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The Trials of Oscar WildeOld Bailey, the main courthouse in London, had never presented a show quite like the three trials that captivated England and much of the literary world in the spring of 1895. Celebrity, sex, witty dialogue, political intrique, surprising twists, and important issues of art and morality--is it any surprise that the trials of Oscar Wilde continue to fascinate one hundred years after the death of one of England's greatest authors and playrights?
The Trials of Oscar Wilde: An Account by Douglas O. Linder
Old Bailey, the main courthouse in London, had never presented a show quite like the three trials that captivated England and much of the literary world in the spring of 1895. Celebrity, sex, witty dialogue, political intrigue, surprising twists, and important issues of art and morality--is it any surprise that the trials of Oscar Wilde continue to fascinate one hundred years after the death of one of England's greatest authors and playwrights?
The events that would bring Oscar Wilde to Old Bailey began four years earlier in the summer of 1891 when Wilde, then thirty-eight years old, met a promising twenty-two-year old poet named Lord Alfred Douglas ("Bosie") at a tea party. The two became extremely close. Douglas took great pleasure in the interest shown in him by Wilde, already a major literary figure. Douglas called his elder companion "the most chivalrous friend in the world." Wilde saw in Douglas not only a lively intellect, but a young man with an Adonis-like appearance. Wilde made no secret of his interest. Douglas later said, " He was continually asking me to lunch and dine with him and sending me letters, notes, and telegrams." He also showered Douglas with presents and wrote a sonnet for him. They stayed together in each other's houses and in hotels, and went on trips together.
The first serious problem for Wilde growing out of his relationship of Douglas came when Douglas, still a student in Oxford, gave an old suit to a down-and-out friend named Wood. Wood discovered in a pocket of the suit letters written by Wilde to his youthful friend. Wood extorted £35 from Wilde for return of most of the compromising letters. Wilde later described the money as a gift to enable Wood to start a new life in America. Two other would-be blackmailers were given smaller amounts of money after returning the remaining letters.
Wilde's downfall came not from blackmailers, however, but rather the father of Alfred Douglas, John Sholto Douglas, the Marquees of Queensberry. Queensberry was an arrogant, ill-tempered, eccentric and perhaps even mentally imbalanced Scottish nobleman best note for developing and promoting rules for amateur boxing (the "Queensberry rules"). Queensberry became concerned about his son's relationship with "this man Wilde." His concern was temporarily alleviated at the Cafe Royal in late 1892, when his son introduced him to the noted literary figure. Wilde charmed Queensberry over a long lunch with many cigars and liquers. By early 1894 Queensberry concluded the Wilde was most likely a homosexual and began demanding that his son stop seeing Wilde: "Your intimacy with this man Wilde must either cease or I will disown you and stop all money supplies," Queensberry wrote in April. "I am not going to try an analyze this intimacy, and I make no charge; but to my mind to pose as a thing is as bad as to be it." Douglas replied in a telegram: "What a funny little man you are."
Queensberry began taking increasingly desperate measures to end the relationship. He threatened restaurant and hotel managers with beatings if he ever discovered Wilde and his son together on their premises. In June of 1894 Queenberry, accompanied by a prize-fighter, showed up without warning at Wilde's house in Chelsea. An angry conversation ensued, ending when Wilde ordered Queensberry to leave saying, "I do not know what the Queensberry rules are, but the Oscar Wilde rule is to shoot on sight." Queensberry's subsequent letters to his son, who he had already ceased to support, grew increasingly intemperate. "You reptile," he wrote, "you are no son of mine and I never thought you were." Douglas answered, "If O. W. was to prosecute you in the criminal courts for libel, you would get seven years' penal servitude for your outrageous libels."
On February 14, 1895, Wilde's new play The Importance of Being Earnest was set to open at the St. James Theatre. Wilde learned that Queensberry planned to disrupt the opening night's performance and harrangue the audience about Wilde's alleged decadent lifestyle. Wilde arranged to have the theater surrounded by police. His plan blocked, Queenberry prowled about outside for three hours before finally leaving "chattering."
Four days later at the Albemarle Club--a club to which both Wilde and his wife belonged, Queensberry left a card with a porter. "Give that to Oscar Wilde," he told the porter. On the card he had written: "To Oscar Wilde posing as a somdomite [sic]." Two weeks later Wilde showed up at the club and was handed the card with the offensive message. Returning that night to the Hotel Avondale, Wilde wrote to Douglas asking that he come and see him. "I don't see anything now but a criminal prosecution," Wilde wrote. "My whole life seems ruined by this man. The tower of ivory is assailed by the foul thing. On the sand is my life split. I don't know what to do."
The next day, Wilde, Douglas, and another longtime friend named Robert Ross visited a solicitor, Travers Humphreys. Humphreys asked Wilde directly whether there was any truth to Queensberry's allegation. Wilde said no. Humphreys applied for a warrant for Queensberry's arrest. On March 2, Queensberry police arrested Queensberry and charged him with libel at the Vine Street police station.
Travers Humphreys asked Edward Clarke, a towering figure in the London bar, to prosecute Wilde's case. Before accepting the case, Clarke said to Wilde, "I can only accept this brief, Mr. Wilde, if you assure me on your honor as an English gentleman that there is not and never has been any foundation for the charges that are made against you." Wilde answered that the charges were "absolutely false and groundless." Wilde left Clarke's office to join Douglas for a quick trip to the south of France before the trial.
About a week before trial was set to began at Old Bailey, Wilde returned to London, where numerous close friends advised him to drop his libel suit. George Bernhard Shaw and Frank Harris, two well known friends of Wilde's from the literary world, pleaded with Wilde to flee the country and continue his writing abroad, possibly in more tolerant France. Douglas, who was also present at the luncheon with Shaw and Harris, objected. "Your telling him to run away shows that you are no friend of Oscar's," Douglas said, rising from the table. "It is not friendly of you," Wilde echoed as he departed the restaurant with his young friend.
On April 3, 1895, the first trial of Oscar Wilde--with Wilde in this case cheering the prosecution--began at Old Bailey. Queensberry, wearing a blue hunting stock, stood alone, hat in hand, in front of the dock. Wilde, wearing a fashionable coat with a flower in his button-hole, chatted with his attorney. Meanwhile, in another room in the building, a group of young men--gathered by Queensberry to substantiate his charge--laughed and smoked cigarettes.
Sir Edward Clarke delivered the prosecution's opening statement. Clarke's address impressed even Edward Carson, Queensberry's attorney, who said "I never heard anything to equal it in all my life." Clarke attempted to take some of the sting out of on key piece of evidence that Queensberry planned to introduce. He read one of Wilde's letters to Douglas that might suggest to many readers the existence of a homosexual relationship. Clarke admitted that the letter "might appear extravagant to those in the habit of writing commercial correspondence," but said it must be remembered that Oscar Wilde is a poet, and the letter should be read as "the expression of true poetic feeling, and with no relation whatever to the hateful and repulsive suggestions put to it in the plea in this case."
After brief testimony from Sidney Wright, the porter at the Albemarle Club, Wilde took the stand. He began by lying about his age, which he said was thirty-nine (he was actually forty-one). Under questioning by Clarke, Wilde, with easy assurance, described his earlier encounters with--and harassment by--Queensberry. To Clarke's final question, "Is there any truth in any of these accusations [of Queesnberry]?", Wilde answered: "There is no truth whatever in any of them."
After lunch, Edward Carson--a rival of Wilde since their days together at Oxford College--began his skillful cross-examination. The cross generally broke into two main parts: a literary part and a fact-oriented part focusing on Wilde's past relationships. In the literary part of the examination, Carson asked Wilde about letters to Douglas and two of his own published works, The Portrait of Dorian Gray and Phrases and Philosophies for Use of the Young. Wilde defended the works against Carson's suggestions that they were immoral or touched on homosexual themes. "There is no such thing as an immoral work," Wilde asserted in Dorian Gray, rather "books are well written, or badly written." "That expresses your view?" asked Carson, "a perverted novel might be a good book?" When Wilde replied, "I don't know what you mean by a 'perverted' novel," Carson said, "I will suggest Dorian Gray as open to the interpretation of being such a novel." Wilde answered indignantly, "That could only be to brutes and illiterates. The views of Philistines on art are incalculably stupid." Carson asked about a suggestive letter to Lord Douglas: "Was it an ordinary letter?" "Certainly not," Wilde answered, "it was a beautiful letter." "Apart from art?" Carson wondered. "I cannot answer any questions apart from Art," Wilde replied. And so it went. Wilde did his best to turn the proceedings into a joke with flippant answers. Always the artist, he seemed to be reaching for creative, witty answers, even if they contradicted earlier ones. Though immensely interesting reading, the literary part of Carson's cross was not the most incriminating. Rather, one senses that Carson enjoyed toying with his old rival.
When Carson began to ask Wilde about his relationships with named young men, Wilde became noticeably uncomfortable. The jury appeared astonished when Carson produced items ranging from fine clothes to silver-mounted walking sticks that Wilde admitted giving to his young companions. Suspiciously, the recipients of the gifts were not, in Carson's words, "intellectual treats," but newspaper peddlers, valets, or unemployed--in some cases barely literate. Wilde tried to explain: "I recognize no social distinctions at all of any kind, and to me youth, the mere fact of youth, is so wonderful that I would sooner talk to a young man for half-an-hour than be--well--cross-examined in court." Soon after that confident response, Carson asked Wilde about a young man, sixteen when Wilde knew him, named Walter Grainger. Did Wilde kiss him? "Oh, dear no!" Wilde replied, "He was a peculiarly plain boy." Carson zeroed in on his prey. Was that the reason he didn't kiss him? Why then did he mention his ugliness? "Why, why, why, did you add that?" Carson demanded to know.
That afternoon the prosecution closed its case without calling, as was widely expected, Lord Alfred Douglas as a witness. No testimony that Douglas might give, no matter how forceful, could save Wilde's case.
When Carson announced, in his opening speech in defense of Queensberry, that he intended to call to the witness box a procession of young men with whom Wilde had been sexually associated, the atmosphere in the courtroom became tense. Edward Clarke understood his client was in serious personal danger. An 1895 Act, the Criminal Law Amendment Act, had made it a crime for any person to commit an act of "gross indecency." The Act had been interpreted to criminalize any form of sexual activity between members of the same sex.
After trial that evening, Edward Clarke met with his famous client. "When I saw Mr. Wilde," Clarke later recalled, "I told him it that it was almost impossible in view of all the circumstances to induce a jury to convict of a criminal offence a father who was endeavoring to save his son from what he believed to be an evil companionship." Clarke urged Wilde to allow him to withdraw the prosecution and consent to a verdict regarding the charge of "posing." Wilde agreed, and the next morning Clarke rose to announce the withdrawal of the libel prosecution.
Queensberry's solicitor, meanwhile, had forwarded to the Director of Public Prosecutions copies of statements by the young men they had planned to produce as witnesses. At 3:30 p.m., an inspector from Scotland Yard appeared before Magistrate John Bridge to request a warrant for the arrest of Oscar Wilde. Bridge adjourned the court for an hour and a half, apparently to give Wilde time to make his escape from England on the last train to the Continent.
Wilde, however, had lapsed into "a pathetic state of indecision." Meeting with Douglas and his old friend Robert Ross at the Cadogan Hotel, Wilde wavered back and forth between staying and fleeing until, he said, "The train has gone--it is too late." When Wilde learned from a journalist calling at the hotel that a warrant had been issued, Wilde went "very gray in the face." He sat quietly in his chair drinking glass after glass of hock and seltzer. Soon Wilde's name was removed from the ads at playbills at the St. James Theatre, where The Importance of Being Earnest was still being performed.
The first criminal trial of Oscar Wilde opened at Old Bailey on April 26, 1895. Wilde and Alfred Taylor, the procurer of young men for Wilde, faced twenty-five counts of gross indecencies and conspiracy to commit gross indecencies. A parade of young male witnesses for the prosecution testified regarding their roles in helping Wilde to act out his sexual fantasies. Although Wilde was not prosecuted for sodomy, there was little doubt by the end of the trial that he might have been. Almost all of them expressed shame and remorse over their own actions, and Wilde seemed to be left conflicted by their testimony. (Later Wilde compared his encounters with "feasting with panthers." Wilde wrote that "the danger was half the excitement.") On the fourth day of trial, Wilde took the stand. His arrogance of the first trial was gone. He answered questions quietly, denying all allegations of indecent behavior. The most memorable moment of the trial came in Wilde's response to a question about the meaning of a phrase in a poem of Lord Alfred Douglas. Prosecutor Charles Gill asked, "What is 'the Love that dare not speak its name'?" Wilde's response drew a loud applause--and a few hisses:
"The love that dare not speak its name" in this century is such a great affection of an elder for a younger man as there was between David and Jonathan, such as Plato made the very basis of his philospophy, and such as you find in the sonnets of Michelangelo and Shakespeare. It is that deep, spiritual affection that is as pure as it is perfect. It dictates and pervades great works of art like those of Shakespeare and Michelangelo, and those two letters of mine, such as they are. It is in this century misunderstood, so much misunderstood that it may be described as the "Love that dare not speak its name," and on account of it I am placed where I am now. It is beautiful, it is fine, it is the noblest form of affection. There is nothing unnatural about it. It is intellectual, and it repeatedly exists between an elder and a younger man, when the elder man has intellect, and the younger man has all the joy, hope and glamour of life before him. That it should be so the world does not understand. The world mocks it and sometimes puts one in the pillory for it.
Edward Clarke followed Wilde's testimony with a powerful summation on behalf of his client. Clarke closed by asking the jury to "gratify those thousands of hopes that are hanging on your decision" and "clear from this fearful imputation one of our most renowned and accomplished men of letters of today and, in clearing him, clear society from a stain." Clarke's closing speech left Wilde in tears, and he scribbled out a note of thanks which he passed to his counsel.
The jury deliberated for over three hours before concluding that they could not reach a verdict on most of the charges (the jury acquited Wilde on charges relating to Frederick Atkins, one of the young men with whom he was accused of having engaged in a gross indecency.) On May 7, Wilde was released on bail to enjoy three weeks of freedom until the start of his second criminal trial.
The Liberal government determined to go all-out to secure a conviction in Wilde's second trial, even when people such as Queenberry's attorney Edward Carson were urging, "Can you not let up on this fellow now?" There is much speculation about the government's aggressive position on the Wilde case. Prime Minister Rosebery was suspected of having had a homosexual affair, when he was Foreign Minister, with Francis Douglas, another one of Queenberry's good-looking sons. It was shortly after Francis Douglas was "killed in a hunting accident" (probably a suicide), that Queensberry went on the rampage against Oscar Wilde. There is plausible evidence in the form of ambiguous letters to conclude that Rosebery was threatened with exposure by Queensberry or others if he failed to aggressively prosecute Wilde. It is interesting to note that during the two months leading up to Wilde's conviction, Rosebery suffered from serious depression and insomnia. After Wilde's conviction, his heath suddenly improved.
Wilde's second prosecution was headed by England's top prosecutor, Solicitor-General Frank Lockwood. Although the trial resembled in many way the first, the prosecution dropped its weakest witnesses and focused more heavily on its strongest. Lockwood had the last word in the trial, and used it to offer what Wilde described as an "appalling denunciation [of me]--like something out of Tacitus, like a passage in Dante, like one of Savonarola's indictments of the Popes of Rome." After over three hours of deliberation, the jury returned its verdict: guilty on all counts except those relating to Edward Shelley. Wilde swayed slightly in the dock; his face turned gray. Some in the courtroom shouted "Shame!" while expressed their approval of the verdict.
The Wilde trials caused public attitudes toward homosexuals to become harsher and less tolerant. Whereas prior to the trials there was a certain pity for those who engaged in same-sex passion, after the trials homosexuals were seen more as a threat. The Wilde trials had other effects as well. They caused caused the public to begin to associate art and homoeroticism and to see effeminancy as a signal for homosexuality. Many same sex relationships seen as innocent before the Wilde trials became suspect after the trials. People with close same sex relationships grew anxious, concerned about doing anything that might suggest impropriety.
Wilde served two years in prison, the last eighteen months being spent at Reading Gaol. He came out chastened and bankrupt, but not bitter. He told a friend that he "had gained much" in prison and was "ashamed on having led a life unworthy of an artist." In his prison writing, De Profondis, Wilde says, " I became a spendthrift of my genius and to waste an eternal youth gave me a curious joy."
After his release from Reading Gaol, Wilde traveled in Europe. He died on November 30, 1900 in Paris.
All trials are trials for one’s life, just as all sentences are sentences of death, and three times I have been tried. The first time I left the box to be arrested, the second time to be led back to the house of detention, and the third time to pass into prison for two years. Society as we have constituted it, will have no place for me, has none to offer; but Nature, whose sweet rains fall on just and unjust alike, will have clefts in the rocks where I may hide, and secret valleys in whose silence I may weep undisturbed. She will hang with stars so that I may walk abroad in the darkness without stumbling, and send the wind over my footprints so that none may track me to my hurt: she will cleanse me in great waters, and with bitter herbs make me whole. [Oscar Wilde, De Profundis]
Sex, Lies, and a Sealed Fate: The Fourth Trial of Oscar Wilde
[An argument that Wilde is largely to blame for his own tragic fate.]
Sex, Lies, and a Sealed Fate: The Fourth Trial of Oscar Wilde by Douglas LinderFourth Trial of Oscar Wilde: Summation for the Prosecution
This summation was delivered as part of a community forum after a production of Gross Indecencies: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde at the Missouri Repertory Theater on February 20, 2000. The purpose of the forum, which included this prosecution summation as well as a defense summation, was to illuminate the issue of whether Oscar Wilde was responsible for his own downfall. (The views presented herein are not necessarily my own, but rather were presented to stimulate debate.) To see a program for the event click here: program. DL
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, more than a century has passed since twelve jurors at Old Bailey in London declared the defendant, Oscar Wilde, guilty of gross indecencies. Some of you know the facts of that case; some of you don’t. Wilde’s troubles started when he was 37 and began a relationship with Alfred Douglas, then a 21-year-old aspriring poet. The intense relationship attracted the concern of Alfred Douglas’s father, the Marquess of Queensberry, who took increasingly desperate steps to end it. Wilde frustrated and frightened by Queensberry, decided to sue Queensberry for libel when the Marquess accused him of posing as a sodomite. The suit backfired. Private investigators hired by Queensberry turned up several young men prostitutes, mostly--willing to testify that Wilde committed gross indecencies, and soon the celebrated poet, author, and playwright found himself convicted and sentenced to two years hard labor in Reading Gaol.
You are not here today to reconsider that verdict of 1895. Your task is a more difficult one. It will not be such a simple matter as applying the law to facts as you find them, but to assess responsibility for the tragic fate that befell one of England’s most celebrated literary figures. Does the blame for Wilde’s conviction and imprisonment lie primarily with the Oscar Wilde himself, or does it lie with the late-Victorian society that judged him?
In the minutes that I have with you this afternoon, I hope to convince you that Oscar Wilde was not a man of heart stopping honesty and courage, as Wilde’s defense attorney this afternoon might have you believe. To the contrary, this theoretician of decadence-- this apologist for hedonism, this celebrator of idleness wasted not only his own considerable talents, but caused great damage to the reputations and lives of many young men. Far from being a man of honesty and courage, Wilde attempted to make dishonesty a virtue and exhibited weakness of body, mind, and spirit. Wilde was the instrument of his own destruction.
The defense will argue that anyone but Wilde is to blame for his fate: his nemesis Queensberry is to blame; his lover and Queensberry’s son, Lord Alfred Douglas is to blame; homophobic Victorian England and overzealous prosecutors are to blame. No. As tempting as these other targets are, Oscar Wilde has no one to blame but himself. Five sins, I submit one for each letter of his name led to his downfall.
W, dear jury, is for WASTEFUL. Wilde wasted his great talent. At the very height of his talents after Salome, Dorian Gray what does Wilde do? He spends evening after evening chasing young men half his age, and with not a fourth of his artistic sense or intellectual firepower. Rather than seeking intellectual stimulation or aspiring for truth and beauty, Wilde seeks sex. He chases, he eats excessively, he chases, he smokes, he chases, he drinks too much, he chases some more. As Wilde himself admitted, Desire in the end became a malady. What works might readers and theater-goers of his and future generations been able to enjoy if he had been able to focus on his God-given talents as an artist? Three years out of prison Wilde is dead, as a result of complications from an ear infection developed in prison. What a waste!
That Wilde was guilty of the sin of waste there can be no doubt. Don’t take my word for it--take Oscar Wilde’s. Writing from prison Wilde had this to say:
I became the spendthrift of my genius and to waste an eternal youth gave me a curious joy. Tired of being on the heights, I deliberately went to the depths in search of a new sensation.
Because of his what Wilde called his perverse pleasures he was he said regretfully--forced to send long lawyer’s letters instead of making beautiful and colored musical things. Waste: that as Wilde saw it, was his REAL CRIME.
Wilde once again, in his prison letter De Profundis: I am really ashamed of having led a life unworthy of an artist. My weakness has narrowed my imagination and dulled my more delicate sensibilities.
I, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, is for INDECISIVE. Uncertain about how to respond to Queensberry’s slur To Oscar Wilde, posing as a Sodomite --, a statement published only on a card left with a club porter, Wilde allowed himself to be egged into an ill-advised libel suit by his Lord Alfred Douglas. Against the advice of true friends men of letters such as George Bernhard Shaw and Frank Harris Wilde lets his young lover make the call to sue. As Harris tells the story, Shaw, Harris, Lord Douglas, and Wilde were having lunch at the Café Royal shortly before the libel trial was to open. The suit is pure folly, Harris and Shaw argued. You must go, the two writers tell Wilde.
Then Douglas, getting up from the table says, You’re telling him to run away shows that you are no friend of Oscar’s. Wilde, following his young lover out of the restaurant agrees. It is not friendly of you, Wilde says. Even more revealing is Wilde’s indecisiveness at the conclusion of his libel trial Queenberry’s lawyer had revealed his trump hand: a bevy of young men waiting to testify as to their sexual encounters with Wilde. Wilde sits in a chair in Room 53 at the Cardogan Hotel. Everyone knows what will happen next if Wilde fails act quickly: he will be arrested at charged with gross indecencies. His friend Robert Ross tells him to catch the train to Dover, then the ferry to the safety of France. His wife, Constance, urges him to go. Meanwhile, the magistrate, in an act of sympathy, has delayed issuing Wilde’s arrest warrant to allow him to catch the last train to Dover. Wilde sits in his pathetic state of indecision, immobilized as the precious minutes of his freedom tick away. He drinks glass after glass of hock and seltzer to steady his nerves. Then its too late, the knock comes at the door.Get up, Oscar. Get on the train, Oscar. Go, Oscar. It’s too late, Oscar.
L stands for LAWLESS. Wilde thought himself, as a great artist, above the law; a Nietzchean superman. He tried to secede from society. He fled from what he saw as the banality of ordinary life into his own solipsistic universe; a paradise of his own design. Oscar Wilde wanted to live in a place and time such as Ancient Greece, with its ideals, values, and toleration of same-sex passion between older and younger men. But he lived in Victorian England, and was bound by its laws.
In De Profundis, Wilde writes: I am one of those who are made for exceptions, not laws. Laws are for ordinary people, Wilde believed, not those with his great intellect, taste, and talent. Aesthetics are more important than ethics. Wilde once wrote: “Even a color scheme is more important in the development of an individual than a sense of right and wrong. That’s a remarkable statement. Let me read it again: “Even a color scheme is more important in the development of an individual than a sense of right and wrong. With priorities like that, is it any wonder that Victorian Society saw Wilde as a threat to its moral evolution?
Wilde not only convinced himself that he was immune from the criminal laws of England, but he showed a contempt for anyone who suggested otherwise. Wilde’s scofflaw attitude his contempt for English laws and values--is apparent from his trial testimony. He does his best to turn his trial into a carnival, a big joke. He is not just witty, he is flippant.
D stands for DISHONEST.
The job of an artist is to lie, Wilde declared: the world is too depressing to write about. The job of a trial witness, however, is to tell the truth. Wilde didn’t. Wilde was barely on the witness stand for one minute when he uttered his first lie, declaring himself to be 39 when his true age was 41. A common lie, a harmless lie, perhaps in most circumstances, but not in a trial. The first thing Queensberry’s lawyer did on cross-examination was to expose Wilde’s little lie and make the jury wonder just what else he might have been lying about.
One of those other things he had been lying about was precisely what Queensberry accused him of doing: seeking sexual pleasure from young men. Had Wilde only been forthright about the matter, his downfall might have been avoided. When Wilde visited his lawyer, Edward Clarke, to ask him to press a libel suit against Queensberry, Clarke had one final question of Wilde before he took on the task.. I can only accept this brief, Mr. Wilde, if you can assure me on your honor as an English gentleman that there is not and never has been any foundation for the charges that are made against you. Wilde replied that Queensberry’s charges were absolutely false and groundless. Not only did Wilde’s dishonesty contribute to his own downfall, but it caused deep embarrassment to one of England’s most respected solicitors.
Finally, E, dear jury, stands for EXPLOITATIVE. It was perhaps the greatest of his five sins. Wilde exploited young men, some less than half his age, then left them to endure the shame and humiliation that accompanied his downfall. As witnesses in a celebrity trial, their reputations were irrevocably damaged; guilt and shame were a part of the rest of their lives. Parker, Wood, Atkins, all the boys of Wilde. The Monica Lewinskys of Victorian England. And what of Constance Wilde, Oscar’s wife, and Vyvyan and Cyril, Oscar’s two young children? Wilde exploited them too.
Writing from prison after his conviction, said this of his sexual encounters with boys or young men half his age:
They, from the point of view through which I, as an artist in life approached them, were delightfully suggestive and stimulating. It was like feasting with panthers. The danger was half the excitement. I used to feel as the snake-charmer must feel when he lures the cobra. They were to me the brightest of gilded snakes. Their poison was part of their perfection.
Feasting with panthers Luring the cobra. Wilde understood the danger of what he was doing. Danger to his reputation, danger to the happiness of his wife and small children even danger, it turns out to his liberty. Yet, he feasted, he lured and he paid the price. Many people may understand the psychological impulse. Many may have similar impulses But most people consider the consequences of their actions, the harm that they would bring those around them. For he who lives more lives than one, More deaths than one must die.
It is no defense, I submit, that Oscar Wilde intended no harm to the panthers. He may have treated them at the time--with kindness and decency. But he did belong in their wild world. He was from another. Wilde was a middle-aged man. A married man. A man of intelligence, talent, wit, and accomplishment. Like the traveler who accidentally introduces a non-indigenous species that wreaks havoc in a new ecosystem, Wilde brought an infection from his world to that of his panthers.
How do we know that the boys of Wilde felt shame and humiliation? We know because they said so. The words of his victims. And yes, they were victims, though they may have willingly participated in satisfying Wilde’s sexual fantasies. Wilde exploited these down-on-their-luck boys, boys who did what they did because of their economic circumstance.
Wilde: Wasteful, Indecisive, Lawless, Dishonest, Exploitative. The Five Sins of Oscar Wilde.
Finally, let me say a word about Queensberry, the villain of the play. Ill-tempered and unpleasant? yes. Eccentric? yes. Paranoid? probably. But there is an important fact about Queensberry not mentioned in the play that puts his hostility to the relationship between Wilde and his son in a different light. Queensberry had another son, his eldest, named Francis Douglas. Francis Douglas also was (most likely) involved in a homosexual relationship. His lover was believed to be none other than the Prime Minister of England, the Liberal Pary Leader, Lord Rosebery. At the time of the suspected relationship, Roesbery was Foreign Minister; Francis Douglas his private secretary. Francis Douglas died in October 1894 just before Queensberry went on his rampage against Wilde. His son’s death was called a hunting accident. We know now is was that his son most likely committed suicide and that the rumored scandal was the cause of it. This background may not make you like Queensberry or like what he did he did to Wilde but it may help you understand him.
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, do your duty. Convict Oscar Wilde of being responsible for his own downfall.
Response to Defense Summation
Society is to blame, says Wilde’s able defense attorney. My client was merely a radical individualist Oscar Wilde was just doing his thing.
How easy it is for one generation to judge another! From our vantage point at the start of a new millennium, the defense asks us to see Victorian English society as homophobic, intolerant, constraining, even cruel. Even if it was all those things and I don’t suggest that it was how does that compare to American society in 1895, the year the case of Plessy v Ferguson was argued before our Supreme Court with the Court upholding a state law that forced black citizens to ride in second-class railcars? And I wonder what judgments those in the 22nd century will make about our society and its laws? Will they condemn our society as immoral for allowing experiments on primates? Call us shortsighted for destroying forests and wetlands? Find us homophobic for not permitting same-sex marriages? Label us cruel for locking up young people who experiment with drugs? They might and they might be right about all those things.
Let us not lose sight of the fact that the people of Victorian England in 1895 were, on the whole, decent folks who were neither especially backward nor especially intolerant. Interestingly, the Criminal Amendment Act of 1885, the act under which Oscar Wilde was charged and which made illegal the committing of gross indecencies, was progressive legislation. Prior to 1885, sexual assaults on boys over the age of 13 and falling short of rape were not crimes. The impetus for the new law its main purpose was to protect boys, not to punish consenting adults. Interesting also is the fact that prosecutions for consensual homosexual conduct prior to the Wilde case were about as rare as they are in the United States today and that homosexual conduct at the time (especially in English boy’s schools) was widespread. The conduct may have been illegal indeed, in some American states it remains illegal in the year 2000 but it was almost never prosecuted. What offended Victorian Society about Wilde’s conduct was not so much that involved sex with other males as that it involved sex with a considerable number young male prostitutes. Wilde, let us not forget, was not prosecuted because he was the lover of a social equal who happened to be male he was prosecuted for his participation in a not-very-discreet prostitution ring. Had Wilde merely pursued a relationship with a male of his own age especially one in his own social class he never would have found himself in the dock at Old Bailey..
So jurors, Oscar Wilde must bear responsibility for his own downfall. More than that, Wilde is to blame for bringing down with him the toleration such as it was that homosexuals previously enjoyed. What before Wilde was in the mind of the English public--foregiveable sin, after Wilde became perversion. After the Wilde trials, every male-male relationship of any intensity became suspect, every effeminate gesture raised an eyebrow, and the arts and homosexuality became firmly linked in the public mind. That is what Wilde brought on.
And all men kill the thing they love,
But let all this be heard,
Some do it with a bitter look,
Some with a flattering word:
The coward does it with a kiss,
The brave man with a sword.
Oscar Wilde killed the thing he loved. He killed himself. Jurors, do your duty and convict Oscar Wilde of being responsible for his own downfall!
The Trial of Orenthal James Simpsonby Doug Linder (2000)
Although the 1995 criminal trial of O. J. Simpson for the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman has been called "a great trash novel come to life," no one can deny the pull it had on the American public. If the early reports of the murder of the wife of the ex-football-star-turned-sports-announcer hadn't caught people's full attention, Simpson's surreal Bronco ride on the day of his arrest certainly did--ninety-five million television viewers witnessed the slow police chase live. The 133 days of televised courtroom testimony turned countless viewers into Simpson trial junkies. Even foreign leaders such as Margaret Thatcher and Boris Yeltsin eagerly gossiped about the trial. When Yeltsin stepped off his plane to meet President Clinton, the first question he asked was, "Do you think O. J. did it?" When, at 10 a.m. PST on October 3, Judge Ito's clerk read the jury's verdict of "Not Guilty," 91% of all persons viewing television were glued to the unfolding scene in the Los Angeles courtroom.
June 12, 1994
Exactly what happened sometime after ten o'clock on the Sunday night of June 12, 1994 is still disputed, but most likely a single male came through the back entrance of Nicole Brown Simpson's condominium on Bundy Drive in the prestigious Brentwood area of Los Angeles [LINK TO MAP]. In a small, nearly enclosed area near the front gate, the man brutally slashed Nicole, almost severing her neck from her body. Then he struggled with and repeatedly--about thirty times--stabbed Ronald Goldman. Ronald Goldman was a twenty-five-year-old acquaintance of Nicole's, who had come to her condominium to return a pair of sunglasses that her mother had left earlier that evening at the Mezzaluna restaurant. (A person would later post a sign outside the Mezzaluna reading, "Don't forget your sunglasses.")
Just after midnight, Nicole's howling Akita, with blood on its belly and legs, attracted the attention of a neighbor, who then discovered the two bodies. The ill-fated investigation of the Brown-Simpson and Goldman murders began.
Nicole Brown Simpson's ex-husband, former football great and media personality O. J. Simpson, meanwhile, was aboard American Airlines flight #668 to Chicago. Simpson had taken off from Los Angeles at 11:45 after receiving a ride to the airport in a limousine driven by Allan Park, an employee of the Town and Country Limousine Company. The limousine had left the Simpson estate on Rockingham Avenue[LINK TO MAP OF SIMPSON ESTATE] about half an hour late, after Park called to report at 10:25 that no one answered his ring at the door. Park observed a man he assumed to be Simpson enter his house at 10:56.
Police called Simpson early Monday morning at the O'Hare Plaza Hotel in Chicago, where Simpson had planned to attend a convention of the Hertz rental car company. When informed that his wife had been killed, Simpson did not ask how, when, or by whom. He did--according to his later testimony--smash a glass in grief, badly cutting his left hand. Prosecutors would have a different explanation for the injury. Simpson boarded the next flight to Los Angeles, arriving home about noon to find a full-scale police investigation underway. Police tape stretched across his front gate and cardboard tags marked bloodstains on the driveway.
The Investigation Focuses on Simpson
Los Angeles police questioned Simpson for about a half hour that day. They asked Simpson a number of questions about the deep cut on his right hand. Simpson initially claimed not to know the source of the cut. Later in the interview he suggested the hand was cut when he reached into his Bronco on the night of the murders, then reopened the cut when he broke a glass in his Chicago hotel room after being informed of Nicole's murder. From the standpoint of the police, the interview was remarkably inept. Officers did not ask obvious follow-up questions and whole areas of potentially fruitful inquiry were ignored. So unhelpful was this interview that neither side chose to introduce it into evidence at the trial.[LINK TO SIMPSON'S STATEMENT TO POLICE].
Eventually, however, police accumulated enough evidence indicating Simpson's guilt in the murders that they sought and obtained a warrant for his arrest. Under an agreement worked out with Simpson's attorney, Robert Shapiro, Simpson was to turn himself in at police headquarters by 10:00 on the morning of June 17, the day following Nicole's funeral. When Simpson didn't show by the agreed upon time, police told Shapiro that they would be driving to his Brentwood home to pick him up. Sometime after one o'clock, four officers knocked on Simpson's front door. Soon they and Shapiro discovered that Simpson had disappeared--off, it turned out, on perhaps the most famous ride in American history since Paul Revere warned Bostonians of the arrival of the British. Simpson left behind a letter. Addressed to "To whom it may concern," it had all the markings of a suicide letter. It ended: "Don't feel sorry for me. I've had a great life, great friends. Please think of the real O. J. and not this lost person. Thanks for making my life special. I hope I helped yours. Peace and love, O. J." Around 6:20 a motorist in Orange County saw Simpson riding in the white Bronco of his friend, A. C. Cowlings, and notified police. Soon a dozen police cars, news helicopters, and some curious members of the public were following in pursuit of the Bronco. The slow-motion chase would finally end with Simpson's arrest in his own driveway. After making the arrest, police discovered $8,750 in cash, a false beard and mustache, a loaded gun, and a passport in Cowlings' vehicle.
For the prosecution, the biggest mistake of the trial may well have been to file the Simpson case in the downtown district rather than--as is normal procedure--in the district in which the crime occurred, in this case Santa Monica. Implausibly, the prosecution explained its decision as an effort to reduce the commuting time of prosecutors and better accommodate the expected media crush. More likely, the decision was a political one, based on concerns that a conviction by what would be a largely white jury in Santa Monica might spark racial protests--or even riots similar to those that occurred following the trial of four LAPD officers accused of beating Rodney King. The prosecutors probably believed that their case against Simpson was so strong that even the more racially diverse jury likely in downtown Los Angeles would have no choice but to convict.
Filing downtown would be only the first of many decisions that may have cost prosecutors the case. The decision of prosecutors not to seek the death penalty cost prosecutors the advantage of not having a "death-qualified" jury, which numerous studies suggest, would be more likely to convict. (A death-qualified jury is one from which all jurors whose opposition to capital punishment might prevent them from imposing a death sentence have been excluded. Typically, excluded jurors are disproportionately black and female.) Prosecutors also would be criticized for ignoring the advice of their own jury consultants, who urged them to use their peremptory challenges--to the extent that they might do so constitutionally--to exclude black and female potential jurors [LINK TO INFORMATION ABOUT SIMPSON JURY AND ITS SELECTION]. ( Once the trial began, there would be other blunders. To name just a few: the decision to have Simpson try the glove used in the murder, the decision to call Mark Fuhrman to the stand, and the strategy of presenting so much evidence from so many witnesses over so many weeks that the case lost much of its force.)
On July 22, 1994, Simpson answered the question " How do you plead?" at his arraignment with "Absolutely one hundred percent not guilty, Your Honor." Months of discovery, jury selection, and hearings on issues such as whether to permit cameras in the courtroom and the admissibility of DNA test results followed.
The Trial Begins
The opening day of trial--Tuesday, January 24, 1995-- finally came. Under drizzling skies, reporters and camera person converged for what writer Dominick Dunne called "the Super Bowl of murder trials." Judge Lance Ito in his opening remarks told those assembled in the courtroom that he expected to see "some fabulous lawyering skills." Christopher Darden led off the prosecution's opening statement by portraying Simpson as an abusive husband and a jealous lover of Nicole Brown Simpson. Darden told jurors, "If he couldn't have her, he didn't want anybody else to have her." Marcia Clark followed with a statement laying out the facts proving Simpson's guilt that the prosecution would establish during the trial. The next day Johnnie Cochran gave an opening statement for the defense in which he presented a confused timeline of events and suggested that Simpson was so crippled by arthritis that he couldn't have possibly pulled off a double murder. Cochran told the jury that the defense would prove that the evidence against Simpson was "contaminated, compromised, and ultimately corrupted."
Over the next 99 days of trial, the prosecution put forward 72 witnesses. The first set of witnesses suggested that Simpson had the motive and opportunity to kill. The second set of witnesses suggested that Simpson had in fact used his opportunity to kill his ex-wife and Ronald Goldman.
The first group of witnesses included relatives and friends of Nicole, friends of O. J., and a 9-1-1 dispatcher, all produced to demonstrate Simpson's motive and his history of domestic abuse. Nicole's sister, Denise Brown, described seeing O. J. at the dance recital of his daughter, Sydney, on the day of the murder. She testified that Simpson looked "scary," like a "madman." She told of a dinner attended by her, Nicole, and other friends in which O. J. grabbed Nicole's crotch and said, "This is where babies come from, and this belongs to me." Tearfully, she told of an incident in which an enraged Simpson picked up her sister and threw her against a wall. Ron Shipp, a friend of O.J.'s, testified that Simpson told him, "I've had some dreams of killing Nicole." A 9-1-1 dispatcher took the stand so that the prosecution might play for the jury a terrifying 9-1-1 call from Nicole describing an ongoing assault by Simpson.
The prosecution next produced a set of witnesses--including limousine driver Allan Park, Kato Kaelin, and officers of the LAPD--to establish a timeline of events that left Simpson with ample opportunity to commit murder. Limo driver Allan Park proved to be one of the prosecution's most effective witnesses. Park testified that he arrived at the Simpson home on Rockingham at 10:25 to pick O. J. up for his scheduled flight to Chicago. He said he rang the doorbell repeatedly, but received no answer. Shortly before 11:00, according to Park, a shadowy figure--black, tall, about 200 pounds, and wearing dark clothes-- walked up the driveway and entered the house. A few minutes later, Simpson emerged, telling Park he had overslept. Park testified that as he entered the limo, he carried a small black bag (which the prosecution hoped the jury would conclude contained the murder weapon). Park testified that Simpson would not let him touch the bag. The bag has never been seen since. A skycap at the Los Angeles Airport testified that he saw Simpson near a rubbish bin.
Simpson house guest Kato Kaelin, one of the trials more colorful characters, testified that he and Simpson returned from a run for Big Macs and french fries at 9:36. After that, Kaelin couldn't account for Simpson's whereabouts. He told of hearing thumps on his wall just before 11:00, about the same time that Park witnessed the shadowy figure enter the house. The prosecution also produced telephone records that show Simpson used his automobile cell phone to call his girlfriend, Paula Barbieri, at 10:03. The defense did not attempt to explain why Simpson would make a call on his car cell phone at a time he claimed to be in his backyard practicing his golf stroke.
Finally, the prosecution began to put forward witnesses directly tying Simpson to the two murders. The evidence was technical and circumstantial, relating mostly of the results of blood, hair, fiber, and footprint analysis from the Bundy crime scene and Simpson's Rockingham home. The most compelling testimony--if one assumed the accuracy of the testing--concerned two RFLP tests. The first indicated that blood found at the crime scene could have come from only 1 out of 170 million sources of blood--and that O. J. Simpson fit the profile. The second came from blood found on two black socks at the foot of O. J.'s bedroom. According to prosecution testimony, only 1 out of 6.8 billion sources of blood matched the sample. Nicole Brown Simpson might well be the only person on earth whose blood matched the blood found on the socks. On cross-examination of the prosecution's DNA experts, the defense had little choice but to begin to develop the theory that either the blood samples were contaminated or they were planted by corrupt police officers [LINK TO SUMMARY OF KEY PROSECUTION EVIDENCE].
The LAPD officer who found a bloody glove outside Kato Kaelin's bedroom turned out to be a godsend for the defense's corrupt-police theory. The officer, Mark Fuhrman, testified for the prosecution on March 9 and 10. In his book about the trial, Robert Shapiro wrote: "A suddenly charming Marcia Clark treated him like he was a poster boy for apple pie and American values." Three days later, F. Lee Bailey began a bullying cross-examination of Fuhrman in which he asked the detective, whether, in the past ten years, he had ever used "the n word." Fuhrman replied that he absolutely never had done so. It was a lie.
A second prosecution disaster followed. Prosecutor Christopher Darden, confident that the bloody gloves belonged to Simpson, decided to make a dramatic courtroom demonstration. He would ask Simpson, in full view of the jury, to try on the gloves worn by Nicole's killer. Judge Ito asked a bailiff to escort Simpson to a position near the jury box. Darden instructed Simpson, "Pull them on, pull them on." Simpson seemed to struggle with the gloves, then said, "They don't fit. See? They don't fit." Later, it would turn out that there were good reasons why they didn't fit--the gloves may have shrunk because of the blood, photos would turn up showing Simpson wearing ill-fitting gloves--but the damage had been done. Later, Cochran would offer the memorable refrain, "If it doesn't fit, you must acquit."
A field trip that included the judge, the jury, lawyers for both sides, the defendant, and a bevy of trailing media types illustrates how the defense early on in the trial saw the race issue as playing to its advantage on a jury that included nine African- Americans. The trip to the Bundy Avenue crime scene and Simpson's Rockingham home was intended to provide the jury with a better basis for understanding testimony concerning locations of bodies, gloves, and socks. The defense saw it as an opportunity to put a favorable spin on Simpson's life. Before the jury arrived at Simpson's home, down came a picture of Paula Barbieri, O. J.'s girlfriend. In its place, up went a Norman Rockwell print from Johnnie Cochran's office that depicted a black girl being escorted to school by federal marshals. Pictures of Simpson standing with white golfing buddies were replaced with pictures of his mother and other black people. A Bible was installed conspicuously on an end table in the living room. The tour seemed to go wonderfully well for the defense. As the group toured his home, Simpson pointed to a backyard play area and said, "That's where I practiced my golf swing."
The Dream Team Takes Center Stage
The strategy of Simpson's defense team, called the "Dream Team" in the media, was to undermine the prosecution's evidence concerning motive, suggest Simpson was physically incapable of committing the crime, raise doubts about the prosecution's timeline, and finally to suggest that the key physical evidence against Simpson was either contaminated or planted, or both.
On July 10, 1995, Simpson's daughter Arnelle took the stand as the first defense witness. She would be followed by Simpson's sister and his mother, Eunice Simpson. By the time Simpson's mother finished her testimony, it was apparent to some courtroom observers that jury members were showing more empathy for the Simpson family than for the families of the victims.
As successful as it turned out to be, the defense effort was not without its own miscalculations. After Simpson's doctor, Robert Huizenga, testified that O. J.--despite looking like Tarzan--was in about as good of a condition as "Tarzan's grandfather" and suffered from arthritis and other problems, the prosecution produced a video taken shortly before the murders. The video showed Simpson leading demanding physical exercises. Especially embarrassing for the defense was a quip on the tape from Simpson as he performed an exercise that consisted in part of punching his arms back and forth. Simpson suggested people might try this workout "with the wife."
The most talked-about aspect of the defense case undoubtedly concerned Mark Fuhrman, the LAPD officer who had found the bloody glove and who, as a prosecution witness, denied using the word "nigger." It turned out that Fuhrman had used "the n word"--many times--and it was on tape. Laura Hart McKinny, an aspiring screenwriter from North Carolina, had hired Fuhrman to consult with her on police issues for a script she was writing. McKinny taped her interviews with Fuhrman, who not only used the offensive racial slur, but disclosed that he had sometimes planted evidence to help secure convictions. Needless to say, the defense wanted McKinny on the stand, and they wanted the jury to hear selected portions of her tapes. The prosecution strenuously objected, arguing that McKinny's testimony was irrelevant absent some plausible evidence suggesting that evidence was planted in the Simpson case. The prejudicial value of the testimony, the prosecution insisted, would exceed its probative value. Judge Ito, somewhat reluctantly, allowed the defense evidence. Ito's decision opened the door for the defense to offer its rather fantastic theory that Fuhrman took a glove from the Bundy crime scene, rubbed it in Nicole's blood, then took it to Rockingham to drop outside Kaelin's bedroom so as to frame Simpson.
It may not, however, have been Fuhrman, but rather a soft-spoken Japanese American forensic expert named Henry Lee that won Simpson his acquittal. Lee had solid credentials, smiled at the jury, and provided what seemed to be a plausible justification for questioning the prosecution's key physical evidence. Lee raised doubts with blood splatter demonstrations, his suggestion that shoe print evidence suggested more than one assailant, and his simple conclusion about the prosecution's DNA tests: "Something's wrong." He may have, as Christopher Darden speculated after the trial, have been the person who gave the jury "permission" to do what they wanted to do anyway: acquit Simpson. Jury forewoman, Amanda Cooley, called Lee "a very impressive gentleman." Another juror agreed, describing Lee as "the most credible witness," a person who "had a lot of impact on a lot of people."
The Jury Acquits
By the time closing arguments began in the Simpson case, the trial had already broken the record set by the Charles Manson case as the longest jury trial in California history. The jury had been sequestered for the better part of a year and was showing signs of strain and exhaustion. Judge Ito was under attack for the allowing the trial to drag on and his seeming inability to keep lawyers under control.
Marcia Clark's summation for the prosecution sought, among other things, to do damage control on the Fuhrman issue. Clark denounced Fuhrman as a racist, the "worst type" of cop, and as someone we didn't want "on this planet." But, she told the jury, that doesn't mean there was a frame-up. She took the jury again through the prosecution's "mountain of evidence" as puzzle pieces on a video screen accumulated to reveal the face of O. J. Simpson. Christopher Darden followed Clark, telling the jury that Simpson could be "a great football player" and "a murderer" as well.
Johnnie Cochran's summation for the defense added controversy to an already very controversial trial. His co-counsel, Robert Shapiro, was later to condemn his closing for "not only playing the race card, but playing it from the bottom of the deck." Cochran compared the prosecution case to Hitler's campaign against the Jews:
There was another man not too long ago in this world who had those same views, who wanted to burn people, who had racist views, and ultimately had power over people in his country. People didn't care. People said he's crazy. He's just a half-baked painter. And they didn't do anything about it. This man, this scourge, became one of the worst people in the world, Adolf Hitler, because people didn't care, didn't stop him. He had the power over his racism and his anti-religionism. Nobody wanted to stop him....And so Fuhrman. Fuhrman wants to take all black people now and burn them or bomb them. That's genocidal racism. Is that ethnic purity? We're paying this man's salary to espouse these views...
The jury spent only three hours deliberating the case that had produced 150 witnesses over 133 days and had cost $15 million to try. As America watched at 10 a.m. PST on October 3, 1995, Ito's clerk, Deidre Robertson, announced the jury's verdict: "We the jury in the above entitled action find the defendant, Orenthal James Simpson, not guilty of the crime of murder." Simpson sighed in relief, Cochran pumped his fist and slapped Simpson on the back. The Dream Team gathered in a victory huddle. From the audience came the searing moans of Kim Goldman, Ron's sister, and the cry of his mother Patti Goldman, "Oh my God! Oh my God!"
Simpson announced after the verdict that he would devote the rest of his life to tracking down the real killer of his ex-wife, but he would soon be preoccupied with a civil trial. The trial, held in Santa Monica, would take just three months and would produce a very different result. Simpson was forced to testify, clumsily trying to explain the unexplainable. Photos showing Simpson wearing the size 12 Bruno Magli shoes that he claimed not to own turned up first in one newspaper, then in others. The judge in the civil trial, Hiroshi Fujisaki, proved he was no Lance Ito, and prevented the Simpson defense from introducing fanciful theories of a top-to-bottom conspiracy. After seventeen hours of deliberation, the jury concluded--using the preponderance of the evidence test applicable in civil cases--that O. J. Simpson had wrongfully caused the death of Ronald Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson. The jury ordered Simpson to pay compensatory damages of $8.5 million and punitive damages of $25 million. Under California law, however, Simpson can continue to survive on the $25,000-a-month income from a judgment-proof pension fund.
The Simpson trial demonstrated the polarization of racial attitudes on issues such as law enforcement that still exists in our country [POLLING DATA ON SIMPSON VERDICT]. It may be for that, more than anything, that the trial will be remembered. But it had other effects. It created a greater awareness of domestic violence issues, provided lessons in how not to run a criminal trial, slowed the trend toward the use of cameras in courtrooms, and created a new type of "immersion" journalism that still flourishes today.
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