Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Just Another Sidewalk in Brentwood?

Several weeks ago in Los Angeles, inside the ninth-floor courtroom of Judge Lance Ito, there was a weird silence as a bailiff prepared to screen a video of a Brentwood sidewalk on the morning of June 13, 1994.

The sidewalk at 875 South Bundy Drive is now a cultural totem, the most famous crime scene in America. As the reporters in the courtroom wait for the video to begin, they scribble the precise time and date in their notebooks: February 23, 1.38pm.

There are no windows in Judge Ito's courtroom, no sense of the outside world; the tension is unrelieved as the lights go dim. "Let's take it from the top," Ito says.

We hear static and then, on a large screen behind the jurors' box, there is the first image of daylight: stalks of purple agapanthus blowing on a sunny day in June, Nicole Brown Simpson's summer perennial border. Blue Lilies of the Nile, creeping phlox.

At his seat at the defense table on the left side of the court, O.J. Simpson fidgets, then looks down at his feet.

Above us, visible through the scrim of agapanthus, are the bodies of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman, shrouded in yellow tarps. The edges of the tarps flutter.

I resist the temptation to write in my notebook that it is an ordinary day in court - as if any day in "the Simpson matter" could be routine - but on the afternoon's calendar there is a defense motion, a "housekeeping procedure" to examine this particular video, taken by a Channel 5 camera man, of several police officers moving heavily through their duties on the morning of June 13.

This not a minor piece of business: It is a major contention of the defense that the L.A.P.D. botched the investigation, smeared the invisible footprints, mixed up the DNA.

In anticipation of the viewing of the crime scene, the reporters and the family in the courtroom are unusually fraught.

One of the more startling aspects of The State of California v. Simpson has been our realization of the capricious nature of the video camera; it can be anywhere at any time, wielded by a wandering parent at a Brentwood middle-school parking lot after a ballet recital or held casually by a TV camera man on South Bundy Drive on the morning after the murders and later subpoenaed to be viewed inside a courtroom while more than 15 million people watch.

The Channel 5 camera pans to the street. Across from Nicole's condominium, an older couple stands and stares at the crime scene, the yellow tape. The woman is plump and wears a shirt of flamingo pink; her husband stands with his arm around her. 

The camera tracks back to the yellow tarps, which remain visible through a filter of waving flowers of purple, white, and blue. Up on the screen there are suddenly many legs walking the few steps and pushing open a beige gate, the beige gate.

A man in a blue jumpsuit appears; when he turns, the sign on his back is visible: CORONER.

Marcia Clark is on her feet, furious at the implications of the tape: "Just because it is good enough for Channel  doesn't mean it is good enough for this jury. I think there is a big difference between what you can show on a news show and what we can do in a court of law."

Marie Brenner ~ Beyond the Courtroom
Vogue Magazine (May 1995)

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