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American Crime Story digs up memories of the O.J. Simpson trial

Randi Mazzella is a mother of three and freelance writer.  She has written extensively about parenting, family life and teen issues. 

How the O.J. Simpson story redefined America's true crime obsession

I remember exactly where I was on the evening of June 17, 1994. I was four months pregnant with my first child and had contracted a virus that could be potentially dangerous if transmitted to the fetus. The doctors suggested I have an amniocentesis. Thankfully, the baby had not contracted the virus and I went on to deliver a healthy baby girl that November.

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Remembering the O.J. Simpson police chase

My memory of that day is so vivid because after the test, my doctor suggested I remain on bed rest for 24 hours. I stayed in my bed, watching re-runs of bad television shows to distract me from worrying.

Sometime that evening, though, it seemed like the only thing on television was live coverage of O.J. Simpson in his white Ford Bronco, being chased by police. I, along with most of America, watched the entire thing until he was eventually captured that night.

Apparently I am not alone in being able to recall where I was the night of the Bronco chase. Many people remember that night and the sensational murder trial that followed. I hadn’t thought about it in years, but the O.J. case is back on my mind because of the new television miniseries, American Crime Story, which is set to air on Feb. 2. The 10-episode series is based on the book, The Run of His Life: The People v. O.J. Simpson by CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.

A little history on O.J. Simpson

Information about O.J. Simpson flooded the media, from his early days and the upward trajectory of his career. Orenthal James (O.J.) Simpson was a very famous prior to the events that occurred in 1994. He was a professional football player, well-known sports broadcaster, spokesperson and actor. He played football for USC and won the Heisman Trophy in 1968. In 1969 he was a first round draft pick and played in the NFL for 11 seasons. In 1983 he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame, and in 1985 he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. After retiring from football, he became a commentator on Monday Night Football and on NFL on NBC. While still playing football, Simpson did some acting and continued to have roles in both television and movies after his football career was over.

In 1975, he began a long partnership as the spokesperson for Hertz car rentals. Simpson was hired because he, a famous athlete and a running back, was known for his speed. This partnership would continue for close to 20 years.

In 1985 Simpson married Nicole Brown and they went on to have two children together. During their seven-year marriage, which ended in divorce, there were rumors of domestic violence (including Simpson pleading no contest to spousal abuse in 1989). On June 12, 1994, Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman were murdered in her home.

How a murder trial captured the attention of the American public

It was because O.J. was so famous in so many different arenas that the events of June 1994 seemed so surreal and captured the nation’s attention. Simpson went from a successful, admired and beloved athlete and celebrity to a suspect in a double murder. The nation was riveted.

The murder, car chase and trial resulted in a media storm. Water cooler chatter across the country was devoted to this horrific crime and the unbelievable fall from grace of this one-time sports hero. The criminal trial began in November 1994 and was televised through Oct. 3, 1995, when in a surprise-to-many verdict, O.J was acquitted. Although Simpson was cleared of all charges in the criminal case, in 1997 a civil court awarded a judgment against him for the wrongful deaths of Nicole and Goldman. Simpson is currently serving time in prison on totally unrelated charges.

Everyone involved in the case, the lawyers, the judge, the lead detective and even O.J.’s houseguest all became household names. Jay Leno had a dance group on his late night show called “The Dancing Itos” with men dressed as Judge Lance Ito.

Anticipating American Crime Story

The miniseries, told from the lawyers’ perspective, promises to provide new details about the O.J. Simpson case. The all-star cast includes Academy Award winner Cuba Gooding Jr. as Simpson, Sara Paulson as District Attorney Marcia Clark, John Travolta and Courtney B. Vance as defense attorneys Robert Shapiro and Johnnie Cochran. David Schwimmer plays Robert Kardashian (pre-Kardashian fame), a close ally of Simpson’s who attended much of the trial.

Advanced buzz has been positive from critics how have screened the first few episodes. While I am admittedly intrigued about re-visiting this sensational trial, especially with such a stellar cast, I can’t help but feel bad for the families of the two victims. They lost their loved ones and received no closure from the murder trial.

Re-living it again in prime time close to 20 years later must be extremely difficult.

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