(ABC) -- In 1995, the nation was singularly focused on the murder trial of O.J. Simpson, and the eventual not guilty verdict that the jury handed down after nine months of testimony.
Now, in a five-part documentary that stretches over more than seven hours, director Ezra Edelman has explored not just what happened in that Los Angeles courtroom, but also the context in which the events surrounding the case unfolded.
For prosecutor Marcia Clark and defense attorney Carl Douglas, the decision to participate in "O.J.: Made in America" was an obvious one once they learned what the project was.
"I felt like I had been trying to explain to everybody what was going on and what the context was in which we were trying the case, and it felt like no one was listening and no one cared and everyone wanted to focus on the minutia that didn't matter. I'd given up," Clark told ABC News. "But after I spoke at some length to [producer] Tamara [Rosenberg] and she explained to me what they were doing. I thought, 'This is so important. What they're doing is so profound and important that I cannot not do what I can to help with this.'"
Added Douglas, "It would be virtually impossible for someone to understand and appreciate the verdict in the trial without at the same time appreciating the context of Los Angeles at that time."
Race was at the forefront of what has been called "the trial of the century," and the two attorneys spoke to ABC News about their varying opinions on what that meant, how the trial proceeded, and O.J. Simpson's place in society.
After Simpson was arraigned and pleaded not guilty to the murders of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman, the defense and prosecution attorneys were tasked with assembling an impartial 12-person jury. Clark admitted that after surveying the pool, she "had very little hope" that her team would be victorious. "It was really bad," she said of the 300 people from whom she had to choose. "I had a feeling that we had lost right from the beginning."
However, Douglas said that Clark never wavered in the courtroom, describing her as "always ferocious and always well-prepared." Her fatal flaw, he said, was being overly confident that she would connect with the female African-American jurors with whom she'd always had success in the past. "As her experts told her, African-American women, in a counter-intuitive way, would probably be O.J. Simpson's staunchest supporters, not because of the race card necessarily but, I think, because African-American women were the mothers and daughters and wives of African-American men. And in Los Angeles, there is a unique historical framework that the documentary explains; You could come across any African-American [man] on the street of Los Angeles at random and nine out of 10 will give you a personal story of a police officer treating them or their friends unfairly," he said. "So Marcia had this belief that she could relate to African-American women, so she ignored her own experts and ultimately, the focus groups won out."
Two of those jurors are featured in the documentary, and both were asked to explain how they came to a verdict after just a few hours. One said it was because she'd had 266 nights to contemplate the case, whereas the other said simply that it was payback for the 1991 beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles police officers. Calling the latter "more honest," Clark said that she believes that that was the underlying reason for the verdict, though Douglas called it a gross oversimplification.
"I think that her comments 21 years later really reflect the consequence of 20 years of having to suffer the slings and arrows of an unknowing public," he said. "It would be an insult to reduce that decision to simply one of race, which is often the convenient default."
Explaining that race was "certainly unfairly manipulated and injected into a trial where it had no place," Clark blames Judge Lance Ito for allowing the defense team to exploit "the race card" the way they did. "Defense lawyers were doing that in downtown Los Angeles courts for as long as I was trying lawsuit there," she said. "For 10 years I was watching them do it, but judges stop them. They don't let them hijack the trial that way."
She also scoffed at the idea that police would ever try to frame Simpson, arguing that when authorities went to his house to tell him that his ex-wife had been found dead, they worried that he too was in trouble when they saw blood on his Bronco. "They were his groupies! They loved him. They worshiped him. The last thing they ever wanted to do was set up O.J. Simpson and the last thing they ever expected to do was find evidence of his guilt," she argued. "I think they fully believed that he was a victim and they were going to save him."
However, Douglas countered that race was at the core of the murder trial, and the fact that Simpson was friendly with a few police officers was inconsequential to the theory that other cops may have planted evidence. "Racism is institutional in Los Angeles," he said.
One thing that both Clark and Douglas agreed on was that defense attorney Johnnie Cochran was genuine in his quest to combat police brutality and fight for African Americans' civil rights. In the documentary, his influence in the community was explored, and Douglas was one of the people who discussed his legacy. "That was important for me for a lot of reasons. In many ways, I think Johnnie has gotten an unfair rap in the years after the verdict and since his death in 2005, there has really been no one who can speak for him," he said. "I made a solemn vow to his widow that I would do everything in my power to uplift his legacy and talking about the historical context of who Johnnie was in Los Angeles was a very important piece of the story that I needed to tell."
Douglas didn't mince words when discussing the prosecution's decision to add Christopher Darden to the team. "For the prosecution to do that speaks to the institutional nature of racism! Because even the prosecution understood it, acknowledged it and had to deal with it as well and they dealt with it by putting a black prosecutor on the case. So in essence, they [played] the race card as well," he said.
Clark seemed to know that that criticism would be coming, and vehemently denied bringing on Darden because of his race. All she was looking at, she said, his talent.
"I knew it was a double-edged sword. I knew that there would be those saying that jurors would view him as a traitor and that others might say we were pandering, but the bottom line was I couldn't be distracted by that. I just needed a really strong, good lawyer next to me and I'm not gonna judge based on race," she said. "We were going to get judged no matter what we did."
Neither was surprised, though, that Darden chose not to participate in the documentary.
"He had a very hard time because he did have an extra layer of criticism leveled at him. [He was called] 'Uncle Tom,' 'traitor.' He faced awfully hard times through that case," Clark explained. "It doesn't surprise me that he wouldn't want to face it again."
Throughout the documentary, Simpson, who lived in a predominantly white L.A. neighborhood, is seen as someone who believes he transcends race. Clark found it outrageous, then, that race became such a big issue in his murder trial. "It's ironic that someone who openly said, 'I'm not black, I'm O.J.,' wound up being the poster figure for racial inequality and social injustice," she said.
Douglas sees the irony too, but finds it irrelevant.
"Would we have preferred to have an iconic client who was actively involved in the African-American community? Yes. But the fact that O.J. did not embrace the issues of the black community did not mean that he could not be the subject of institutional racism, and the racism in the criminal justice system is institutional," he said. "It didn't matter to us as lawyers whether or not there was some irony with raising the issue of misconduct and race in this particular case when the evidence pointed that way. We, as advocates, were duty-bound to follow the evidence and exploit it."
Simpson, 68, is now serving a 33-year prison sentence for armed robbery. However, Clark does not see that as justice. "He didn’t go to prison for the murders, which [I believe] he did commit, so no, I don’t think it is justice," she said. "It is justice in terms of the robbery and kidnapping case in Las Vegas."
Douglas, who has not spoken to Simpson since Cochran's 2005 funeral, would not say whether he believes that the warts-and-all documentary makes the former NFL star look guilty. However, he did admit that his former client won't like what he sees -- especially the parts that outline the abusive relationship he had with his late ex-wife. "The documentary shows sides of him that he would not want to have shown and that he would vehemently deny and reject," he said. "I would bet my bottom dollar that he would not welcome the critical examination of his relationship with his ex-wife that the film shows raw. O.J. always cared about recapturing the hearts of America after the trial. And certainly his greatest regret that he was unable to do that."
Part one of the five-part series premieres Saturday, June 11, at 9 p.m. ET on ABC. The full episodic documentary will then air on several dates from June 14 to 18 on ESPN.
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