Death Penalty in OJ Trial? Unthinkable!

'Trial of the Century?'

O.J. Simpson
O.J. Simpson

Chief Prosecutor Marcia Clark

Marcia Clark, chief prosecutor in O.J. Simpson murder trial
Marcia Clark, chief prosecutor in O.J. Simpson murder trial

The prosecution in the O.J. Simpson trial is in a quandary.

So are proponents of capital punishment in general.

Government prosecutors are having genuine difficulty deciding whether they should seek the death penalty for Mr. Simpson. And debate on the subject is raging throughout America.

Under normal conditions, prosecutors seeking the death penalty are assured of widespread support from law enforcement officials and conservatives. As long as the suspect is a faceless lowlife with a long criminal record prosecutors know the clamor for capital punishment will be deafening, especially if the suspect is a minority person with no powerful friends, no financial resources.

Faceless Lowlifes

But, in truth, few Americans really favor capital punishment; what they do favor is the execution of those faceless lowlifes they'll never see, never know, never come face-to-face with.

But, put a face on the person to be executed, the face of a friend, a relative, a fellow worker -- even your friendly banker, the local baker, or possibly even the family lawyer -- and capital punishment becomes unthinkable.

This came home to O.J.'s prosecutors even before they got the case: When Americans by the thousands waved and cheered for O.J. while police pursued him in a "slow-speed chase."

Of course, any time a human being is murdered or raped, or is the victim of any capital crime, ordinary citizens are justly outraged -- especially when circumstances are particularly heinous.

Presumption of Innocence

Upon the arrest of a suspect, too few people react by presuming innocence; too few are content to await the results of a trial.

How often have you heard an allegedly sane and otherwise respectable person say: "Don't even bother with a trial; hang the guilty S.O.B."?

Most people feel that capital punishment is only a remote possibility in the O.J. case, prompting some to say that this is prima facie evidence that capital punishment cannot be fairly carried out, that the case should provide legislators with the ammunition they need to change the law so that capital punishment is banned entirely.

It is sad, indeed, that the controversy in capital cases always revolves around the suspect rather than the victim. But, alas, it shall always be thus. Unfortunately, there is little we can do for the victims, for they are gone; the movement, however, to force convicted killers to forfeit profits from the tell-all books and for other ill-gotten gains is a step in the right direction.

Opposing Arguments

For the record, this writer opposes capital punishment, primarily because it is inhumane and barbaric; but I also adhere to all the other, more academic, arguments, including:

* * * Capital punishment is not a deterrent, but rather creates the opposite effect by teaching that taking a life is justifiable if you have a good reason (violence begets violence.)

* * * Capital punishment rarely is imposed on people with power, influence and money, but often is unfairly imposed on the poor, the underprivileged and minorities.

* * * For those with pocketbook mentalities, it actually is cheaper to keep convicted murderers in jail for life (without parole) than to wind through our unwieldy criminal justice system to have executions approved and administered.

I wrote this column for The Hour newspaper in Norwalk, Conn., on July 16, 1994, slightly more than one month after the bodies of O.J. Simpson's ex-wife Nicole Brown and her friend, Ronald Goldman, were found outside Brown's Brentwood condo in Los Angeles. I now write my views on a wide variety of topics on HubPages. To view my HubPages Profile Click Here

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Verdict -- and Reaction -- in the O.J. Simpson Murder Trial

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Comments 21 comments

compu-smart profile image

compu-smart 9 years ago from London UK

Personally i think that convicted killers who have been sentenced to death should automatically be used for medical experiments. They have chosen to take peoples lives so should they not be used to try and save peoples lives instead of using poor helpless animals who are just bred for these purposes!!

With regard to O.J, I just hope justice prevails this time round if he is convicted, for the sake of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldmans family and justice within the American system..

Earth Angel profile image

Earth Angel 9 years ago

Good Morning William!! Another GREAT Hub!! Another GREAT article written well ahead of its time!! When I was young I DID believe in capital punishment!! But as I matured and realized how unjust our criminal system can be!! It is currently estimated that a full 33% of people in the US on death row DID NOT commit the crime!!?? I also agree that capital punishment is not a deterent and that violence begets more violence!! Great Hub!! Keep writing!! Keep golfing!! Blessings on your day!! Earth Angel!!

Ralph Deeds profile image

Ralph Deeds 9 years ago

Compu-smart's position is appealing, however, it assumes that convicted killers are actually guilty, when growing evidence, based on DNA-reversals of death row inmates and other criminals indicates that a significant percentage of convicted killers aren't killers at all but victims of being railroaded by police and prosecutors in a hurry to get another conviction.

Great article, William.

compu-smart profile image

compu-smart 9 years ago from London UK

With regards to Ralphs comment i think that Lie detectors should be implemented as part of the judicial system..I know they can easily be fooled but there are many types of these devices and are more and more sophisticated these days than the standard polygraph test..

William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 9 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y. Author

Thanks, compu-smart for the feedback. And thank you Earth Angel and Ralph for your kind words.

Compu-smart, I don't know whether you've read my hub on capital punishment, but, if you're interested, here's the URL:

Any person who kills another is an abomination. It's tempting, I understand, to want to seek vengeance against such depraved characters. But there are two questions we must ask ourselves: first, are we absolutely sure this is the killer (as Earth Angel and Ralph point out many "convicted" killers turn out to be not guilty)? Secondly, what is the effect of executing killers, or using them for medical experiments (as the Nazi's did during WW II)? I believe John Donne was right when he said, "Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind." If we say it's all right to kill or torture a man (any man, even a killer) that teaches that killing is OK -- as long as you have a good reason. Then anyone who wants to kill someone can justify such a killing by deciding that the person to be killed "deserves it." It's a very slippery slope. With regard to O.J., he was found not guilty in the criminal trial. If we believe in the rule of law, then we must consider him "not guilty" -- which is not the same as "innocent." The term "not guilty" applies to the law. It means that the evidence presented at trial was not sufficient to warrant a "guilty" verdict. We may not like O.J., but one thing is certain: It was not PROVED that he was guilty of murder. Do we want to throw out the entire justice system? Or just decide for ourselves (without the evidence) that he's guilty? I'll have further columns on O.J. as we go along.

compu-smart profile image

compu-smart 9 years ago from London UK

I seemed to have missed that article which was another thought provoking read, as usual..

It's a tough nut to crack regarding the judicial system as a whole and how we should treat convicted criminals.. even the ones where it's beyond doubt they are guilty, I.E, caught red handed etc..

Personally if someone killed a member of my family "if i had any" I would NOT want to pay for there keep inside prison, i would want them to not exist on this earth unless for a productive purpose.. If i was killed i would not want this person to exist just the same way!!

William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 9 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y. Author

I agree, compu-smart. If someone killed someone I love I'd feel great anger and want to kill that person on the spot. That's human emotion. But even the law differentiates between killing in a moment of anger, or temporary insanity, and a planned, premeditated murder. We must live in a civilized society, and it would be impossible to do so if society said you don't need a trial to kill someone you hate (even if that person is a killer.) It's not a great analogy, but I'm thinking it's like when you see a child behaving abominably you sometimes feel you'd like to haul off and smack him. But you can't. There's no way society can say go ahead wallop the kid!

MrMarmalade profile image

MrMarmalade 9 years ago from Sydney

The pros and cons give a lot to think about, But It is God's way to be the Avenger, not ours. Again with DNA and all the more of these Death row people are being found not guilty.

I understand you saying If it was my family.

My brother was killed when he was 19 years of age by drunken hit and run driver. When it is all boiled down killing that person would not have brought my brother back to life.

I have to belive all this chemical treatment is a hitler situation. Is that what WW2 was fought over.

Ralph Deeds profile image

Ralph Deeds 9 years ago

Compu-smart, if I'm not mistaken it costs more to execute someone, with all the trials and appeals, etc., than it does to incarcerate them for life.

William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 9 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y. Author

Thanks for the comment, Mr. Marmalade. God is in a better than we are to avenge wrongdoing. Sorry to hear about your brother. Hitler was one of many in history who tried to build their own prestige by knocking down others. His adoration of the Aryan profile at the expense of the Jews (nonAryan) was an example of what happens when people devalue the lives of others, who ultimately become fodder for medical experimentation-- and worse.

Bob 9 years ago

Bill.As usual you and I disagree. Capital punishment is a deterant because that person will never kill again , whether in prison or if some bleeding heart ACLU type gets him out of jail.

compu-smart profile image

compu-smart 9 years ago from London UK

Wow, unbelievable Ralph.

I normally used to have a saying that nothing surprises me" but now, most things do!!

Ralph Deeds profile image

Ralph Deeds 9 years ago

Bob, you apparently don't understand that the concept of capital punishment's alleged deterrant effect refers to deterring others from committing the crime for which the individual is executed, not to the individual who is executed. The criminal could be prevented or deterred from committing another murder just as effectively by imprisoning him for life as by executing him. The validity of capital punishment's deterrant effect is debatable. Although Canada does not have capital punishment the rate of crimes in Canada which are capital offenses in the United States is considerably lower.

Whitney05 profile image

Whitney05 9 years ago from Georgia

Wow... I told my dad about your hub. He's surprised that it's even a thought. But who knows.

William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 9 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y. Author

Thanks for the comment, Whitney05. The death penalty was an early consideration in the 1994 OJ trial. I get the impression that your dad may have been thinking we were discussing the current series of charges OJ faces.

Borsia 7 years ago

The problem with the concept of "life without" is that years after the fact some warm & fuzzy fool decides to commute the sentence to "life with" and the Cretan gets paroled. There have been a number of these events and those criminals have gone on to commit other crimes. Even if they don't commit another crime they are given a free life when the jury intended them to stay in prison for the rest of their natural life. Here too is a problem a life sentence is supposed to be just that; to the end of their natural life. But every year we see lifers being given extraordinary medical care including organ transplants. There is nothing natural about these types of procedures. If lifers were allowed to die when their bodies began to fail I might have more sympathy toward life terms. But in our justice system nothing is what it seems to be "life" can mean a term as short as 5 years and is seldom more than 20. I support the death penalty. However I don't trust our courts. Things like the rules of evidence that can block the introduction of critical evidence on either side from being heard by the jury. The endless game playing in choosing a jury, corruption in police, prosecution and even judges. The system needs an overhaul that it isn't very likely to get. As for O.J.Simpson's trial; it was a joke the case was completely blown by prosecutors and a judge who were far more concerned with how they looked on camera than with presenting a compelling case. There was also the jury who were emotional and uneducated and held members with agendas other than the truth. Should the death penalty have been put up as an option? Of course it should have been; it was 1st degree premeditated murder of the most violent kind and that is supposed to be a capital offense.

William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 7 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y. Author

I appreciate your comment, Borsia. In my opinion the judicial system cries out for a thorough overhaul that includes the whole question of probation, the rules of evidence, selection of juries, plea bargaining and much more. I agree such an overhaul is unlikely any time soon. However, it's important that all this is done without bias. Your comments regarding "some warm & fuzzy fools," "free life," and "allowed to die" indicate some level of bias. I've seen no evidence that OJ's jury was "emotional and uneducated" or that "members held agendas other than the truth." I thought the jury did an excellent job. I can't say that about the judge and the prosecution. As a human being I am unalterably opposed to capital punishment, which is neither a deterrent nor beneficial to society. In my opinion, execution has no place in our society and, incidentally, neither does torture (a current topic of interest, although not related to our justice system -- I hope.) However, I agree that the whole question of criminal justice deserves far more attention by both public officials and the general public.

lisadpreston profile image

lisadpreston 6 years ago from Columbus, Ohio

This was an excellent hub. I don't know how I missed it before when I went through your articles. You know how I feel about the death penalty. I agree with you on every point. Great discussion through the comments. None of the arguments FOR capital punishment were convincing enough for me. It bothers me that we live in a society that glamorizes violence and murder. I cannot even watch a movie without seeing someones head blown off or blood and guts pouring out. We allow our children to see this stuff on a regular basis. Then we wonder why we live in such a violent world and want to destroy the violent offender that we created. We honor war and yell out, "KILL THE ENEMY". We encourage our youth to join the military and become trained legal killers and are actually proud of this. The government tells us that it is ok to kill as long as they feel justified in doing so. I'm sure everyone sitting on death row felt justified in committing their murderous act at the time. The justice system that allows a human to be executed is far more guilty than the common thug on death row. People are not born to be killers. Killers are made. It takes a lot of programming to cause someone to be so warped that they would want to kill another human being. Society, hollywood, and the government has created every murderer sitting on death row and they continue to do so.

William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 6 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y. Author

We're obviously on the same page, lisadpreston. Society apparently has a long way to go before it achieves true civilization. Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

Ralph Deeds profile image

Ralph Deeds 6 years ago

In a detailed, candid and critical essay to be published this week in The New York Review of Books, he wrote that personnel changes on the court, coupled with “regrettable judicial activism,” had created a system of capital punishment that is shot through with racism, skewed toward conviction, infected with politics and tinged with hysteria.

The essay is remarkable in itself. But it is also a sign that at 90, Justice Stevens is intent on speaking his mind on issues that may have been off limits while he was on the court.

In the process, he is forging a new model of what to expect from Supreme Court justices after they leave the bench, one that includes high-profile interviews and provocative speeches.

William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 6 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y. Author

I'm glad Justice Stevens has seen the light, Ralph. Thanks for bringing the NY Times review to my attention. I am particularly pleased to see that the retired justice can now speak out about the inequity in allowing jurors who favor the death penalty and disallowing citizens who oppose the death penalty. It affirms my long held view that jurors should be selected by lot without voir dire. I appreciate the link.

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