Fact-Checking Episode 5 of 'American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson'

Getting into the nitty-gritty of tonight's 'O.J. v. The People'

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Welcome back you discerning People v O.J. fans. This week’s episode packed in a ton of plot, some heated dialogue, and new info and trivia to boot. Some of it was big (a heart attack on the trial floor? Nazi paraphernalia??), and some not so big (what’s up with Arsenio Hall?). Still, the highlight of “Race Card” might have been its development of Chris Darden, beautifully acted by Sterling K. Brown. We could go on, but because the fifth brings so much to verify, let’s get right to the point. 


True or False:In 1982, the LAPD pulled Cochran over and handcuffed him on his way to get burgers with his kids.

Just a tiiiny bit false. While driving his daughters, Cochran was pulled over by two officers with their guns drawn. In Cochran’s own words: “it was dehumanizing.” Everything went down almost exactly as it did in American Crime Story, with the cops also apologizing profusely after realizing the man in question was the Assistant DA. The only difference? It all happened in 1979, not 1982, like the on-screen subtitle claimed. 

True or False:Fuhrman owned Nazi paraphernalia. 

This is an allegation we can’t verify for sure, but belief in it is pretty widely held. Details vary on how exactly Fuhrman manifested his Nazi fandom: some say he drew swastikas on a colleague’s locker, and some claim that he wore paraphernalia at home on his off-hours, while still others say he kept them at his desk. This was an issue that came up in the real-life trial, so it’ll be interesting to see how the show handles it in upcoming episodes.

Cochran v. Darden

True or False:Cochran told Darden not to put Fuhrman on the stand.

True. This wasn’t just a case of on-screen headbutting—Cochran actually told Darden “three or four times” not to put Fuhrman on the stand. In an interview on Larry King, Cochran explained his motivation: “I was really sincere about saying [that] about Fuhrman. I thought he was a bad man, and I meant that from my heart. I mean, you don't say that to your adversary in a case, don't take this guy. I thought that it would be better if Marcia took him, and ultimately she did do that. And I did that because I cared. I mean, I really did.”

True or False:Darden objected to Cochran’s plans to highlight Fuhrman’s use of a racial slur, an objection which Cochran replied was offensive in itself. 

Also true. Almost two weeks before the opening statements, Darden told the court: “If a white male takes the witness stand and that word is uttered in this courtroom, it will offend every black juror on this case.” In response, Cochran asked “to apologize to African Americans across this country,” and argued that it was “demeaning to our jurors to say that African Americans who have lived under oppression for 200 plus years… cannot hear these offensive words.” Almost word-for-word as we heard it on the show. 

The Trial

True or False:The defense made a motion to exclude O.J.’s history of domestic violence. 

True. Uelmen objected to the prosecution’s witness list (which included Nicole Brown Simpson’s mother and sister), claiming that any discussion of domestic violence would turn the trial “into a general inquiry into the character of O.J. Simpson in which he will be called upon to explain every aspect of his life for 17 years.”

True or False:Shapiro’s team didn’t submit twelve witnesses into discovery.

There were discovery issues throughout the trial, but for the prosecution, this opening-statement-blunder ranks among the worst. Toobin corroborates the number of witnesses in his book, with Carl Douglas taking the heat for the “discovery failure.” That said, we couldn’t find any evidence linking this mix-up directly to Shapiro or his team members. So let’s go with mostly true.

True or False:Hodgman freaked out after Cochran dropped his surprise witness list and then had a heart attack in the courtroom.

This scene definitely made for good TV. Was it true? Definitely not. Hodgman was having health issues by that point, and would later be taken off the case. He also got pretty worked up in court that day, asking if this was “opening statement by ambush.” Judge Ito even told him to “take a few deep breaths.” According to Toobin, Shapiro joked afterwards that the next day they would have to “take [Hodgman] out on a stretcher.” It looks like the writers decided to take Shapiro’s quip literally. 

The Houses

True or False:Cochran redecorated O.J.’s mansion with art on loan from “the Cochran collection.” 

There were reports at the time that this happened—and that at least one of the paintings was taken from Cochran’s own office—but it is a fact Cochran himself has flat out denied: “We never did that. Never. An absolute lie,” he told The Seattle Times in 1996. And while attorney Carl Douglas did say the team redecorated to make things look more “lived-in,” photos of O.J.’s playboy-cover-girlfriend still hung on the walls. Overall, this was false, but still inspired by a truth. 

True or False:Nicole’s house was entirely cleared out and made her seem less sympathetic.

True. That same New York Times report cites the prosecution’s complaints that the Brentwood house, “with its homey and lived-in air and ‘sympathy-inducing photographs,’ contrasted sharply and unfairly with Mrs. Simpson's apartment, which has been emptied of all furniture and purged of all remnants of the crime.”

Everything Else

True or False:Arsenio Hall sent Judge Ito a fan letter.

We tried so hard to find a copy of this letter and couldn’t. Still, it does exist, perhaps lovingly framed on Ito’s wall, or in a safe-deposit box somewhere. One correction? According to his book, Ito actually showed the letter to Toobin, not Dunne, so that part (at least) is false.

True or False:Protesters outside of the courtroom chanted “no justice, no peace” in defense of O.J. 

This in and of itself is pretty hard to verify, but it’s still interesting to look a little bit into the history of this particular protest phrase, since it’s one (right now) so closely associated with the Black Lives Matter movement. “No Justice/ No Peace” has been a part of protest dialogue for some time, becoming especially popular in the late '80s after the death of Howard Beach, and again in the early '90s during the L.A. Riots—so it’s entirely possible for O.J.’s supporters to chanted this outside of the courthouse.

True or False:O.J. was nicknamed “The Mayor of Brentwood.”

We couldn’t find records of this, and one other site has already listed it as “factually inaccurate.” So, probably not. There is this Mayor of Brentwood, though, who looks “Brentwood Hello” levels of hyped in his avi. The mayoral-robe also lines up nicely with flashy, prank-era O.J.

True or False:O.J. yelled at Darden to get off his bench.

True! In a quote to Newsweek in 1996, Darden said: “I sat down on a bench just outside his front door, and Simpson pointed at me. ‘Get off my bench!" he began yelling. "I don't want you on my bench or in my house!’”

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