The O. J. Simpson Trials: Rhetoric, Media, and the Law

By Janice Schuetz; Lin S. Lilley | Go to book overview

3
Opening Statements: Lasting Impressions

Lin S. Lilley

BY THE VERY NATURE OF THEIR DIFFERING burdens of proof, audiences would expect criminal and civil trials to contain different rhetorical appeals. But, as this chapter will show, the differences between the opening statements in the Simpson criminal and civil trials go beyond the difference in legal standards. This chapter illustrates how the attorneys, particularly in the criminal trial, merged trial facts with media appeals and attempted to affect the court of public opinion in addition to the opinions of jurors. The characteristics of telelitigation affected the strategy, the content, and the style of opening statements. In the civil trials where the appeal was to the cameras in the corridors, the effect was more subtle. By contrast, the cameras inside the courtroom during the criminal trial encouraged attorneys to adopt a sophistical verbal style and supplement it with extensive visual aids. At the same time, the attorneys' awareness of the media subverted some legal procedures.

One of the original jurors in the Simpson criminal trial, Tracy Kennedy, remembers the openings this way: "The prosecutors outlined evidence that seemed overwhelming. It was a double-barreled attack. As Darden talked about why O. J. Simpson did it, Clark explained how it was done.... The next day the defense got its shot. And Johnnie Cochran was magnificent" ( Kennedy & Kennedy, 1995, p. 145). As Kennedy, who was dismissed two months into the trial when accused of using his laptop computer to keep notes for a book, sees it, trial delays gave Cochran the advantage of time to review the prosecution's opening and to "shoot holes" in their case. Kennedy believes that Cochran planned the delay to seize the advantage (p. 146). Indeed, a detailed defense opening, delivered during two days of a six-day period, appears to have siphoned off the momentum that prosecutors usually would have had going into testimony.

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