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I bet a lot of people can remember exactly where they were when they heard the verdict in the trial of O.J. Simpson in 1995. I happened to be on the road in Raleigh, North Carolina. The radio was on, and suddenly, the broadcast was interrupted with the news that the verdict was about to come out. I'm not sure why, but I pulled into an empty parking lot to listen to the news. Like many people, I was stunned that Simpson was found not guilty in the double murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman.
It never occurred to me that I'd be interviewing any of the players about the trial—and, certainly, not more than 20 years later. But here I am speaking with Marcia Clark, the lead prosecutor. Some excerpts from our phone chat:
I obviously don't know you, but I feel like I do. The trial—and your role in it—seem strangely recent.
I think that's because there was something so elemental about the trial that it''s become part of all of our shared history. It was an experience that was pretty searing.
And now we're reliving it through a new TV series [FX's "The People v. O.J. Simpson]. The show is getting rave reviews, but I had qualms about watching it. It feels unseemly and yucky to make the killing of two real people into entertainment.
I know. When I heard about the series, I was cringing. I thought, please don’t do this. What's there left to say? But I saw that Ryan Murphy was producing it, and it was good sign. I had been a fan of his work. When I found out that Sarah Paulson was going to play me, I felt honored.
So did Sarah Paulson capture the real Marcia?
It's awkward to talk about how some one portrays you. I think she's a great actress . . . My friends say she's captured my mannerisms.
Have you seen all 10 episodes? I assume you got advance copies.
Nope. I see exactly what you see. So far, they've handled the issues in a big, powerful way. Overall, I was impressed at the sobering view they've presented.
The series offers a sympathetic view of your public/private roles: hard-driving prosecutor and single mother of two boys [ages 2 and 5]. It also looks at the sexism you faced—the scrutiny about your hair, clothes and your likability. How does it feel to be reincarnated as a feminist icon?
I’m proud to say that I’m a feminist, and I came from a time when that meant being a man-hater. . . The first person [to explore the feminist angle] was actually Jimmy Breslin who wrote a piece in 1995 called "Women We Love" in Esquire in which he talked about the sexism I faced. He was a lone voice at the time.
You've reissued your 1997 book Without a Doubt as an e-book with a new foreword. Why now?
I've been trying to get it in e-book form for two years. Kids would write to me and say they're studying the trial in school. I wanted the book to be readable for people today . . . This is not tied in with the anniversary of the trial—anniversaries are for weddings, something to celebrate, and this is not it.
What do you want to say now that you didn't say in 1997 in the original version of the book?
The issue of race. I feel a deeper understanding—why the jury would believe the conspiracy theories [about the Los Angeles Police Department's racism]. At the time, I thought it was payback for the Rodney King verdict. [The LAPD. was exonerated in the videotaped beating of King, which spurred days of race riots in Los Angeles.] Now I think there were some jurors who came into the process wanting to be fair, but after nine months of the media circus, the use of the race card and [police officer] Mark Fuhrman's racist statements, it became impossible.
So you feel more empathetic toward the jury?
Yes, I think the jurors were mixed in their motives—not monolithic.
The prosecution has been criticized for the way it handled the trial. Do you take responsibility for the loss?
Really, was there not enough evidence to convict? People were stunned by the verdict. Why would people be stunned if we didn't make a convincing case? You can never predict a jury. We fought against enormous odds—the constant race card, the media card. I’m happy to take responsibility for what takes place in a courtroom but I can’t say that about a verdict.
You've talked a lot about the media hype that made a fair trial impossible. I get the impression that of all the people involved, you were most angry with Judge Lance Ito.
That's right. I expected the defense to do their job and use whatever they can to get their client off, but I didn't expect the bench not to do his. Judge Ito had a thing for media and he loved celebrities. He sat down for a six part interview during the trial. There was nothing like it.
What about Johnnie Cochran [he died in 2005] and the way he made the Simpson trial about race?
He had been trying the same lawsuit throughout his career. Everything was about race. But he wasn't faking it. For him, it was a larger issue. The irony, though, is that it didn't fit Simpson.
Let's talk about your life now. Last we left you, you quit your D.A. job; you were writing crime novels; and you were single. Are you married now?
No! Aren't three marriages enough?
What? You got married a third time?
Oh, let's not talk about that. I was married briefly [after the trial].
Let's talk about your kids then. They must be adults now. What are they doing?
One is an economist and the other one is involved in a start-up.
Good for them. As you know, there were remarks during the trial that you were too ambitious to be a good mother. That wasn't fair, but I can understand not being the best parent during that period. Tell me, were you super grumpy at home at that time?
No! My sons were my little rays of sunshine. I looked forward to going home. They don't have memories of the trial. Their awareness came way after the fact.
One last question. On the series, you chain smoked all the time. I kept yelling at the TV, "Marcia, stop smoking! You've got enough problems!" Please tell me you've quit.
Yes, I quit a while ago.