Students Won't Turn O.J. On (Promise)

News Feature

At first, it might seem like the ultimate sign of campus obsession with The Trial of the Century.

Two weeks ago, on a Saturday night, 75 people crowded the top floor of the H entry of Winthrop House to drink and dance at a "Free O.J. Simpson" party.

After climbing a stairwell highlighted by outlines of bodies, and stepping into a long hallway decorated like a Los Angeles freeway, guests passed through a bathroom turned into jail cell--complete with a bloody mattress, says Brandon C. Gregoire '95, one of the party's organizers.

"I've tried to stay informed by watching the news and Court TV," Gregoire says. "And I will be watching [during the trial]."

Once inside, partygoers treated themselves to drinks mixed with orange juice, in honor of the most famous defendant in a murder case in the history of the United States, Gregoire says.

"Some people were offended but in general people enjoyed it," he says.

Beginning today with the selection of a jury, television networks are preparing to broadcast large portions of the O.J. Simpson trial. For those students who have been sleeping inside a Cabot Library cubicle for the past three months, Simpson, a Hall of Fame football player, is accused of murdering his ex-wife Nicole and a young friend, Ronald L. Goldman.

But despite all the hype, and even a similar "Free O.J." party in the Quad, many students say they are not planning to tune in the trial. The Simpson case may play in L.A., but it is seen as too undignified to merit the attention of Harvard intellectuals.

Gregoire's party was well-attended, but that may have been for reasons other than a fascination with Simpson's guilt or innocence.

"You needed the pun with the alcohol," say Rob V. Ciccone '95, another of party's organizers. "It was just the O.J. motif with the free beer and drinks."

'The Chase'

Like millions of Americans, Alex S. Delaney '96 decided to stay home and watch television one Friday night last June.

Her evening with friends, however, was no Super Bowl or NBA Finals' party. Instead, she was following "The Chase"--O.J. Simpson's funereal procession across the highways of Los Angeles in a white Ford Bronco.

"It was a party watching the chase," Delaney says. "Everyone was centered around the television screen."

But Delaney says her interest in the case has waned since that summer right, partly because of the hype.

"I'll probably read about it for thrill value," she says. "It's hard to take the trial seriously."

It may be even harder to find the time to watch. Several students say Harvard life doesn't allow for daytime TV watching.

"I have no time at all," says Coventry Edwards-Pitt '98.

"I've forgotten about it since I came here," adds Ivan Velasco Jr. '98. "If I can get to a TV, maybe I'll pay attention."

'Waste of Time'

Like too much ice cream or, say, orange juice, students say they have lost their appetite for news dispatches on the Simpson case.

"I'm kind of sick of it," says Andrea Bellino '98. "It's on 24 [hours a day], seven days a week."

Denise B. Augustine '92, a tutor in Adams House, says she hopes coverage will subside once the actual trial begins.

"I hope they take the cameras out of the courtroom," Augustine says. "It's a waste of time."

Augustine says she opposes having the cameras because they detract from other television programs and because publicity is inappropriate in any court case.

Several students say they were troubled by the quality and focus of the media coverage. David C. Olsen '98 says recent TV and newspaper portrayals have distorted the image of Simpson. "He's being idolized for a crime," he says.

Damien Rios '95 says the Simpson coverage has taken time away from more significant issues.

"I'm trying to avoid following the case," Rios says. "It has detracted from other important stories."

Similar feelings of disgust with the media are common not only among students but also with the local public Victoria Russell '66, a physician from Milton who returned to the U.S. Saturday after spending six weeks in France, says she appreciated her distance from the events.

"I've just spent six weeks looking at the sky, eating delicious food, and speaking French," Russell said as she walked through Harvard Square yesterday. "I was free from that garbage."

A Divine Judge

Even while saying they won't follow the trial, many Harvard students acknowledge the case has raised important questions.

"The media gave a lot of people a better indication of how our legal system works," says Derek T. Ho '96.

Some students say they are concerned about the case's implications for race, the death penalty and civil liberties.

Sameer Chopra '97 says he questions the defense team's allegations that Simpson was the victim of a racist police investigation.

"As far as the racial set-up they were discussing, it's all crap," he says of defense allegations that Los Angeles police detective Mark Fuhrman planted evidence at Simpson's Brentwood estate. "In any case, with O.J.'s notoriety, racial accusations are bound to arise, but it's almost impossible that they're true."

Edwards-Pitt says she agrees with the prosecution's decision not to seek the death penalty against Simpson. "I don't think I agree with the death penalty," she says. "Have him sit in prison for the rest of his life."

Eric d. Miller '96, director of the Civil Liberties Union at Harvard (CLUH), says he hopes to have a panel discussion on issues raised by the trial. He says many of the motions filed by Simpson's defense team go right to the heart of constitutional questions about the civil liberties of defendants.

"In my view, the rights associated with the criminal justice process are the quintessential civil liberties," Miller says. "In my view, I think the exclusion of unconstitutionally obtained evidence is very important to achieve fundamental fairness in the system and to prevent violations from that right."

Other students are enthralled by the courtroom minutiae. Velasco says he found the legal arguments about the nature of DNA testing fascinating. Kevin B. Acklin '98 wonders about the contents of the mysterious envelope, which some media organization say contains an unusued knife purchased by Simspon.

"I don't know what's in it," he says. "It's probably lab results, but it's hard to tell."

One student, Chen M. Yu '96, says the case has taught him a lot about how a trial judge should behave.

"Lance Ito is God," he says