'O.J.: Made in America': 5 Things We Learned From Part 3

A rundown of all the stunning revelations from ESPN’s five-part documentary on the life and trials of O.J. Simpson.
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[Warning: This story contains spoilers for Part 3 of ESPN’s O.J.: Made in America.]

After four hours of riveting set-up, Part 3 of O.J.: Made in America finally delves into the main event: the 1994 murders of O.J. Simpson’s ex-wife Nicole Brown and Ronald Goldman. The events covered in Part 3 are so familiar — the crime scene; the Bronco chase; “absolutely, 100 percent not guilty” — that it’s hard to imagine any detail surprising us. And yet, Made in America manages to shed new light on this infamous chapter in our nation’s history.

Here are five revelations we took away from Part 3:

1. O.J.’s story kept changing. A lot.

After the bodies were found at Nicole’s home, LAPD officer and O.J. friend Ron Shipp remembers going to Simpson’s house to check in on him. O.J. had three TVs on, each running wall-to-wall coverage of the killings, Shipp recalls. When Shipp asked O.J. how he hurt his hand, O.J. said he cut it on a broken glass during his trip to Chicago. But later, Shipp noticed O.J. telling someone else he hurt it chipping golf balls — and telling a third person that he hurt it reaching for his cell phone in the car. Police asked Simpson to take a lie detector test, but O.J. refused, telling Shipp, “To be truthful, I have had dreams of killing her.”

2. A.C. would take a bullet for O.J…. literally.

Al “A.C.” Cowlings proved himself to be a fiercely loyal friend to Simpson throughout their lives; as Part 1 informed us, he even stuck by O.J. after O.J. stole his girlfriend — and married her! Simpson’s longtime friend Joe Bell wasn’t surprised that A.C. ended up driving that Ford Bronco with O.J. in the back; he remembers when they were kids and a few friends decided to pull a starter pistol on O.J. as a joke. When they did, A.C. stepped in front of his friend, thinking it was a real gun, and said, “If you’re gonna shoot O.J., you’re gonna have to shoot me first.”

3. The police negotiators recognized that O.J. loved no one more than himself.

During the Bronco chase, SWAT negotiator Peter Weireter worked to talk Simpson into surrendering peacefully and giving up the gun he held to his head. (Snipers were ready to shoot Simpson if he pointed that gun at police.) Weireter remembers looking around Simpson’s house and realizing it was filled with sports memorabilia and photos of himself — and no photos of his family. So he decided to appeal to O.J.’s ego: “The more we spoke about him, the more he liked it.” He finally asked Simpson to give up his gun and come out to show onlookers “how big and courageous you are.” And it worked.

4. Johnnie Cochran was questioning cops in court thirty years before O.J.

Following his arrest, Simpson assembled a “Dream Team” of defense attorneys, led by Hollywood fixer Robert Shapiro. But it was the addition of Johnnie Cochran that turned the tide for his defense. Made in America chronicles Cochran’s history as a brash, bold advocate for L.A.’s black community; in one fascinating courtroom sequence, a young Cochran peppers an LAPD officer with questions regarding the 1966 shooting death of Leonard Deadwyler. But he also knew how to play it up for the cameras — and the jury. When discussing how he approaches juries with Los Angeles Times reporter Jim Newton, Cochran told him, “Jimmy? Blacks like big.”

5. The length of the trial played in O.J.’s favor.

The prosecution felt confident they could convict Simpson based on the sheer volume of evidence; as prosecutor Marcia Clark says, “I’ve never seen more evidence in a single case in my life.” But the logistics of the trial worked against them. Moving the trial from Santa Monica to downtown L.A. meant more black jurors — and they were staunchly pro-O.J. Plus, jurors had to sign off on a six-month commitment, which ruled out busy professionals and favored residents of “a lower socioeconomic strata,” as defense lawyer Carl Douglas puts it. They ended up with eight black women on the jury, with 75 percent of the jury believing O.J. couldn’t have done it because of his USC glory days. As Douglas remembers, Simpson actually turned to his lawyers and said, “If this jury convicts me, maybe I did do it!” 

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