Simpson Verdict Provokes Critique

Students, Faculty Discuss Obsession With Trial, Jury Composition

Harvard joined the nation in watching not one, but two events on "Must-See" television Tuesday, as several networks chose to run a split screen of President Clinton's State of the Union Address and the announcement of the verdict in the O.J. Simpson civil trial.

Students said the national focus on the trial reflected the sad state of society today.

In fact, students and faculty had stronger opinions about the media frenzy than the jury's decision.

Gene S. Lee '97 said he was disappointed with America's obsession with the Simpson trials.

"I think it's very representative of the state of America today," he said. "If you look at the fabric of society, [you see] what people really care about."


Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law Alan M. Dershowitz, who was a member of Simpson's defense team in the criminal trial, said the divided verdicts among the two juries reflected today's society.

"In some way, this a statement on America," he said. "If this was a case like Lorena Bobbitt, the issue would be divided by men and women," he said. "Blacks and whites see issues differently when it comes to police misconduct."

Dershowitz noted that the jury pool for the civil trial was 40 percent black, but only one black juror was selected.

"And that black juror just happened to have a daughter who worked for the district attorney," he said.

The juror was removed from the jury, thus leaving no black jurors behind for the deliberation process.

Dershowitz said it was a "tragedy" that neither jury had "an adequate racial-ethnic mix."

"Now we have two verdicts--one rendered by a predominantly white jury and one rendered by a predominantly black jury--each coming to different results," he said. "Juries must reflect the diversity of our population."

Weld Professor of Law Charles R. Nesson '60, an expert on issues of trial evidence, credited the criminal verdict to poor prosecution, not to the jury.

"The way the jury system has come to be used is significantly to blame," he said. "[But] to me what's missing is a deep committment by the prosecution to truth rather than result."

Dershowitz said the two seemingly contradictory verdicts will not have an effect on each other.

"These are compatible verdicts," he said.

Nesson said that although the verdict was widely publicized on Tuesday, he was disappointed that the trial was not televised.

"With cameras in the courtroom, the proceeding would have had a far greater chance of persuading those who will continue to disagree with this verdict," he said.

"I think the result...will only prove that if you try him before an all-white jury, exclude evidence of police conspiracy and shut the public can get a verdict against him," he said