- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 12, 2014

For generations of Americans, the trial of football legend O.J. Simpson for the murder of his ex-wife and her companion 20 years ago Friday is an indelible memory, filled with unforgettable characters, a raft of quotable lines and searing images, and a remember-exactly-where-you-were moment when the jury’s stunning “not guilty” verdict came down.

Not for all generations, however.

Most of today’s college students would likely be unable to identify Kato Kaelin or Marcia Clark, Johnnie Cochran or Mark Fuhrman.

The closest contemporary reference may be Robert Kardashian, the attorney for Simpson who spawned a gaggle of reality-show celebrity daughters. The Bronco chase, the ill-fitting glove, the overmatched Judge Lance Ito — all are likely to draw a blank from millennials.

While baby boomers wallow in O.J. nostalgia this week, the rising generation of millennials were far too young to remember the saga of events that began on June 13, 1994, when Simpson’s ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman were found savagely murdered. The Heisman Trophy winner, former pro footballer and ad pitchman was charged with the murders. The trial that followed, People v. O.J. Simpson, would captivate the nation for the next year.

In the years since the case, reminders of its enormity live on in almost every facet of pop culture, from “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” to the trial memoirs produced by so many of those made famous by the case. Time, however, has not been friendly to Simpson’s legacy, even among those with only the haziest memory of the sensational trial.

Mike Pendleton, 22, only knew Simpson growing up as a “phenomenal football player.” It wasn’t until he was 13 or so that he came to understand the former athlete’s checkered past — then his opinion changed.

“Any time someone is accused of murder it’s going to change my opinion,” said the recent graduate of the Illinois Center for Broadcasting. “I totally forgot about O.J. Simpson the football player. I thought it was sick and disgusting. To me, it wasn’t innocent or guilty. From that point forward, it was the public perception of O.J. as a monster, and that’s how I viewed him.”

Despite his acquittal, Simpson has never emerged from the shadow of the accusations laid against him.

The family of Goldman, Brown Simpson’s unfortunate companion that night, later slapped Simpson with a civil lawsuit. The jury found that he was liable for the wrongful death of Goldman and battery against Brown Simpson.

Simpson found himself in court once again in 2007, this time in Las Vegas, on charges of criminal conspiracy, kidnapping, assault, robbery and using a deadly weapon. He’s currently incarcerated at a Nevada state prison.

For most of the key players, the media hype and public attention didn’t cease after the verdicts were read. The fact that the trial catapulted key players into the spotlight may be one of its lasting legacies, said one professor who covered most of the trial as a freelance reporter.

“I think it [has a legacy] in that the people involved in it for a long time had an almost celebrity-like status foisted upon them,” said Anthony Moretti, an associate communications professor at Robert Morris University. “Almost all of them wrote a book about their experience. Their personal lives became fodder for entertainment media.”

Prosecutors Ms. Clark and Chris Darden both penned memoirs of the trial, and each have published several mystery novels since. Cochran, Simpson’s flamboyant defense lawyer who died in 2005, also wrote a memoir of his time sparring with Dream Team member Robert Shapiro.

Mr. Kaelin, Simpson’s house guest on the night of the murders, went on to star in several reality shows after 1995. But the most famous reality show to follow the trial was that depicting the life of Kardashian’s ex-wife, Kris, and his three daughters, which began airing after his death in 2003 from esophageal cancer.

Mr. Moretti said the Simpson case “set the stage for similar trials in recent years,” likening “the Trial of the Century” to accused Florida murderer Casey Anthony’s “social media trial of the century” in 2011.

Americans were flummoxed by the acquittal of Ms. Anthony, who was charged with the death of her two-year-old daughter Caylee, in much the same way many wondered how Simpson escaped a murder conviction.

“Casey Anthony I don’t think would have been a household name if the media hadn’t discovered in the Simpson trial that there was every reason to go gavel to gavel with coverage,” Mr. Moretti said.

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