Fuhrman Tapes Take Center Stage In O.J.: Made In America

Photo: POO/AFP/Getty Images.
The fourth episode of O.J.: Made In America focuses on the success of O. J. Simpson's defense team, and the failure of the prosecutors, during his trial for the murders of Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman. A large part of the defense's success was due to the doubts cast on Mark Fuhrman's credibility.

The documentary features extensive commentary from Fuhrman himself, as well as from Carl Douglas, a member of Simpson's defense team, among others. A pair of jurors who served during the trial also offer insight into their decision and what the process was like.

"I definitely felt for Nicole," Yolanda Crawford, one of the jurors, says in the docuseries. "There's a connection with abuse and could it lead to death? Sure. But I don't think they proved that."

The prosecutors planned to start the trial by providing evidence of Simpson's history of domestic violence against Brown, deputy district attorney Bill Hodgman says in the documentary. But their statements didn't seem to resonate with the jurors, Hodgman notes. "Our hearts sank. We thought, We are really gonna have a tough time if our jurors don't understand how this is relevant."

Things only went further downhill for the jury when the so-called "Dream Team" revealed details about former LAPD Detective Mark Fuhrman. After he said that he discovered a second glove on Simpson's property, it was revealed that he had used a racial slur in the past. That planted questions as to whether he'd tampered with evidence because of his alleged bias.

"He was going to be their fall guy. We all knew it," lead prosecution attorney Marcia Clark says of Fuhrman in the interviews for O.J.: Made In America. "What we have here is not a defense. It's a smear campaign."
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"I had to go, one way or another," Fuhrman says in the documentary. "None of them thought that I planted that glove, but they wanted the question to loom."

"I got a bunch of calls from Black police officers who said, 'Fuhrman is absolutely not a racist,'" LAPD Commander David Gascon says in the episode. "His former commanding officer, who happens to be Black, told me that he was one of those people who made the most remarkable turnaround and became such an exceptional detective and was really a good guy."

Still, convincing the jury that Fuhrman didn't have a racial bias would be difficult, especially in the wake of other moments involving the LAPD, like the beating of Rodney King. Eventually, the jury was shown clips from recorded conversations between Fuhrman and Laura Hart McKinny, in which Fuhrman used a racial slur multiple times.

In an earlier testimony during the trial, Fuhrman stated that he hadn't used the racial slur. But the recordings show him using the word in addition to describing police brutality. The evidence came to be known as the "Fuhrman tapes."

"I didn't use that word to people face-to-face, suspect-to-police. Had I ever used the word? Well, obviously, yes," Fuhrman says in the documentary. "Once Judge Ito allowed race into this trial, there was no escaping anything for me."

"The Fuhrman epithets may not have been enough to make the public doubt Simpson's guilt, but for a jury whose members had lived with the hostility and abuse of the LAPD, the possibility of a frame-up wasn't so outlandish," writes Scott Tobias at Vulture.

It also didn't help matters that Fuhrman eventually pled the Fifth when asked if he'd been truthful in his initial statements. Fuhrman plead the Fifth again when asked if he'd planted evidence in the case.

"A lot of people don't understand about the Fifth. If you answer one question, you answer 'em all," Fuhrman says in the documentary. "I can't let the defense attorney just run with me. I had to plead the Fifth."

Retired LAPD detective Tom Lange says in the documentary that Fuhrman should have responded differently when asked about planting evidence. Lange suggested that Fuhrman should have been "incensed" at the question and said that the LAPD doesn't plant evidence, rather than invoking his Fifth Amendment rights.
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The defense team's arguments about Fuhrman were taken further during closing statements. Johnnie Cochran, one of Simpson's defense attorneys, compared Fuhrman to Adolf Hitler.

Cochran's statements didn't sit well with Fred Goldman, father of Ron Goldman. "He is one of the most disgusting human beings I have ever had to listen to in my life," Goldman said of Cochran's closing statements in archival footage featured in O.J.: Made in America. "He suggests because of racism, we should put aside all other thought, all other reason, and set his murdering client free. He's a sick man, and he ought to be put away."

Douglas, meanwhile, seems more sympathetic to Cochran's language. "I am so tired of the unfair suggestion that Johnnie Cochran 'played the race card,'" Douglas says in the documentary. "We played the credibility card. We played the evidence card, man."
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