When the state of California made its case against O.J. Simpson during his trial for the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman, of which he was found not guilty, the prosecution argued that the murders were the result of escalating alleged instances of domestic violence. The problems, prosecutors alleged, began during Simpson's marriage to Brown Simpson. The ESPN documentary series O.J.: Made In America doesn't pick up the thread at the beginning of the media circus surrounding those murders, instead giving audiences a robust picture of the events leading up to the trial, including alleged incidents from Nicole Brown and O.J. Simpson's marriage. The Simpsons were only married for seven years, but their relationship would define the public perception of both of their lives.
Brown Simpson was not Simpson's first wife. In 1994, The New York Times reported that Simpson wed his high school classmate Marguerite L. Whitley in 1967 when he was 19 and she was 18. Though the publication found no evidence of any accusations of abuse by Whitley, their marriage had its issues. Trial separations began as early as three years into the marriage. Whitley took steps to file for divorce in 1973 but didn't follow through at that time. Whitley's former lawyer Henry Fain told The New York Times that Simpson's success contributed to their eventual divorce in 1979. "[Whitley] lent an element of stability to him — mother, homemaker, things like that," Fain said. "Then [Simpson] becomes a celebrity and the marriage begins to fail." Whitley and Simpson had three children together, but their youngest daughter, Aaren, tragically died in a drowning accident at their home.
Simpson was not faithful to Whitley, as according to The Daily Mail, in the documentary O.J. In His Own Words, he said, "I was unfaithful to both of my wives and it’s what I’ve regretted most in my life." There have been claims that Simpson cheated on Whitley with Brown, as The Los Angeles Times reported that Brown and Simpson's relationship became romantic shortly after they first met, while his marriage to Whitley was "faltering." One of Brown's high school teachers told the paper that Brown brought Simpson to her old school early on in their relationship to meet students and sign autographs. "You know teenagers. They like someone older and more sophisticated and she certainly did. He was everybody's idol, of course, then," Jo Hanson said.
Simpson and Brown married in 1985. According to The New York Times, they had been living together for six years before that. The couple had two children: Sydney was born in 1985; Justin was born in 1988. On New Year's Eve of 1989, Brown Simpson called the police and claimed that Simpson was physically attacking her. The New York Times reported that Simpson plead no contest to spousal abuse stemming from that night, though in 1994 he said in a letter read by Robert Kardashian, "I took the heat New Year's 1989 because that's what I was supposed to do. I did not plead no contest for any other reason but to protect our privacy, and was advised it would end the press hype."
According to police records and comments from her friends and family, the Simpson's lavish lifestyle obscured an allegedly unhealthy relationship. "It was a very passionate, a very volatile, a very obsessive relationship," friend of the couple Cathy Crosby claimed to The Los Angeles Times. In 1992, Brown Simpson filed for divorce and The New York Times quoted Brown Simpson's written statement from those documents.
"I only attended junior college a very short time because respondent required me to be available to travel with him whenever his career required him to go to a new location, even if it was for a short period of time ... I have had no other college education, and I hold no college degrees ... I worked on my own as an interior decorator, mostly for respondent and his friends. I no longer have that opportunity."
Though their marriage legally ended in 1992 after seven years, according to the Los Angeles Times, the Simpsons continued to see each other on and off after their divorce. But by the time of Brown Simpson's death in June 1994, she was living separately from Simpson and he had been seen with model Paula Barbieri. Still, the details of their years together and apart were thrust into the spotlight during the trial of the century.