Marcia Clark on O.J. Simpson Trial: "I Know We Made Mistakes — We Were Not Perfect"
Twenty years later, the prosecutor tells THR: "I don't think the pain of that trial is ever going to leave me."
A version of this story first appeared in the April 1 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
During his 1995 trial, O.J. Simpson was not the only person being judged. Prosecutor Marcia Clark came in for personal criticism of her hair, clothes and even her personality. When Simpson was acquitted, The Hollywood Reporter said one reason the prosecution lost was that Clark came off as "shrill and short-tempered."
To say the then-41 year-old mother of two was under mounting stress would be an understatement. She was in a custody battle with her second husband over their two young sons; her first husband's mother sold topless vacation beach photos of her to the National Enquirer; and for 15 months, the Southwestern School of Law graduate was struggling in court with O.J.'s "Dream Team" of high-priced lawyers in the racially charged murder trial.
Today, she describes to THR the experience as "an endless study in torture and pain every single day." And if that wasn't enough, even her hair made headlines. "The last thing I wanted was to worry about my hair," Clark tells THR. "Thus the perm — wash-and-wear hair." That at least got "fixed" when she changed her look midway through the trial and blew her hair out. (The hairdo saga was the focus of the March 8 episode of FX's The People vs. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story).
To Clark, the hair was just another distraction. "Before I was a prosecutor, I was a defense attorney," she says. "I took a cut in pay because I wanted to stand up for the victims. I believe Simpson brutally murdered his ex-wife, Nicole, and Ron Goldman. There was no justice for these innocent people."
It’s estimated that 150 million people tuned in to see Simpson declared not guilty on Oct. 3, 1995. The absorption in the case was such that Domino's Pizza reported a spike in orders 15 minutes before the verdict and not one single order throughout the entire United States while it was read.
Clark retired from being a prosecutor after the trial; she now lives in Calabasas ("It's peaceful, even though the Kardashians moved up here," she says) and works as a novelist, with her next book, Blood Defense, coming out in May. She's also a special correspondent for Entertainment Tonight. Though it's been more than two decades since prosecuting Simpson, Clark says "one way or another I think of the case every day."
Read THR's interview with Clark below.
How do you rate FX’s American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson?
Overall, they got the big stuff really right. The stuff that needed to be right for people to get a sense of the essence that was going on during the trial. They got that amazingly right.
How do you look back on the trial?
As an endless study in torture in pain every single day. It was living a nightmare to feel like a piñata. Getting whacked on one side and then another. There was nowhere to turn. I had been a defense attorney in private practice. I went to the DA’s office because I wanted to fight for justice. I really had a sense of mission. And I watched that mission get shredded every single day one way or another.
You hair got a lot of attention.
Everything got a lot of attention. One day I wore a white dress and I was asked by a reporter, what did that mean? I said it was clean.
You think of the trial every day?
Certainly now with the FX show on the air. But one way or another, yeah. The pain of that trial is never going to leave me, never. There’s something that reminds me every day that there was no justice. Two innocent people where slaughtered and there was no justice.
It’s that fresh?
There was a point in my life when I thought I would heal enough so it wouldn’t always bang into me. But that never happened. And 20 some years after the fact, I realize it’s never going to.
What would you call the strongest evidence of O.J.’s guilt?
The blood trail from the murder scene on Bundy to his home on Rockingham was there even before Simpson was taken into custody. There was the bloody footprint in the Bronco; blood on his socks in his bedroom that’s a mixture of all three of them. Can you imagine the massive nature of the conspiracy that would be required to have all this happen? And there were photographs of these items before we had Simpson. Who else in that house would have done it? Kato [Kaelin]?
And what went wrong with the trial?
I know we made mistakes. We were not perfect. I made mistakes in every trail. But there were larger issues than the mistakes we made. The media turned it into a circus and everyone was going along for the ride. I had a judge who didn’t know how to control a courtroom and didn’t care to who was pandering to the media and the celebrity side of the lawsuit. Then we had racism injected where it had no business being. There was sexism in the courtroom, it was one thing after another – an amalgamated nightmare.
Did the money spent by the defense buy a not guilty verdict?
The amount of money the defense spent was not daunting. They had experts come in and their checkbooks bought a lot of testimony. But at the end of the day. The evidence stood to those who were unbiased. The evidence held water. What the defense had money couldn’t buy – a famous black defendant.
What made for the defense’s success?
I don’t think we ever stood a chance of winning. Because regardless of whether race was actually allowed into evidence, or whether her we had a stronger judge, the defendant was still a famous African American who inspired a loyalty that could not be shaken in the black community and the jury. I don’t believe there was a way to overcome that.
What do you think of O.J.’s conviction in Nevada for kidnapping and robbery?
That crime was captured on video tape. I don’t know how it gets more clear. But he never got punished for the murders. People ask if I feel vindicated because he’s in jail now, why would I feel vindicated?