Due to TV series like The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story and ESPN's O.J.: Made In America, the trial in which O.J. Simpson was found not guilty of the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman is back in the public eye. The prosecution argued that the murders were the culmination of years of domestic violence, though Simpson would deny beating his wife in his 1997 civil trial. Simpson was arrested once for spousal abuse, however, Brown Simpson left what prosecutors argued was a "trail" of evidence pointing to what she endured during the marriage. Written and photographic evidence was found in a safe deposit box, but were photos of Nicole Brown Simpson's injuries used during the murder trial?
The defense vigorously fought to keep domestic violence evidence out of the courtroom. As reported by The New York Times, they argued that: "Any attempt to characterize Nicole Brown Simpson as a 'battered wife' based upon isolated and widely separated incidents ignores the substantial evidence of a loving relationship which spanned 17 years." Meanwhile, prosecutors argued that it was highly relevant to the case because it pointed to a pattern of escalating violence. Ultimately, the disturbing and graphic photos were ruled admissible and seen by jurors during the trial.
In February 1995, The Chicago Tribune reported that contents of the safe deposit box were presented to the jury. According to the outlet, Polaroid photos of Brown Simpson's "bruised and swollen face" were shown and prosecutors argued that these images were her way of documenting what really happened on the night of Simpson's arrest. Simpson pleaded "no contest" to the spousal abuse charge stemming from an incident on Jan. 1, 1989. He was sentenced to 120 hours of community service and two years' probation, according to The New York Times.
Deputy District Attorney Christopher Darden told jurors: "It appears to us what Nicole Brown was doing was leaving a trail for us of what happened in 1989."
During the trial, The Chicago Tribune reported that defense attorneys described the Jan. 1, 1989 incident as a "wrestling match" in which both Simpson and Brown Simpson physically attacked one another. The state countered this argument by presenting additional evidence from the safe deposit box — apology notes from Simpson that they claimed proved he was the sole aggressor. In one letter that was shown to the jury, Simpson wrote: "Let me start by expressing . . . how wrong I was for hurting you... There is no exceptible [sic] excuse for what I did." The outlet also noted that an additional note was entered into evidence, in which Simpson told his then-wife he accepted responsibility for what he did and would go to jail if it ever happened again.
The defense argued that the murders themselves were inconsistent with domestic violence-related homicides. According to the previously referenced New York Times article, defense attorney Gerald F. Uelmen stated:
"None of the traditional earmarks of domestic abuse are present here. How many domestic violence cases involve multiple victims? How many involve the commission of a murder with a knife? How many involve a complete silence suggesting the murder was conducted by stealth?"
The photos shown to jurors were undeniably disturbing, but they weren't enough to convince them that Simpson was guilty of murder beyond a reasonable doubt. He was acquitted of both murders on Oct. 3, 1995, although he was later found "liable" for the crimes in a civil suit filed by the victims' families and ordered to pay $33.5 million in damages.