The People of the State of California v. Orenthal James Simpson: Wigmo analysis


The case of The People of the State of California v. Orenthal James Simpson had already been decided in the U.S.A. The ultimate probandum I have chosen in this case is: “It was Simpson who murdered Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman”. I would obtain and present evidence that had precluded the jury’s finding that proposition to have been proven beyond a reasonable doubt. I would prepare a list of evidential propositions to analyse the case. Some of these propositions would actually be confirmed by a witness or supported by real evidence presented to the senses of the trier of the facts during the trial; others would be propositions that I would conclude may be inferred from the evidential data. Furthermore, I have used the word ‘statements’ refers to written statements made out of court, while ‘testimony’ refers to oral testimony at the trial.

As defence counsel, my ultimate probandum would be in effect: “It was not Simpson who murdered Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman”. Obviously, I would be concerned with both standpoints and would analyse the evidential data in hand. In particular, I would identify and formulate a defence key-list of evidential propositions available from the witness’s statements that would appear relevant to explain away, deny, or rival the inferences the prosecution had sought to establish.

Background of the case:

The trial of Orenthal James Simpson became one of the most publicized and most complex murder trials in American history, if not world history. The trial was set for a real-life courtroom drama which came to be known as ‘The Trial of the Century’. I can still remember in the year of the Simpson that American people were focused on the big story. Few could argue that the story was not of epic dimensions. Indeed, no other single news event in the American history could match the sheer scope and intensity of coverage given to the murder case in Los Angeles.

 I found that the Simpson story had taken over the lives of Americans from June 1994 until through October 1995. In fact, it was sweeping away all other news and virtually all other public discussion in its path. This was an event, one critic so aptly noted, that had ‘hijacked’ American culture.

 The media were more than mere storytellers. They became story-makers. They first broadcasted that the Simpson story as a tale of celebrity and the fall of a ‘great man’. Then they continued to reinvent the story as a tale of domestic violence, wealth, status, and, finally, race. Whether such stories actually were tied to the real social fabric of American life was largely irrelevant. The media insisted that the Simpson story contained a lasting narrative about the human condition and, through the sheer pervasive nature of their stories, we mostly bought into it.

 Moreover, the trial lasted nine months, involved 126 witnesses and cost Los Angeles County an estimated $9million. The official court transcripts from the trial, amounting to 50,000 pages, or 6.2 million words, of trial talk, from the basis of this analysis of trial language.

 Facts of the case:

Late at night on 13 June 1994, a man discovered a blood-stained dog in an agitated state on Bundy drive, West Los Angeles, an affluent suburb of the city. The dog led the man to 875 South Bundy, once the marital home of ex-American footballer Simpson and Nicole Brown Simpson, and now occupied by Nicole and their two young children

 The bodies of two Caucasian adults, one male, one female, lay on the walkway to the house. The female victim was Simpson’s ex-wife, 35-year-old Nicole, murdered as she returned home from dinner; the male, 25-year-old Ronald Goldman, was a waiter at the restaurant where Nicole had spent the evening. Both victims had been multiply stabbed in a brutal attack and left for dead outside the westside condominium, while the Simpson’s two young children slept upstairs.

 It was alleged that Simpson had carried out the double homicide. He therefore was formally charged with two counts of first degree murder, a capital offence under California law, on the evening of 17 June 1994.

 Interesting aspects of the case:

I have found the case itself most interesting as the verdict was one of the most controversial ones ever produced by the American criminal justice system. On that day when the verdict was announced in the Simpson’s case, a worldwide audience estimated at more than 100 million stopped what they were doing to see or hear for themselves whether the Los Angeles jury of nine blacks, two whites, and one Hispanic had rendered justice.

Never in history had so many people waited in anticipation to learn what twelve of their ‘peers’ had decided in secret the day before. No one, aside from those twelve ordinary people, knew what their verdict sheet contained-not the judge, not the defendant, not the lawyers, not the police, not the President of the United States. Time magazine described it as ‘the single most suspenseful moment in television history’.

 The worldwide audience was surprised by the announcement of the unexpected ‘not guilty’ verdict. The Italian daily La Republicca had described Simpson’s acquittal as ‘a twist worthy of an Oscar’, continuing the cinematic metaphor with the claim that the trial had ‘wrong-footed everyone who had tried to guess the ending before the credits rolled’; The British tabloid The Sun declared the verdict ‘the biggest surprise in legal history’, as ‘The Juice’ (O.J.’s nickname since his foot-balling days) was ‘set loose’.

 Many white Americans had already made up their minds of Simpson’s guilt. Therefore, the Simpson case had become for them the pre-eminent symbol of something wrong with the American criminal justice system-and, indeed, with America. Or as one commentator put it, ‘for many Americans, the Simpson trial has become the criminal justice system’s Vietnam-an event of sickening revelation’. Angry whites did not riot as blacks had rioted following the initial acquittal of the police officers who beat Rodney King. In fact, the announcement of the Simpson verdict had been carefully scheduled by Judge Lance Ito, who presided over the trial. President Bill Clinton was briefed on nationwide security measures in the event of possible rioting, hours before the verdict was to be announced. The Los Angeles Police Department was on full alert. Writer Ben Stein predicted that ‘the whites will riot the way we whites do: leave the cities, go to Idaho or Oregon or Arizona’.

Reasons of choosing the Standpoint:

I have chosen the defence standpoint in this case. It means that I would defend Simpson who was charged with two counts of first degree murder, a capital offence under California law. The reason I have decided to defend Simpson entirely in considering the controversial verdict. Many Americans sincerely and understandably believed that Simpson killed Nicole and Ronald and that the jury’s verdict of ‘not guilty’ was therefore a miscarriage of justice. I have even come across jurors who thought that Simpson ‘did it’ as a matter of fact and could reasonably have found him not guilty as a matter of law-and of justice. The surrounding controversial opinions have persuaded me to find out whether they are wrong if they think Simpson was guilty. Therefore, I decided to find out what was the real truth behind the verdict, how, under their system of criminal justice, the Simpson jury could properly have reached a verdict so at odds with the conclusion reached by millions of intelligent and decent people who watched what they believed was the same trial.

 Theories of the case:

In this case, prosecutions had claimed that they have very strong evidence to prove that it was Simpson who murdered Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman. The crucial evidences on which the prosecutions were relied upon are as follows: Prosecutions alleged that, firstly, the series of Simpson’s violence directed at Nicole show that he had an established and existing motive to kill Nicole. Furthermore, Simpson’s opportunity in time and place was almost exclusive to carry out the killings. Secondly, collected evidence exclusively inferred that the killer was Simpson. These are hair, blood, fiber, shoe and glove evidence.

On the other hand, defence denied the prosecutions evidence against Simpson’s involvement to carry out the killings with very strong grounds. These are as follows:

 Firstly, Simpson was an innocent non-participant in the murders. The murders took place at a time and in a location which meant that it was impossible for Simpson to have been the perpetrator. This mainly challenges proposition 78.

 Secondly, Simpson did not have a motive to kill his wife. One little bit of domestic violence between Simpson and Nicole does not show that he had an existing motive to kill her, although he was not proud of that 1989 incident; since 1989 to her death there was never any physical violence between them. This mainly serves to attack propositions 2 and 3.

 Thirdly, the LAPD was responsible for framing Simpson. Motivated by anti-African-American sentiment, a racist investigative officer, detective Mark Fuhrman, had planted evidence at the crime scene. This mainly challenges proposition 136, and can also be used to give an innocent interpretation to all.

 Finally, the LAPD had performed unprofessionally, through the mishandling of forensic evidence at the crime scene by their incompetent and inexperienced criminalists and by others, external agencies, where laboratory samples were cross-contaminated and misplaced. This mainly serves to attack propositions 137, 138, 167, 184 and 199.

 List of used symbols:

The basic Wigmorean Chart’s symbols and the list for their translation:

 ?   (1) the square of depicting testimonial assertions; ? Defence will use to maintain the distinction between evidence offered by the defendant as opposed to the claimant.

 ?    (2) the circle for depicting circumstantial evidence or inferred propositions; ? Defence will use to maintain the distinction between evidence offered by the defendant as opposed to the claimant.

  >   (3) the open angle to identify an argument that provides an alternative explanation for an inference proposed by the other side; > Defence will use to maintain the distinction between the defendant and the claimant arguments.

 ?   (4) a vertical triangle to identify an argument that corroborates a proposed inference; ? Defence will use to maintain the distinction between the defendant and the claimant arguments.

 ?or? (5) a line with a directed arrow to indicate the ‘direction’ of a proposed inferential relationship between a factum probans and a factum probandum or between two factum probanda.

? (6) an infinity symbol to identify testimonial assertions or real evidence that the fact finders will hear or otherwise perceive with their other senses;

 ¶  (7) a paragraph symbol to identify facts the tribunal will judicially notice or otherwise accept without evidential support;


G   (8) the letter ‘G’ to denote a generalization that is likely to play a significant role in an argument in a case, but that is not a proposition that will be supported by evidence or that the tribunal will be formally asked to notice judicially.

 Evaluation of Wigmorean analysis:

Wigmore’s method is a tool that has its uses and its limitations. Particularly, I have found in Simpson’s case that it helped me to develop a logically sound analysis that organized a mass of evidence and charts the inferences necessary to relate all significant relevant data to the ultimate probandum “It was Simpson who murdered Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman”. The ultimate and penultimate probanda suggested intermediate probanda that I wanted to reach. But the evidential propositions also suggested direct and intermediate inferences and combinations whose relevance will be apparent only when formulated. However, my chosen case had already decided with a not guilty verdict in criminal court. It seems to me that the chart and key-list has provided the real opportunity for analyzing and evaluating the case-as-a-whole and testing the not guilty verdict.

  My understanding is that the method does not purport to solve all problems of handling evidence. It does not resolve questions of materiality or admissibility nor to be applicable to arguments about questions of law. It does not address such matters as conjunction and convergence. It lays a foundation for analysis but does not typically give much guidance as to the best method of presentation. With regards to my case, it’s true that it has provided a method for approaching an actual or potential mass of evidence in a disciplined way, but it did not prescribe the result. Furthermore, I have to limit the key-list from the available data to what is relevant (in some degree) to the ultimate probandum “It was Simpson who murdered Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman”. It has neither provided a detailed account of the different kinds of logical relationship between a factum probans and its immediate probandum.


Wigmorean analysis can provide a theoretical and practical tool for organising complex arguments and evidence, which could significantly benefit the defence in the trial of Simpson case. It is well known that many judges and lawyers make key-lists in their own styles to organise the arguments and evidence. Under this circumstance, Wigmorean key-lists and charts submitted as supplements for closing statements could attract their interest. Wigmore in The Science of Judicial Proof (1937) argued that the probative science would become more important because the judicial rules of admissibility are destined to lessen in relative importance during the next period of development under the age of ‘free proof’ prevailing in Continental Europe. Therefore, the science of proof is playing an important role in the criminal justice system, and Wigmorean analysis has a significant potentiality.


Allen, C. (2004), Practical Guide to Evidence, 3rd edn, London: Cavendish Publishing Ltd.

Anderson, T. and Twining, W. (1998), Analysis of Evidence, Illinois: Northwestern University Press.

Dershowitz, A, M. (1996), Reasonable doubts: the O.J. Simpson case and the criminal justice system, New York: Simon & Schuster.

Morrison, T and Brodsky, C. (1997), Birth of a nation’hood : gaze, script and spectacle in the O.J. Simpson case, London : Vintage.
Schmalleger, F. (1996), Trial of the century : people of the state of California vs. Orenthal James Simpson, Upper Saddle River, N.J : Prentice Hall.

Thaler, P .(1997), The spectacle: media and the making of the O.J. Simpson story, Westport, Conn : Praeger.

The complete case files of The People of the State of California v. Orenthal James Simpson (1994).

Williams, L. (2001), Playing the race card : melodramas of black and white from Uncle Tom to O.J. Simpson, Princeton, N.J.; Oxford : Princeton University Press.