You know what makes a great magician? Misdirection. Watching The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story has made me extremely cognizant of the fact that crafting a quality misdirection ploy — here referred to as a narrative, since it's done with words rather than snazzy slight of hand — is also a quality skill for a courtroom attorney (you know, besides being well-versed in the law). It's why Johnnie Cochran (played on the show by Courtney B. Vance) was one of the all-time greats. This week's episode really showcases Cochran's master craftsmanship.
Back in 1995, Cochran manipulated what should have been a double homicide trial into a complete media circus. He took the L.A.P.D.'s many past incidents of racism and brutality, which were sincerely troubling events, and he used them opportunistically. Specifically, when he's handed Detective Mark Fuhrman's (played by Steven Pasquale) involvement in the case as the first responder on the scene.
Fuhrman is racist — and not just in the whispered or rumored sense. There exist hours and hours of tape on which the detective uses inflammatory language to describe the rude, judgmental, and extremely biased ways in which he acts towards African-Americans. The tapes also contain many incidents of Fuhrman using the n-word. Cochran wants every single minute of everything said on the tapes (and also the transcripts) to be made admissible into the O. J. Simpson (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) trial.
For Cochran, these tapes are not only proof of the L.A.P.D.'s systemic racial bias, but of America's inherent prejudice toward Black people. Although it's 1995 and the country is well past the civil rights movement, Cochran wants it to be known that many Americans still see Black people as lesser than. He wants the media to focus on this fact until it makes its way to the sequestered jury.
Now, Judge Lance Ito (Kenneth Choi) has a decision to make. Does he allow the Furhman tapes, and all the horrible things said on them, to be part of a trial that's supposed to determine whether or not O. J. Simpson murdered his ex-wife and her friend Ron Goldman? Why would they even be entered into evidence, anyway?
Well, if you remember back in episode 6, F. Lee Bailey (Nathan Lane) carefully planted a seed. He knew that Fuhrman had used the racial slur on the job, and he asked Fuhrman point-blank in front of the judge and jury if he ever had. Furhman said no. This did, of course, actually happen during the Simpson trial.
Now, Bailey's seed is germinating. If the tapes on which Furhman says the explicative are played for the jury, they'll know that he perjured himself. He will be seen as a liar in their eyes, which will play into the defense's favor. They want to craft the narrative that the racist Fuhrman has been trying to frame Simpson the entire time, so he arrived on the crime scene first and planted the bloody glove, then he planted the one at Simpson's house. If he lied about using the word, the jury might also believe that he'd go to these lengths to frame Simpson, an African American man.
However, there's also something on the tapes no one could have seen coming. Back in episode 4, we briefly see Margaret York (Carolyn Crotty), Judge Ito's wife. He tells her that he's been selected as the judge on Simpson's trial and hands her a form to sign. A list of names appears on it, and Mark Fuhrman's is one of them. The people on the list are indicated as sources of potential conflict due to the fact that York had worked with them in the past, and Ito — her spouse — would now be dealing with them in a court of law. She signs the paper, meaning she has no recollection of dealing with Detective Fuhrman.
The tapes say otherwise. On them, Fuhrman says defamatory things about York, who is a high-ranking member of the L.A.P.D. The prosecution brings this to the judge's attention, and he recuses himself from the case temporarily so Judge John H. Reid (Joe Culliton) can listen and decide if Ito will be able to remain impartial while hearing what Furhman says about his wife. Both sides worry that it could lead to a mistrial if Ito is forced to step down from the case.
The defense is livid. If there's a mistrial, they worry that the next time Simpson's case is tried, it'll be in Santa Monica with an all-white jury, and he'll surely be found guilty. Marcia Clark (Sarah Paulson) seems more defeated than angry. Chris Darden (Sterling K. Brown) says that he warned her not to put Fuhrman on the stand, and he's angry that she didn't listen to him.
In the end, Ito decides that he can remain impartial concerning Fuhrman's comments about his wife. He says that women who work in male-dominated positions have to develop tough skins, and our hearts sink as we imagine what Margaret York had to deal with as one of the sole high-ranking females in the L.A.P.D. in the '90s. There won't be a mistrial, but Ito also makes two decisions that inflame the prosecution and the jury.
The judge decides that Cochran has gotten the public so incensed about what's on the Furhman tapes — and that they are so inflammatory — that they should be released. Darden and Clark aren't happy about this at all. When they hear Ito's ruling, they both give the judge a piece of their mind about how he's been swayed by Cochran into allowing the trial to become a media circus. They're almost held in contempt of court.
The jury won't be allowed to hear everything on the tapes — in fact, they'll only hear two instances of Furhman using the racial slur — but as Darden points out, all it takes are two conjugal visits, and they'll know exactly what's on them. The defense is still irate about this ruling. Cochran and F. Lee Bailey went to great lengths to get the tapes, which required a subpoena from a screenwriter in North Carolina.
When Furhman shows up for his evidentiary hearing, however, he pleads the fifth to every single question — even one about planting evidence at the crime scenes. Did he just win the trial for the defense?