Marcia Clark has come early, but the assistant at the San Fernando Valley health club she frequents can’t help herself: She scurries off to find the chiropractor who will be tending to the world’s most famous former prosecutor’s back. “No rush—just come get me when he’s ready,” calls Clark. “I feel bad when people go out of their way for me,” she confides. “I hate all the glitz.”
Nonetheless, 19 months after losing the Trial of the Century, Clark, 43, is stepping back into the public eye to promote her much-anticipated memoir, Without a Doubt (written with Teresa Carpenter). Although she says she has no use for fame, she isn’t complaining about what it has done for her life. The reported $4.2 million she received for Doubt has enabled her to purchase a five-bedroom, Mediterranean-style home, complete with pool, in a suburb north of Los Angeles, and to spend more time with her new live-in beau, blues musician Mitch Kashmar, 36, and her sons, who are ages 7 and 4. “The constant stress of trying to give 100 percent to your job and 100 percent to your children was so painful during the trial,” says Clark. “When you’re not in an office, you have a flexible routine. I love it.”
Reliving the 372 days she spent prosecuting O.J. Simpson was agonizing. “The trial was a traumatic marathon,” she says. “There were a few months where I just couldn’t write—it was too painful. “At least as hard for Clark, who says personal revelation is “not my nature,” was offering up truths about her tumultuous past. The daughter of an Israeli-born FDA chemist and a pianist, Clark was born Marcia Kleks in Berkeley, Calif., and spent her childhood switching hometowns as the FDA transferred her dad from job to job. “It was isolating, a lonely existence,” says Clark, who after high school graduation headed for Europe with a Jewish youth group. There she experienced a crisis that still haunts her: She was raped by a waiter who had invited her to his room. “The feeling of peril it gave me was terrifying,” says Clark, who told no one of the attack.
That sense of vulnerability, she believes, was part of what led her to cling to Gaby Horowitz—the Israeli immigrant and professional backgammon player she met in 1972 and married a few years later—even after the relationship turned ugly. Horowitz never hit her, Clark says, but there was mutual shoving during their frequent brawls, “and it was emotionally abusive.” They split after Clark, who graduated from UCLA in 1973, had completed Southwestern University School of Law in 1979. “I didn’t have the strength to pull away until I was in law school,” she says. “I think there are many women who, because of lack of self-esteem, remain in abusive relationships.” Nicole Simpson, for one. “That she was even able to leave O.J. was an amazing step for her,” says Clark, who was struck throughout the trial by the parallels between her own life and Nicole’s: “I was able to bring insight to her plight.”
Her insight didn’t develop overnight. She married Gordon Clark, a computer programmer, just months after leaving Horowitz. “What was I thinking?” says Clark. “Why couldn’t I be alone?” By 1993 marriage No. 2 “had degenerated into… gray misery,” she writes. (Because of ongoing divorce negotiations, she will not discuss her ex or their children.) Clark was living with her sons in a Glendale, Calif., tract house—a house so dank that mold covered the wall behind her bed—when LAPD detective Philip Vannatter, a pal, “threw some business” her way, as she puts it, in June 1994. Clark, who had prosecuted 20 murders during her 13 years in the DA’s office, was an adrenaline junkie who loved the energy of criminal trials. This one, she writes, “looked promising.”
Today, Clark says, she has never been happier, and those who know her confirm it. “I really believe, “says her good friend Roslyn Dauber, a filmmaker, “that Marcia is closer to her true self than ever.” Writing her book played no small part in that. “After the trial I felt I let everyone down,” Clark says. “The book showed me I had spared no effort.” Following is an excerpt.
WHAT A FREAKING SPECTACLE. In the space of three weeks the O.J. Simpson case had grown into a national obsession. During a single week my image had been beamed for some 40 hours into the living rooms, bedrooms, bathrooms and kitchens of strangers. That’s several years’ worth of Seinfeld episodes in seven days! No wonder strangers felt a false sense of intimacy with me.
One day after work I swung by the grocery store to pick up some ground turkey and green peppers for dinner. The girl at the counter looked up at me and said, “What axe you doing here?” Meaning, “A big shot like you must certainly have people to do this kind of stuff for you.” I felt like telling her, “Look, honey, I live in a rat hole with a leaky bedroom. I can’t pay the mortgage. My nanny doesn’t drive. Who do you suppose runs my errands?” Like it or not, I was a celebrity. Everywhere I turned, people seemed to be grabbing at me. When I went out for dinner, they’d come over to my table. Or, worse, they’d make that cute gesture of sending a waiter over with a glass of o.j. I’d try to be gracious, but I’m not an extrovert by nature. And I found dealing with these flat-footed overtures very depleting. Everywhere I looked, there were hands. Hands wanting autographs. Hands wanting to touch me. I had a recurrent nightmare that one of those hands held a gun pointed at my heart.
People ask me whether the “Dream Team” intimidated me. The answer is no. Because what you had was a set of incompatibly grandiose egos. It didn’t take a psychic to predict procedural chaos if this bunch was not held in check by a strong judge. What we needed was someone who knew enough law and had enough confidence to rule from the bench. We needed the ump of all umps. A square-jawed, rock-ribbed referee with huevos of steel. Instead, we got Lance Ito.
Lance always struck me as an overgrown adolescent. He was the only judge I knew who wore running shoes under his robes. He’d been a prosecutor in the DA’s office during the eighties. Lance was one of those guys who sniff out a new source of power in the office and manage to attach themselves to the unit du jour. The Simpson case was shaping up to be a sort of break-your-bottles-and-go-at-it street brawl. We would need a judge who could step in and keep the peace. I didn’t believe Lance had the fortitude for that.
In late July 1994, as we were gearing up for the harrowing business of jury selection, I got word that the tabs were rooting around my marriage certificates and divorce papers. I was so humiliated. My “past,” as I saw it, was a painful, private struggle. And everything admirable that I’d accomplished seemed threatened by this disturbing and unsolicited celebrity.
In September I picked up new rumblings: that the Enquirer was working on a story saying that during my first marriage, to Gaby Horowitz, I had been a battered wife. If the Enquirer was allowed to publish such a wildly distorted account of my troubled marriage, the fallout could be disastrous. O.J. Simpson’s defense would charge that I had some political agenda for going after their client. I had to take an action.
Clark consulted a lawyer who advised her to describe the emotional distress prompted by the Enquirer’s probe into her past. She then began recording her feelings as she drove to and from the courthouse. “I was surprised by the relief it gave me to vent my frustrations,” she writes. “I found that getting into my car was like entering a confessional.”
The jury selection that October was dismal going. This was the worst pool of jurors we had ever seen. Few of these people had taken college courses, let alone gotten a degree. Many were out of work. Why, on this of all cases, did we wind up with the jury pool from hell?
November 17. I just don’t think we can get the jury to get over their emotional response to seeing their hero being taken down for this. But Chris Darden—boy! I pat myself on the back for putting him on this case.
Thank God for Chris Darden. We had a lot in common. Like me he was a hard charger, ambitious, tenacious. It’s been said that we recruited Chris because he was black. But that isn’t true. A good lawyer presented himself. I knew him. I trusted him. He happened to be black. Did I think his race would help us with a predominantly black jury? Possibly. But there was also a risk that those jurors might reject him as an Uncle Tom. To me, Chris’s race was a wash. The only thought was, He’s strong. He’s smart. Can he handle the beating we’re gonna take? Yeah, he can.
I felt enormous sympathy for the Browns and the Goldmans. And I felt a special rapport with Kim Goldman. Her grief simply broke my heart. But of all the families of victims I’ve had contact with over the years, the Browns were by far the strangest. On the surface they appeared warm enough. Lou Brown, Nicole’s father, would come into court saying, “Where’s my hug?” I let him hug me but I wasn’t comfortable with it, in part because of something I saw during a visit to the Browns’ home. Lou had shown me into his study. On a table covered with photos—almost none of Nicole—there was a picture of his daughter Dominique dressed in a teensy-weensy bikini, in what struck me as a provocative pose. There was also a magazine pinup, totally nude.
Lou had been delighted with his famous son-in-law and completely opposed to Nicole’s divorce. According to her sister Tanya, when Nicole first walked out on O.J. Simpson, her father would not speak to her.
Juditha Brown was aware of Nicole’s domestic problems. Every time Nicole and O.J. fought, she told us, O.J. would take her mother’s picture off the wall and throw it out a window. It became a running joke: “Oh, am I on the front lawn again?” Juditha seemed to have downplayed in her own mind what should have been a red flag, not—I believe—because she didn’t care about Nicole, but because she just couldn’t bring herself to deal with confronting her own husband, her own emotions.
Early in December we got a call from Nicole’s bank. She’d been renting a safe-deposit box. The contents were more disturbing to me than anything I had seen to date. There were three Polaroid pictures of Nicole. The first looked like it was taken early in her relationship with Simpson, when she was still a teenager. Her hair was wrapped up in a towel. Her eye was blackened, her face puffed up and reddened. I studied the shot, looked at Chris and just shook my head. She was so young at the time; her eyes still reflected authentic emotion.
December 16. This case is kicking all my personal issues…. That little girl, Nicole, never had a chance. What a tortured life she led.
I shut off the tape and rested my head on the steering wheel. It had come to the point where the mention of Nicole’s name caused me pain. There were not many points of similarity between Nicole and me. She’d been a WASP goddess in a Ferrari. I was a scrappy Jewish civil servant with a swamp for a bedroom. What are the odds that two such dissimilar women could experience anything close to the same kind of misery? And yet, so many details from her brief and tormented life seemed to resonate with my own.
Whenever I was tempted to fault her for having stayed in that awful relationship, I realized that my own first marriage had lasted for five years, eight if you count the time Gaby and I lived together. What tricks do we play on ourselves, to linger so long in hell?
January 23, 1995. Opening day—the courtroom was jammed, the atmosphere incredibly tense. It was the first time we had all been together. I tried to make eye contact with the jury. But, my God, what a scary bunch. The Great Stone Faces, I came to call them.
Chris was eager, ready to go. But then we got bogged down in motions. His opening was held over until the following day. I prayed it wouldn’t throw him off-stride. The next day when he rose to speak, I knew he was nervous. Make eye contact, Chris. Until now I hadn’t heard Chris’s opening in its entirety. It struck me as eloquent, almost musical as he described the love that was really a sickness.
The next day, Johnnie rambled on and on, tossing out the names of witnesses who had never been introduced in discovery. This was strictly illegal. Lance just let him run on. Chris and I were sitting at the counsel table hissing to Bill Hodgman, our fellow prosecutor. “Object! Object! Bill, are you going to object?”
At first, Bill was reluctant to take off the white gloves. He thought civility would prevail. I knew better. As Johnnie’s claims became more outrageous, even Bill finally began to burn. At last he leaped to his feet and shouted, “Objection!” with such conviction that we were all electrified. Lance just sat up there on the bench rolling his eyes at me. “Can you believe it?” I wanted to scream at him. “You’re not some idle bystander here, buddy. You can actually stop this circus!” But how can you expect a clown to stop a circus?
Bill was seething when he left the courtroom. His speech was incoherent and his breathing was very shallow. Moments later I heard someone in the hall shout. Bill was lying on the rug. Oh, God, I thought, this case is gonna kill him. This sweet, lovely man.
Don’t think I wasn’t tempted to throw in the towel. But how would I explain to my children why I walked out on the biggest case of my life? What would I be teaching them? “Cut your losses, boys. Pick only those battles you can win.” I wanted them to realize that sometimes honor demands fighting, even to an almost certain defeat.
After Bill’s gurney disappeared down the hallway, I marched back to my office. A knock on the door.
“Who is it?”
Gil Garcetti poked his head in. Here was the man who’d told me to “lighten up.” And “don’t be so tough,” he had said. “Humor the judge.” But there was nothing conciliatory in Gil’s expression now.
“F—k him,” he said tersely. “Take the gloves off.”
No problem, Chief.
My alarm went off at 5 a.m. It was Sunday, February 12, the day we were scheduled to take the jury to see Bundy and Rockingham. Believe it or not, it was originally my idea. The logical time for our viewing was at night, when, of course, the murders occurred. But Ito made us do it in broad daylight. Thus the jurors would get no sense of the danger Nicole was in as she descended that small flight of steps into darkness.
The only way Ito would allow us the Bundy visit was if we allowed the defense to take the jurors to Rockingham. I emphatically did not want the jury to visit O.J. Simpson’s estate. The jury—especially this jury—would be so dazzled by Simpson’s wealth that it was certain to erect yet another barrier to their ever imagining him a killer.
The jurors were taken in groups of four and five through Nicole’s condo. I hadn’t been there since the week of July 4. Now, as I walked in the door, I was shocked. The place was totally bare. There was nothing to remind these jurors that a warm, vital woman had once lived here.
It got worse. I’d wanted the jurors to see what a short drive it was between Bundy and Rockingham, to reinforce our contention that Simpson could have made the trip home within five minutes. No dice. For “security reasons” we had to take a circuitous detour. I could scarcely contain my fury.
On my previous visits, the house had struck me as neglected and lifeless. Now it looked like a squadron of fairies had scrubbed it with Q-Tips. In the living room a fire was blazing. Fresh-cut flowers had been artfully arranged. On the mantel above the fireplace sat books on philosophy and religion. On the nightstand, next to a Holy Bible, stood a photo of the defendant’s mother. The defense team had deliberately changed things, to pander to the jury’s racial prejudices and to obscure the facts.
February 28. I’d like to trade lives with just about anybody right now. “County jail inmate” sounds good.
During the days before Mark Fuhrman took the stand, he was a pain in the a—. He’d hulk into the office in the company of three beefy bodyguards lent him by the Metro Division. Mark was clearly the object of a witch-hunt. But I felt that we were spending entirely too many hours mollycoddling one witness. Fuhrman was a big deal only because the defense required a bogeyman to distract the jury from the devastating evidence against their client.
As for our whining detective, the only question as far as I was concerned was, “Did Mark Fuhrman plant evidence?” The answer was an obvious “no.” The issue of whether he was a racist was completely irrelevant. Or at least it should have been. Lance Ito screwed us on that one when, in January, he had allowed the defense to introduce evidence that Fuhrman had ever uttered the word “nigger.” Of the many errors Ito made during this trial, that one was the most destructive.
Mark Fuhrman’s testimony had taken its toll on my spirits. I realized that we were taking this battering in the service of a lost cause. But every day I considered the Goldmans and the Browns, who had suffered the worst loss possible. I owed them.
Come the last week of March, Chris was taking a trip to the Bay Area and invited me. We checked into the Fairmont Hotel—taking separate rooms, for those of you keeping score. People recognized us, but they kept their distance. I felt lighter, more hopeful than I had in months. It seemed possible that someday life might return to normal. On the trip home I remained enveloped in this euphoria, until we stopped at a fast-food joint. I was standing in line but a few seconds when I felt it. People were staring. We must be getting close to L.A. I grabbed the bags and ran back to the car. Nothing had changed. I was still a featured player in a freak show. “I can’t face it,” I whispered, tears now streaming freely down my cheeks. “I want it all to be over.”
I fully intended that Simpson would put on the gloves—not the actual evidence gloves, but a duplicate pair. We’d asked the glove manufacturer to send us duplicates, just like the ones found at the crime scene, and we lined up former Aris Isotoner glove executive Richard Rubin to establish that the pair in evidence was the same model as those purchased by Nicole in 1990. I knew we needed to plot Simpson’s trying on the gloves as carefully as the Normandy invasion. But Chris wanted to do the glove demonstration at the most dramatic possible moment during Richard Rubin’s testimony. Problem was, we hadn’t received the exact duplicate gloves. We had to go with the bloody gloves. I turned to Chris: “Don’t do it, I’m warning you.”
“We’ve got to do it,” he insisted.
“Why don’t you f—king listen to me—this is a trap.” My voice was hoarse with tension and anger.
“This is my witness,” he snapped. “And I say we have to put those gloves on him now, before they do.”
This was a team prosecution. On this one, Chris called the shots. I couldn’t dissuade him.
Simpson grimaced like Cinderella’s stepsister trying to get into that glove.
I felt like dying. But the last thing I wanted was for the jury to see my distress. I felt my expression harden into a mask of indifference. When the demonstration was over, I looked down at the weathered leather, and I said to myself, That’s it. We just lost the case.
I stumbled awake on September 26, the morning of closing arguments. I looked skeletal; the circles under my eyes were the color of eggplants. What’s more, I had a flaming pain in my lower right jaw: an abscessed tooth. A trip to the dentist was out of the question. You do not call in sick when you are scheduled to give the closing argument in the Trial of the Century.
On the morning of September 29, Christopher Darden gave them the best he had. His message was so eloquent, he should have reached them. But my heart sank when I saw what was happening. The jurors were shifting in their seats, turning their heads. And this was really scary: Juror Number 98, a postal clerk, was giving Chris a hateful stare. She was sighing and tapping her feet—as if to say, “Shut up and siddown.”
Then it was my turn. I would like to say that my mind was clear and my attention sharp. But I was struggling to maintain my focus. One commentator later described my demeanor as “subdued.” I would have described it as simply worn-out. As I rose to address the 12, I drew on the last of my depleted reserves to bring this thing to an honorable finish. I had a feeling, even then, that this would be the last argument I ever made in a court of law.
We’d ended strong, and we knew it. After 372 grueling days and some 48,000 pages of trial transcript entered into the ages, the thought foremost in my mind was, Please, God. No retrial.
Before the verdict was announced, Gil gathered everyone in the conference room. The main topic of discussion seemed to be what to say about the fact that O.J. Simpson had been convicted. If that isn’t just asking God to smack you silly, I don’t know what is.
Four DA investigators were assigned to take me down the back way to the ninth floor. From the corner of my eye, I watched the jurors file in. I’d prepared myself for the worst, but my stomach tightened.
Not guilty. I felt pain spreading through my body like I’d been pierced by a thousand tiny needles. We’d lost:
How can I explain it? The sense of violation, the confusion, the dislocation. The War Room was jammed with warriors in defeat. I wanted to tell the young law clerks who were crying: This doesn’t mean anything about the real world and the way justice is dispensed. The People lost this case not because we introduced too much evidence or too little evidence. We lost because American justice is distorted by race. We lost because American justice is corrupted by celebrity.
Being forced to reexamine those months has made me appreciate how hard we all fought against impossible odds, to exact justice from that jury. In the future, I will want to tell my sons about this case. And when I do, I will be able to say, “Your mother was not perfect, but she had conviction. She fought with every ounce of strength for what she thought was right.”
LORENZO BENET and DANELLE MORTON in Los Angeles