Category Archives: Oscar Pistorius

Sorry, FX, Disbelief Is Not Suspended

As I watched the first episode of FX’s “The People vs. O.J. Simpson” tonight, which I had DVOed last night, I tried to think how to process what I had seen. I had the most trouble with Cuba Gooding Jr. as Simpson. He just wasn’t. Not in size, not in looks and definitely not in voice.

Before I logged onto this blog to write about it, however, I decided to read a review in “Connecting” newsletter by recently retired AP Special Correspondent Linda Deutsch, possibly the only person save the courtroom bailiff, the trial judge and his clerk, the parties to the case, and photographer Haywood Galbreath, who spent more time in the courtroom than I did.

I’m glad I read Linda’s review before I wrote anything. So far as I’m concerned, she nailed it.

Because of that, instead of writing anything else, at least about the first episode, I’m going to provide the link to her review.—February-03–2016.html?soid=1116239949582&aid=tU78hcPb9YY

Thanks, Linda!

The Twenty-Year Taint–Still Misdirected

When I see commentaries like this Mankato (MN) Free Press opinion piece,  Our View: Cameras in courtroom should proceed, citing a 20-year-old  anomaly as the reason to bar cameras from courtrooms, I shake my head. 

It’s not that I disagree with it. I do. Instead, it’s why a trial from two decades ago remains the standard bearer, or maybe that should be gold standard of, or actually the great barrier, to permitting public access to the nation’s courtrooms?

Here’s the Manakato Free Press editorial opening paragraph:

“The O.J. Simpson trial may have made for gripping TV, but it isn’t what the public would see if cameras were allowed in more Minnesota courtrooms.”

Neither the Simpson trial nor “gripping TV” is what the public sees in Los Angeles, California, or the other 35 or so states that allow courtroom-camera coverage. Although California tightened its courtroom-camera coverage rules a year or two after the Simpson trial, to primarily give trial judges more discretion over whether to allow cameras in cases they presided over, that state has continued to allow camera coverage. Among the hundreds of trials in California since Simpson at which cameras were permitted was Phil Spector’s murder trial, both the 2007 trial and the 2009 retrial.

Dozens of high-profile trials in other states in the past twenty years have also been televised, most with much hoo-ha. Then there was the Oscar Pistorius trial in South Africa just this year, which was the first trial ever televised in that country. Although some were media clamors at trials such as the 2011 Casey Anthony trial, that was by no means the fault of cameras in the courtrooms. Rather it was the same kind of media hype that turned a number of trials into media spectacles, such as the 2004 trial of Scott Peterson for murdering his wife, Laci, and Martha Stewart’s obstruction-of-justice trial, also in 2004, neither of which had camera coverage.

There are far more compelling reasons than not to permit camera coverage of trials in this country. The Mankato Free Press cited one in the subhead of its piece:

“Why it matters: The more access the public has to how the criminal justice system works, the more they will know about it.”

Another, and I think a more important, reason is because it should be the public’s right to be able to observe the country’s and every state’s justice systems at work.

Pistorius, Simpson Parallels — and Not

The premise of how eerily similar Olympian Oscar Pistorius’s case in the shooting death of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp is to that of  the 1994-95 O.J. Simpson case in the slashing murders of his ex-wife Nicole Brown and her acquaintance Ronald Goldman — including this one,  OSCAR PISTORIUS TRIAL PARALLELS OJ SIMPSON’S TRIAL TWO DECADES EARLIER posted today on — has circled the globe many times over since Pistorius shot Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day last year.

And, indeed, there are some similarities, such as:

  • Both of the accused were famous sports heroes,
  • Both of the victims (or at least one of the victims in Simpson’s case) were beautiful blonde women, whom the accused either supposedly loved or at one time loved,
  • Trials in both cases captivated large numbers of the public
  • Trials in both cases were televised.

That’s about where the parallels end, though.

It seems to me that much more was different than similar in those cases, including:

  • Pistorius admitted that he fired the gun that killed Steenkamp, Simpson not only denied wielding the knife that slashed Brown and Goldman, he claimed to have been in Chicago, a couple thousand miles away from Los Angeles where Brown and Goldman were murdered.
  • A single judge weighted the evidence and delivered the verdict in Pistorius’s trial as opposed to 12 jurors in Simpson’s trial,
  • Nothing I read or heard about the Pistorius case raised the notion that anyone tried to play the “race card,” unless someone wants to try to make something of the judge, Thokozile Masipa, being black and Pitorius white. So far as I know, no one did.
  • While Pitorius wasn’t convicted of premeditated murder, neither was he acquitted and walk out of the courtroom a free man as Simpson did. Instead, Judge Masipa, found Pistorius guilty of culpable homicide. Although he has yet to be sentenced, culpable homicide generally carries a sentence of five years in prison.

It seems to me that all these two cases really had in common was that the defendants were celebrated athletes accused of killing beautiful blonde-haired women they either loved or formerly loved. But, what kind of headline would that make?

Who’s Glued To Their TVS?

South African writer Susan Erasmus might be right in her recent piece,” Why we are so glued to the Oscar trial,” posted  on the South African news website “Health 24” that people are fixated on high-profile trials–particularly those with celebrities and sports heroes as defendants–the way they were public executions in times past.

But Erasmus is way off base when she asserts that the Oscar Pistorius trial in her home country has “grabbed worldwide attention in the same way people were glued to the screen for the O.J. Simpson trial.”

She’s correct about the Simpson trial grabbing worldwide attention. An example is a lawyer in Los Angeles who visited Simpson trial judge Lance Ito after returning from a trip that included Tibet. Even there, she said, all anybody had to say was “the trial” and it was instantly understood the reference was to the Simpson trial.

First, I have a pretty extensive circle of contacts and more than a thousand Facebook friends. None, however, mention the Pistorius trial or post anything about it that shows up on my Timeline.

That is not to say that people in this country and those I know in other countries don’t know about Pistorius, the fatal shooting of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, and I’m sure his trial is being followed by niche audiences, such as sports media, the Olympics community, disabled groups, the legal community and most certainly by South Africans. But it’s not a topic of daily–or even infrequent–conversation in general outside of that country.

I don’t know if any government official has asked the Pistorius judge to suspend the trial on election day as the California secretary of state did Ito, for fear the trial would contribute of a lower-than-normal voter turn out.

And we’ll see if television networks suspend or break into regular programming on Pistorius verdict day anywhere other than South Africa as it they did in the U.S.  when the Simpson verdicts came in.

I think “interest in” is a much better assessment of the non-South African public so far as the Pistorius trial is concerned, instead of “glued to.”

Two Trials in Black and White

Among the parallels observed between the current trial of South African Olympian Oscar Pistorius and the 1995 criminal trial of former football star O.J. Simpson is race. Just how racial issues and racism manifests and manifested themselves in those trials are somewhat different as might be inferred by a recent Los Angeles Times piece, headlined “Subtext of the Oscar Pistorius trial: South Africans’ fear of crime” by Robyn Dixon.

As in white South Africa, as in white United States, “Because we see whites as victims and blacks as perpetrators, our collective sympathies are always with whites. There hasn’t been a commensurate articulation of concern about white male violence as a threat to the fabric of our society,” Dixon quotes Sisonke Msimang, executive director of the nonprofit Open Society Initiative for Southern African, from Msimang’s article “Crossing the street to avoid white men: A conversation about violence” posted on the news website Daily Maverick. “In our national psyche” Msimang wrote, “whites (and of late middle-class people of all races) are almost always the victims of black male violence. Blacks, on the other hand, are rarely worthy of mention as victims at all. If they are, it is at the hands of other blacks.”

Among the differences? The defendant in the Simpson trial was black, albeit an admired and, by some, beloved celebrity. Pistorius, or course, is white.  My guess is that the cheerleaders and fans, along racial lines, have markedly different views regarding guilt or innocence.  Simpson’s acquittal also elicited differing reactions, primarily along a racial divide.

It will be interesting to see if the Pistorius verdict receives a similar response.

Despite Coverage, Pistorius is No OJS

Expert: Screaming gives Pistorius ‘major problem’ is the most recent headline I’ve seen about the murder trial of South African double amputee Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius. I see headlines like that only because I set an Oscar Pistorius Google News Alert and because they occasionally appear on my AOL daily news feed.

For months before the Pistorius trial began, pundits predicted that it would equal or eclipse the 1995 O.J. Simpson criminal trial in terms of public interest and media coverage, which includes cameras in the courtroom.

While it has gotten extensive coverage, now that the case in deep in the prosecution’s evidence presentation phase, it is clearly nowhere close to the international phenomenon of the Simpson trial, or even the 2005 Michael Jackson child-molestation trial, both in California.

The fact that these are not nightly news or daily newspaper headlines in this country give evidence that the Pistorius trial has yet to rise to the level of an international notorious trial, a la Simpson and Jackson.

This anecdote is telling:

In the early stages of the Simpson trial, a lawyer friend of the trial judge, Lance Ito, told him about a trip she had just returned from that included a stay in Tibet where all anybody had to say was “the trial” and everybody knew without question the reference was to the O.J. Simpson trial. I venture to guess that nothing close to that is occurring with Pistorius in Tibet or most countries other than South Africa.

Also, during the Jackson trial, hordes of Jackson fans in countries around the globe not only followed it, but rallied in support of him in large gatherings and other venues. I don’t see that happening–either in support of or against–Oscar Pistorius.

It is, though, an interesting trial to follow.

Is Cameras in Pistorius Trial a Mistake

That’s what the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation is asking, according to a phone call I got today. Naheem, with the CBC, said the network is exploring that question in the wake of the judge presiding over the Oscar Pistorius murder case deciding to allow camera coverage of the trial, which, Naheem said, will be a first in South African judicial history.

After about a half-hour conversation, Naheem thanked me for providing such great background information and said she would let me know if the network would want to include me in a program on the subject, scheduled to air on Monday.

In a follow-up phone call, Naheem said the producers had decided to go with a Canadian voice.

By the time she called back, I had projected myself all the way to serving as a consultant on the trial, complete with envisioning traveling to South Africa. Oh well, it would have been nice.

In truth, it was really nice to have gotten Naheem’s call in the first place.

As for the answer to the question, is allowing camera coverage of the Pistorius trial a mistake. The answer is, that all depends.

Multiple factors go in to that phenomenon.

One, is the rules and guidelines the judge and court establish.

Another is the media acknowledging, understanding and complying with those rules and guidelines.

Ensuring that members of the media will face meaningful consequences if they violate rules or don’t observe guidelines.

Yet, another how firmly the judge/court enforces said rules and guidelines.

Another is anticipating potential problems and situations before they occur.

An important one is including media input at the beginning of the trial and media accommodation. planning process, respecting their needs and the jobs they have to do and including those needs into the logistics and process as much as possible.

It depends on much more than that, that’s a start.

Great detail is in my book Anatomy of A Trial, which is available from the publisher, University of Missouri Press, and

Soundbites: A Bogus Argument Against Cameras

I seldom “comment” on media offerings I see on the Internet, but made an exception with “The Brian Lehrer Show’s “Why Are There Cameras in the Courtroom Anyhow?” The lead in goes:

Nancy S. Marder, Professor of Law and Director of the Jury Center at IIT Chicago Kent College of Law, discusses the live broadcast of the Zimmerman trial, the lack of cameras in the Supreme Court, and whether televised proceedings are good for the justice system.

After listening to Lehrer’s interview of courtroom camera-opponent Marder — it was short — I posted this comment:

Why are there cameras in courtrooms anyway? For the same reason there are cameras in other branches of government proceedings. They are public — or are supposed to be public. Why should a member of the public be able to sit in the courtroom and watch, but not be able to sit in their living rooms or at their computers and watch? My quibble is with the way some camera operators and/or editors try to hype or heighten drama with creative zooming and/or editing. All courtrooms should be equipped with wall-mounted cameras — some are so small they are hardly noticed — that the news media can access for their reporting purposes. That is what I recommend in “Anatomy of a Trial” and my talks to judicial, legal and media groups. As for Scalia, his arguments are specious. Who is he to say what people would find boring. A diversity of people watch trials. Just think what a teaching tool footage of the SCOTUS would be for law and journalism students, for tax lawyers, etc. And the print media do and have always done what Scalia criticizes the visual media of doing — lift short excerpts and quotes for their reports. When has Scalia ever seen the entire transcript of a proceeding printed in a news story? News stories — some just a few inches long — are always recaps of what happens in court.

Chapter 7 “Getting the Picture” of Anatomy of a Trial includes my static-camera-in-every-courtroom recommendation and the benefits of courtroom camera coverage.

Marcia, Marcia, Marcia

So weird watching Marcia Clark, who famously — and unsuccessfully — prosecuted O.J. Simpson in his 1995 trial on charges he murdered his ex-wife, Nicole Brown, and her friend, Ron Goldman, critique the prosecution’s performance, including its closing arguments, in George Zimmerman’s trial on charges that he murdered or manslaughtered 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.

Why don’t TV networks having winning prosecutors commenting on the good or poor presentation of the prosecutors in this trial instead of such a high-profile losing one?

Does Marcia Clark, whose identifying credits always include the title of her latest work of fiction, really have that much audience draw?  

Whither Oscar Pistorius

While this high-profile athlete charged with murdering girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp hasn’t completely disappeared from the news, he by far hasn’t become the all-day, every-day headline his so-many-similarities predecessor O.J. Simpson was nearly 19 years ago.

Sure, stories posted as recently as a couple of days ago still show up in Internet searches.,,

But they are post-mortems (pardon the insensitivity) and report no news or previously undisclosed facts.  And, even though the U.S. isn’t necessarily the hub of the universe many Americans think it is, Pistorius has been out of the headlines around this neck of the world for weeks — or at least it seems that way.  I was a bit shocked to realize today that the fatal shooting of Reeva Steenkamp was just a month ago.

Maybe because I was in the middle of the Simpson maelstrom it seemed like news about the case, the defendant, the victims, the victims’ families, the defendant’s relatives and relationships, Nicole Brown’s Bundy Drive condo, Simpson’s Rockingham Avenue house (it wasn’t a mansion — I was there with the jury as part of the trial, and that’s my assessment), their hairdressers, their housekeepers, their neighbor’s housekeepers, relatives of relatives of landscapers who once mowed their lawns. You name it. Maybe those kinds of stories are showing up in the South Africa media, but they sure aren’t making it into the mainstream media here.

About three months after Nicole Brown’s and Ronald Goldman’s butchered bodies were found outside the front door of Nicole Brown’s condo, a Los Angeles Superior Court research attorney reported to the trial judge, Lance Ito, that 27,000 Simpson-case-related newspaper stories had been published. That didn’t include any broadcast — television or radio — or cable news reports. And almost nothing was being produced for the Internet, which was pretty much prenatal back then.

So what’s the difference between then and now? Is the media less voracious these days than it was back in the Simpson-trial days?


Were the Simpson lawyers/prosecutors working to keep the story in the news so one side or the other could claim media exposure was adversely affecting their case?

Are Pistorius’s lawyers more effective at keeping their client and his case out of the news so they won’t be adversely affected by excessive media coverage?

Or, contrary to blazing comparisons of Pistorius and Simpson, are they simply not similar either as high-profile people or as defendants in murder cases?