

CRAWFORD: Not at all. Not at all. It was based on, like I said, the evidence that was presented by both the prosecution and the defense. We looked at the actions of the police officers that were involved in the case.

Mark Fuhrman, number one, the things that he did, the things that he said, him having to take the Fifth during that trial, that brought doubt. And how could you deny it? How could you overlook it? That was something that we -- we -- we took in and we had to consider. And again, it was the reasonable doubt. Whether or not O.J. killed Nicole and Ron Goldman, I don't know, I'm not sure of that, I'm not certain of it. I can't say for certain that he did, but there was definitely reasonable doubt that we had. I'm very comfortable with the decision that I made.

COATES: Did you get a sense from any of your jurors that what happened to Rodney King was considered at all during your deliberations?

CRAWFORD: Not during deliberations.


I think after -- after years later, I heard some things that were coming from a couple of the other jurors that -- that -- I didn't like what I heard that came from them, but it wasn't -- it wasn't talked about during -- in the jury room during deliberations.

COATES: You heard part of my conversation earlier with Jeffrey Toobin and Michael Eric Dyson, just to name a few, and of course, CNN correspondent, who covered this case. What's your reaction to the way that it is being discussed?

CRAWFORD: I listened to your last segment with Jeffrey Toobin. When I heard him put a lot of that blame on Kato Kaelin, I thought that was tasteless and it wasn't correct. I don't think Kato Kaelin's testimony favored O.J. Simpson at all. I think he, you know, said what he thought happened that night, showed Detective Berman where he was and, you know, the things that he heard, and that's all there was to it. I didn't put much weight into his testimony as -- as -- in regards to O.J.'s innocence or guilt.

COATES: What did you make of the performance of the prosecution team, Marcia Clark, Christopher Darden, compared to what was described as the dream team defense council led by, of course, Johnnie Cochran on behalf of O.J. Simpson? Were you looking and evaluating their performances?

CRAWFORD: I'm sure I was. I don't think they measured up. I think, especially Christopher Darden, he probably wasn't the right guy for that team.


CRAWFORD: He seemed, I want to say, at times very nervous, not confident, unsure of himself. When he asked O.J. to try on the glove, I looked at him like he was crazy, like, why would you have him do that? But he did it anyway. And I think that --

COATES: Why did you think that was crazy? That's interesting to me. Why did you think that was a crazy moment?

CRAWFORD: Because he didn't need to have him try on the glove. We looked at the glove, we could see the glove, and it was a big glove. We assumed that it would fit. So, when he had him try it on and it appeared to be tight or too tight, it was just something that backfired. It was something that he did not need to do. Again, we looked at the glove, we saw it was a big glove, and we would have assumed that maybe it fit. He just gave him the opportunity to show something different.

COATES: That's fascinating, that you assumed that it fit until he put it on which, of course, led to that infamous line of, if it doesn't fit, you must acquit. I am curious as well about what it was like for you meeting Kim Goldman. What was that moment like for you?

CRAWFORD: I sat in the courtroom and watched her daily, so I was familiar with her. It was shocking to see her on that set because that's not what I was told that I was there for.

COATES: Really?

CRAWFORD: So that was kind of a gotcha moment. But it is what it is and I just had to deal with it at that time. But I wasn't prepared to meet her. It was uncomfortable. But, you know, it had to happen.

COATES: No one told you that you were going to meet her that day? They just put you on the set with her?

CRAWFORD: That's correct.

COATES: How did you feel about that and how this case was viewed? What did you think they wanted you to do?

CRAWFORD: I'm not sure what their thoughts were. But again, that was a big surprise. That was not what I was told that segment was going to be about, so, but, you know, it was a little tacky.

COATES: Yolanda, tell me, what has it been like for you, knowing that you were part of this trial? You were a juror in a case, as you have begun, has talked about the lasting and staying power of the fascination of the trial as well. How has your involvement affected your life, if at all?

CRAWFORD: I was able to move on and, you know, go about starting a family and just pushing myself away from the case. But from time to time, I would always get calls for interviews. Sometimes I would do them and sometimes I wouldn't. But it hasn't had that type of impact on me. Again, it's just something that I'm pretty much adjusted to. When something involving the case or someone involving the case is relevant for that day, I can expect a call from a producer wanting an interview.


COATES: Did you have any reaction to his death?

CRAWFORD: I was -- I got a text message early this morning from a co- worker. I didn't know if it was a joke or not, so I text back, did he die? And he advised me that yes, he did. I don't watch TV anymore. I don't turn on the TV in my home. So, I hadn't seen any news. But I started getting phone calls shortly after that. So, that's how the news came to me.

COATES: Well, there's a great show you should watch on television. It comes on 11 p.m. Eastern. It's called LAURA COATES LIVE. I'm just -- that's just a suggestion for you, Ms. Yolanda. If you have one show to watch, that's the one you should. Thank you so much for joining me tonight.


CRAWFORD: Thank you. Thank you.

COATES: Up next, the shocking moment when O.J. Simpson called in to "Larry King Live," and it was the day after he was found not guilty.


KING: On the phone now is O.J. Simpson. How are you?


COATES: What O.J. Simpson told Larry. Plus, was the prosecution outsmarted by the defense during the trial of the century? Stephen A. Smith has said prosecutors did a horrendous job, and he is here to weigh in.




COATES: One of O.J. Simpson's first reactions to his acquittal happened right here, live on this network. It was October 4th, 1995. O.J. actually called in to CNN's "Larry King Live." Listen to this.


KING: On the phone now is O.J. Simpson. How are you?

SIMPSON (via telephone): I'm doing fine. And one, I want to thank you, you know, a lot because so many of my friends have told me that you've been fair. My basic anger, people I've heard, that I've followed the case. I've heard experts say, this was the testimony today, and that wasn't the testimony today.

There were so many times I went back to my cell and I watched TV. I'd go to my attorney room, I'd talk to my attorneys and some witnesses, and we'd say, were these experts looking at the same hearing, were they in the same courtroom that we were in today?


COATES: He went on to thank his defense team, especially the men you saw there nodding, Johnny Cochran, for what they did.

I want to bring in Stephen A. Smith to weigh in on the trial and far beyond. He, of course, is the host of "First Take" on ESPN and "The Stephen A. Smith Show" podcast and show on YouTube. Stephen, really glad to have you here today. I mean, that was quite an incredible moment --


-- the day after his acquittal, calling in to the show, complaining about press coverage and complaining that reporters were getting the story totally wrong. What's your reaction?

SMITH: Well, he's lucky I wasn't on the jury. He would have been under the jail. I've always thought he was guilty. I thought he was guilty of double murder. I felt adamant about that. I thought that there was a preponderance of circumstantial and forensic evidence that was against him. Obviously, you know the law a hell of a lot better than me, but I just thought that, for me personally, I've often joked if I were a lawyer, there's no way that Johnny Cochran would have beaten me with that level of evidence.

And over the years, I've become friends with Carl Douglas, who was on the legal team, a member of the legal team for O.J. Simpson. I still speak to him this day. I'm very, very fond of him. He's a very successful lawyer in Los Angeles. And one of the things that he said, you know, do you have any idea how great Johnny Cochran was? I said, of course we do, we all do, it's just that the preponderance of evidence that was against O.J. Simpson, considering the circumstances, I thought he was guilty as hell.

Having said all of that, I wasn't as angry as white America was at his not guilty verdict because in light of what had happened with Rodney King and the history of the LAPD with African Americans, it was a foregone conclusion in my mind that the preponderance of evidence was going to have to be ironclad.

And not only that, the defense was going to have to, the prosecution rather, was going to have to have an ironclad case. They were going to have to execute it exceptionally well in order for him to be found guilty in light of the climate in Los Angeles at that particular moment in time.

So, I wasn't surprised by the verdict. But just me speaking as an individual, when I saw the evidence, when I saw the court case, watching it on TV all of those months, you're damn right I thought he was guilty, and I still think he's guilty to this very day.

COATES: Well, you know, obviously, there's the preponderance of evidence standard in the civil context. There's the beyond a reasonable doubt in the criminal context. What was it about you watching this trial? What was the evidence that made you say this man is guilty which, of course is not what the jury found?

SMITH: Right. Well, first of all, it was the blood in the Bronco, number one. It was the incident in question and how volatile and Nicole Brown Simpson, God rest her soul, nearly being decapitated. It was some of those things as well. But also, you know, as a Black man, you're in a white Bronco, you got Al Cowlings in the Jeep, he's driving you home, he's worried that you're going to shoot yourself, he's begging the police to back up and what have you, and I'm thinking along the lines that, you know what? They got you. You know, they -- they've got you dead to rights. And as a result of that, you feel that way. And because of that, you're willing to take your own life rather than going to jail for the rest of your life.

It was a combination of all of those things. I don't remember every single detail because it has been many, many years since I paid attention to it, to be quite honest with you. But as I was watching that unfold and watching the case unfold over the years.


I just felt that it was a classic case of Marcia Clark and Christopher Darden doing a piss poor job of a process -- as prosecutors in this particular case more so than it was about his innocence. I just felt that there was so much circumstantial evidence against him. And I thought -- it was perceived by me to be a crime of passion, rage.

And when you heard about the history of him with Nicole Brown Simpson and all the years I've been back and forth in L.A., I can assure you, I've heard many, many, many stories about his behavior and how he was towards her as well as various others. It just seemed to be very, very reasonable to me. But again, I wasn't a member of the jury, I didn't watch every single day of the trial, so I'm certainly not going to sit here and pretend that I did that.

COATES: Without Rodney King, would there have been an O.J. acquittal?

SMITH: I don't think so. I don't think so. I think if Rodney King had not happened, that's just my personal opinion, Laura, I don't know for sure, but I'm just of the mindset that had Rodney King not happened, then O.J., a not guilty verdict for O.J., probably would not have happened.

And listen, when I think about Nicole Brown Simpson and I think about Ronald Goldman, especially Ronald Goldman, of course, both lives being lost, so heart wrenching and what have you, you don't wish that on any human being with any kind of soul, you don't wish that on anybody. Let's be clear about that.

But to see Ronald Goldman's father, to know that he had no relationship with O.J., and the perception is that he just came by and he was in a wrong place in the wrong time, and to have that happen to him and for Nicole Brown Simpson to reportedly having had to endure what she endured from O.J. for years and then for that to happen, your heart just goes out to them.

But unfortunately, at that particular moment in time, Black folks were saying there's a lot of lives that have been lost from our community at the hands of transgressors who happen to be law enforcement officials. That was a more pertinent and profound issue in the African-American community than O.J. Simpson and Nicole Brown Simpson or Ronald Goldman.

I mean, Jay-Z said it best when, you know, listen, we didn't have Black folks. And I think, you know, I don't want to speak for you, but it's hard to imagine that a Black person in America didn't remember O.J. saying, I'm not black, I'm O.J. You know, he wasn't somebody that ingratiated himself with our community.

You know, I'm not happy that the man is dead. I'm not happy that he passed away from cancer. I lost my mother to cancer in 2017. I'm very, very sensitive to that issue. I don't wish death upon anybody. But in the same breath, this was a man that had detached himself from his community. He was the first Black athlete ever given a national ad campaign by Hertz in 1975. He prided himself on being different and separate and apart from his own race of people. These are facts.

And so, when you look at it from that perspective, and the only time it appeared he found his blackness was when he was indicted on double murder charges and he needed the support of the Black community, you did have a lot of white folks in America looking at the Black community like we were absolute fools for being supportive of him in any way because they knew that about him as much as we did.

COATES: Stephen A. Smith, I mean, just the way in which this case, this man, that trial has been viewed, it is so eye-opening to hear your perspective for so many people across this country who may not have thought of it in the way you have. But certainly, these are the conversations we're really having in our homes. Stephen A. Smith, thank you so much.

SMITH: Just the truth. Thank you so much. Take care.

COATES: Well, he was a larger than life personality who went from football superstar to the big screen. And then it all came crashing down. We'll trace the rise and fall of O.J. Simpson next.








SIMPSON: Nobody does it better than Hertz.



(END VIDEO CLIP) COATES: That's the American icon O.J. Simpson portrayed as a hero, an athlete, a friend. But it's not the man we're remembering today. This is the story of O.J., the story about a man who changed American culture. Everything changed for him. O.J. became the man with the glove, acquitted in court, but not in the court of public opinion. Late night shows made him the brunt of their jokes.


UNKNOWN: Sorry we didn't make it to your not guilty barbecue, O.J., but we're glad to have you back on the sidelines and not in the booth.

UNKNOWN: Okay, well, let's go to the (INAUDIBLE) now. Here's a play your offense has been using a lot this year. Now you lined up your halfback right behind your quarterback. Your tight end has been running a curl pattern. Now when Kelly fakes play action, the defense is frozen, allowing your wide open to be open on the other side, opening a hole in the middle and a scene on the left.



COATES: Cable News made him their headline. Ninety-five million people watched the Bronco chase. A 150 million people tuned in to watch the verdict. And as a result, O.J. helped solidify the power of cable news. In the year after the O.J. verdict, Fox News and MSNBC were created.


But it wasn't just cable news that got a major boost from O.J. Ever heard of reality TV? How about the Kardashians? Well, maybe you've heard of one, Mr. Robert Kardashian, father to Kim, Kourtney and Khloe. He was one -- and of course, Robert. Jr. He was one of O.J.'s best friends and lawyers, a member of his dream team of lawyers. Would the country be keeping up with the Kardashians if not for O.J.?


KIM KARDASHIAN, MEDIA PERSONALITY AND SOCIALITE: Now, you know, my father was and still is such an influence and inspiration to me. And I credit him with really opening up my eyes to racial injustice. It's because of him that I met my first Black person.


Want to take a stab in the dark at who it was?


I know it is sort of weird to remember the first Black person you met, but O.J. does leave a mark.


Or several. Or none at all. I still don't know.


COATES: And the country, well, it's not over O.J. The 2016 drama, "The People vs. O.J." was that year's most-watched news show, according to "Variety," with an average number of seven and a half million viewers per episode. And here we are, all coming together for an entire hour to reflect on O.J. Simpson.

Thank you for watching. Our coverage continues.