'The People v. O.J. Simpson': How Accurate Was the Fourth Episode?

American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson - Still 6 -  Kenneth Choi  - H 2016
Courtesy of Michael Becker/FX Networks

The fourth episode of FX's The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story captured the anguish that the Goldman family was going through at the time, former case reporter Jim Newton told The Hollywood Reporter.

There was a powerful moment in the episode, which aired Tuesday, titled "100% Not Guilty," which featured a devastated and angry Fred Goldman, played by Joseph Siravo, who said his dead son was being ignored because the media was infatuated with O.J and Nicole Brown Simpson.   

Although Newton, now a UCLA professor in the communication studies department and editor of the university's Blueprint magazine, can't say if there was ever a back and forth like that with Goldman and Marcia Clark, played by Sarah Paulson, he did say the 25-year-old victim was not given the same amount of attention.  

"In a case that was a tragedy, [the Goldman family] really had a lot of sadness attached to them," said Newton. "The prosecution's theory of this case, that this was the explosive apex of the long-running troubled relationship, didn't include Goldman. Ron Goldman is sort of a bystander to that."

The scene was well done and true in tone, said Newton. 

"I think it accurately captured the theme of that case at that time, which was you have two victims here, not one, and one was being talked about a lot more than the other," he said. "Not because people didn't care about Ron Goldman, but because the nature of the charge and the nature of the defendant was about his relationship with his ex-wife, not about his relationship with someone he never met."

The other major aspect of the episode the series nailed, according to Newton, was the changing of the guard for the defense. 

While it is unclear what conversations were like behind the scene, and if there really was that much animosity between Robert Shapiro, played by John Travolta, and Johnnie Cochran, played by Courtney B. Vance, Cochran taking the lead on the team was a major moment, according to Newton. 

There was a well-covered "struggle for leadership of the team," he said. "And there was a discernable moment when power moved from Shapiro's office to Johnnie's." 

Another moment insinuated in the episode that didn't sit quite right with Newton was the appointment to the prosecution's team of Christopher Darden, played by Sterling K. Brown. The episode insinuated the idea to add Darden came about as mostly racial. 

"I don't think there is any question that it was useful to them to have a prominent black lawyer at the table," Newton said. "I think it is a little unfair to Darden in the sense that he brought a lot more than just his race. He was very experienced at working LAPD cases, he knew Cochran very well. He understood the racial dimension of this case." 

As for the book written by Faye Resnick about Nicole Simpson, it really did cause quite the stir, which Newton said he never understood. 

"The idea that jury selection had to come to a crashing halt because this sleazy little book hits that stand just struck me at the time, and reminded me last night, of the overreaction," he said. "It was an early sign that the case would not proceed on a smooth path."

Although he could not speak to the conversations the legal teams had about jury selection, Newton said the process, as played out in the episode, was a tremendous event. 

"It was huge. It was hundreds of people. I remember the questionnaire was giant," he said. 

Still, it seemed to Newton unlikely the prosecution was as focused on the makeup of the jury as the defense was then, he said. 

"At that stage of the case, one of the things that guided the prosecution in a lot of decisions was their sense that this was going to be a real slam dunk for them, so I don't know if they were as troubled by the composition of the jury or even some of the evidence," said Newton. "I think because they felt at that stage that they would win this in front of any jury." 

However, the former newspaperman did note that while it did not alter the facts of the case per se, there were some changes in court events that stuck out from the episode.

"There is a fair amount of compression and reordering of events around the [preliminary hearing]," he said. Judge Lance Ito, played by Kenneth Choi, was not the presiding judge when Simpson entered his plea, Newton said, as one example. 

Also, Detective Mark Fuhrman, played by Steven Pasquale, was never shown during the prelim in the episode, which would have taken place before jury selection, Newton said. 

"We never got to see Fuhrman testify, which is kind of a strange oversight because Fuhrman's appearance at the prelim is sort of what led him to be perceived as the central detective of the case, which was not true," he said. "It's also what set him up for the big fall."

As for the grandiose speech given by Cochran to an emotionally defeated Simpson in jail, it very well may have happened. 

"I know that Johnnie was capable of a big inspirational speech like that," said Newton. "He was an extremely persuasive man. All I can say is if [Simpson] got to that point, then Johnnie would have done a good job on it."