The O.J. Simpson trial has been commercialized and publicized to the point of "absurdity," Professor of Law Charles J. Ogletree, Jr. said in a speech to the Harvard Extension School Pre-Law Society last night.
Addressing an audience of about 20 in Boyleston Hall, Ogletree, who is serving as a consultant on the case for NBC News, said the press and the brouhaha surrounding the case have corrupted the sanctity of the courtroom.
"Cameras have undermined the jury's ability to decide the case based on facts and not on passion," Ogletree said. The Simpson case "Will go down as a failure. And a colossal failure," he added.
Ogletree predicted that the case will likely end in a "hung jury or an acquittal," but he rejected the assertion by some commentators that it will be a result of racial polarization.
"I think that is a very simplistic analysis, and does not give justice to the complexity of the case," Ogletree said.
Instead, the professor said that he expects Simpson to be acquitted because of a lack of legal evidence.
Ogletree said if he were a juror, "I could conclude--painfully so--that the government has not proved him to be guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Despite all the grandeur...there is no eyewitness" to the crime.
In addition, Ogletree cited what he said were significant holes in the prosecution's case: the absence of a murder weapon and inconclusive clothing and blood samples.
Ogletree said that he hoped the case will not end in mistrial, because of the detrimental effect it would have on the reputation of the American legal system.
"This case could have been a good example of how the justice system is supposed to work," Ogletree told the audience. "It has turned out to be an embarrassment."
As to the label of "trial of the century," Ogletree expressed skepticism, preferring instead to save that title for the famed Lindbergh kidnapping case. He recognized, however, the parallel between the two affairs.
The Lindbergh case "is a lesson to us on how cameras can influence justice," Ogletree said. "The prosecution played on public sentiments...and the jury knew how important it was to society."
Instead, he offered an alternative title for the Simpson case: "It is the 'technological trial of the century.'"
Beyond its role as a media feeding ground, the Simpson case will prove to have less of a legacy than current fervor might indicate, Ogletree said.
"In terms of race it is less important than the Rodney King or Reginald Denny cases," he said.
Similarly, he said, the issue of domestic violence has been overshad- owed: "While I think that that issue was at theforefront at the start of the trial, it too hasbecome a sideshow."
Ultimately, the professor said he waspessimistic about the role of the media in thelegal system after the Simpson case is over.
"We've gone too far," he told the audience. "Idon't know if the cat can ever get back in thebag.