Did Bill Hodgman Really Collapse During The O.J. Simpson Trial? It Was A Stressful Case
American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson has brought the contributions of even the non-famous participants in the "Trial of the Century" to light. So far, hardworking prosecutor Bill Hodgman has been shown as a more quiet presence on the prosecution in the O.J. Simpson trial, while most of the focus has been on Marcia Clark and Christopher Darden. But did Bill Hodgman really collapse in the courtroom while working on the case, as shown in the upcoming episode of the show? Back in 1995, People reported that Hodgman did in fact pass out during his time on the case, though it isn't clear whether this occurred in the courtroom, as seen in the series.
"Hodgman, 42, a low-key but tenacious attorney known for his ability to keep juries focused on the facts, suffered chest pains and began gasping for air," People reported, explaining that it happened hours after opening statements "during a prosecution strategy session." "Doctors said later he did not have a heart attack but attributed Hodgman's problem to stress." The attorney had to be briefly hospitalized, but was released after two days. And there was a lot to be stressed about — the case was already becoming a challenge. The magazine reported that on the day of Hodgman's collapse, "he grew agitated as O.J.'s lawyers revealed plans to call 14 new witnesses — a decision they had failed to share with prosecutors." According to The Los Angeles Times, the collapse actually provided an opportunity for the prosecution to delay the trial in order to deal with both Hodgman's illness and the surprise witnesses. Even lead defense attorney Johnnie Cochran said that "he would support a delay in the trial if Hodgman is seriously ill."
After Hodgman recovered from his stress-related collapse, he took a more limited role in the trial, according to O.J. Simpson: The Trial of the Century. "Bill was generally unhappy and uncomfortable during the trial," speculates author Felicia Okeke-Ibezim. "After his collapse due to a mild heart problem, he started working behind the scenes as case manager." But Hodgman told Frontline that he'd initially been added to the case in an administrative position, so it wasn't a demotion. "[Marcia Clark and I] performed the jury-selection aspect of the case together, and then, as we approached trial per se, my role was much more limited thereafter."
In an interview with Vulture, Clark claimed that she had originally asked for Hodgman to be added to the case. "The minute I got the case, I ran to Bill and said, 'Please do this with me. Please be my partner. I begged him. I begged him. And he had to go home and talk to his wife and think about it."
While Hodgman recovered from the collapse quickly, it showed the intense pressure of the case. In People's article, he is frequently described with words like "professional," "stabilizing," and "steely." So it seems The People v. O.J. Simpson shows Hodgman as he was — a quietly competent lawyer who worked incredibly hard on the case. While Hodgman was disappointed that the defense won the case and Simpson was found not guilty, telling Frontline, "I think the verdicts were an injustice, a failure of justice," he also believes that through his work and that of other prosecutors, "if we work a little harder and do it a little better, the system can work."