Former Prosecutor Spells Out Mistakes

Outrage

By Vincent Bugliosi

W W Norton & Co.

356 pp.,$25

O.J. Simpson is guilty and it was utter incompetence - and a big dose of duplicity - that got him off, says Vincent Bugliosi. And for the many Americans who agree with him, his 356-page tirade titled "Outrage" will be a welcome explanation of how what he terms "incompetence and duplicity" set a guilty man free. More important is the subtext of analysis, which details how media hype, lawyers' egos, and the troubled history of police treatment of blacks specifically impacted the trial. Bugliosi is the prosecutor who put murderer Charles Manson away.

The first target in his charge of incompetence is the media - specifically its depiction of the Simpson defense lawyers as the "Dream Team." How could this squad of lawyers be "the best money can buy" for a double-murder case when Robert Shapiro had never defended a murder charge before Simpson's, Bugliosi asks. And Johnnie Cochran was a civil lawyer with little if any murder experience.

Bugliosi's second charge of incompetence is aimed at Judge Lance Ito. In his typically disdainful and egotistical style, Bugliosi sees the decision to allow cameras in the courtroom as one of Ito's most egregious decisions. As many observers agree, the move made what would have been a performance for 12 jurors into a show for the entertainment of millions.

But Bugliosi hits hardest at the prosecution. Marcia Clark led "the most incompetent criminal prosecution I have ever seen," he writes. Bugliosi questions why the prosecution did not present some of their best evidence - including Simpson's police interview in which he said he had "no idea" how he severely cut his finger on the night of the murders. Bugliosi's explanation: The prosecution was so concerned that it would falter and be excoriated by the defense - especially in front of the cameras - that it held back.

But what rankles Bugliosi most is that defense lawyer Cochran's race-card strategy worked and that, he writes, it "went over the heads of the prosecutors without their even feeling the breeze."

Cochran made the leap that if capable of brutality, the LAPD was also capable of framing an innocent man - which is an "exceedingly rare occurrence," writes Bugliosi. The jury never made the distinction between brutality and a specific plan to frame an innocent suspect, and so was willing to acquit Simpson, according to Bugliosi.

Abraham McLaughlin is on the Monitor staff.

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