How Did O.J. Simpson's Defense Get The Fuhrman Tapes? They Have A Mysterious Person To Thank
As each episode of The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story unfolds, the more unbelievable this real murder trial becomes. This is no different in the March 29 episode, "Manna from Heaven," when the defense lawyers will expose the Fuhrman tapes. On these infamous tapes, then Los Angeles police detective Mark Fuhrman used the n-word many times, a slur that he had sworn in previous testimony in court that he had not used in the last 10 years. The recordings came from screenwriter Laura Hart McKinny, who — according to a Los Angeles Times article from July 26, 1995 — had interviewed Fuhrman and other police officers from 1985 to 1994 about their jobs for a screenplay she was working on. But how did Simpson's defense team discover the Fuhrman tapes that helped them challenge the prosecution's case?
Before revealing the how, it's important to remember the why — as in why these tapes will became so important in Simpson's trial, which resulted in him being found not guilty of the murders of ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman. As American Crime Story foreshadowed, Fuhrman's role in the trial was contentious since there had been rumors of him being racist. Although some of these claims were never formally substantiated, like his owning of a Nazi medal, the accusation of Fuhrman being a racist was important since the defense team suggested Fuhrman had framed Simpson with the blood-covered glove found at Simpson's home. When Fuhrman was directly asked if his testimony was true and if he had planted any evidence during the trial, he evoked the fifth amendment, as reported by the LA Times. In his book Murder in Brentwood, published after the trial in 1997, Fuhrman wrote, "I apologize for the pain I caused with my insensitive words. However, one thing I will not apologize for is my policework on the Simpson case. I did a good job; I did nothing wrong."
As previously shown on the FX series and reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer at the time, in his cross-examination of Fuhrman, defense attorney F. Lee Bailey had asked Fuhrman point-blank about his use of the n-word, saying, "And you say on your oath that you have not addressed any black person as a n***** or spoken about black people as n*****s in the past 10 years, Detective Fuhrman?" Fuhrman's response of, "That's what I'm saying, sir" would come back to haunt him, because of his own use of the term, which was heard in the tapes provided by McKinny.
Simpson's "Dream Team" of defense lawyers acquired these tapes thanks to some truly serendipitous circumstances. As vaguely explained by the LA Times in the previously mentioned July 26 article:
Bailey and private investigator Pat McKenna have been traversing the country in recent months, seeking to find anyone who could contradict Fuhrman's denial on the witness stand that he had used the word n****r the past decade. Sources said the existence of McKinny's tapes was discovered during this process.
In a fitting turn of unbelievable events for the Simpson trial, the private investigator for the Simpson defense team, McKenna, said that he had received an anonymous phone call informing him of the existence of the tapes recorded by McKinny. CNN wrote that McKenna received the call in July 1995. McKenna said, "This individual said there's a woman named Laura, gave me a phone number and said this woman had Mark Fuhrman on tape and I should listen to it."
Since this was way back in 1995 and so many scandalous events have surrounded the Simpson case, even in 2016 as The People v. O.J. Simpson is airing, I almost expected to find evidence that this anonymous caller story was not true. However, even after 20 years, the story of McKenna receiving a phone tip about McKinny and her screenwriting project remains factual. McKinny, who was a professor at the North Carolina School of the Arts in its filmmaking department, was resistant to sharing the tapes and transcripts from her interviews with Fuhrman according to the LA Times July 26 article. Yet, the Orlando Sentinel wrote on Aug. 8, 1995 that Simpson's defense team was successful in getting a North Carolina court to rule that McKinny must testify.
Regardless of how these tapes were unearthed, the fact that Fuhrman used the n-word over 40 times throughout the course of almost 10 years of interviews with McKinny, according to the Chicago Tribune, remains true. During the murder trial, Judge Lance Ito only allowed two instances of Fuhrman saying the slur to be heard by the jury, as a Sept. 1, 1995 CNN article reported. Defense lawyer Johnnie Cochran was outraged about Ito's ruling, with the LA Times reporting that Cochran said, "This inexplicable, indefensible ruling lends credence to all those who say the criminal justice system is corrupt." Cochran also urged residents near his office to remain calm about the ruling.
The LA Times also reported in that same article that the prosecution was satisfied with the ruling. District Attorney Gil Garcetti released in a statement, "While we decry racism, these tapes are for another forum, not this murder trial. ... The court's ruling will help keep the focus where it should be: On relevant evidence that allows the jury to determine whether Mr. Simpson is responsible for the murders of Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson."
However, as anyone who is watching American Crime Story knows, the focus and scope of the Simpson trial went far beyond the facts surrounding who killed Goldman and Brown Simpson, and Fuhrman was never regarded in the same way again.