Oscar Pistorius saga draws comparison to American OJ Simpson trial

Simpson is serving a 33-year prison sentence in Nevada after being convicted on unrelated crimes, including armed robbery and kidnapping.

Last updated on Friday, 22 February, 2013 14:00 IST
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Washington: They're both murder cases involving high-profile athletes, so it's inevitable that comparisons will be drawn between South Africa's "Blade Runner" Oscar Pistorius and American OJ Simpson (in pic).

American football star turned media personality Simpson, now 65, was acquitted of the June 1994 murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson after one of the most sensational trials in US criminal history.

Simpson is serving a 33-year prison sentence in Nevada after being convicted on unrelated crimes, including armed robbery and kidnapping.

Here's how Simpson's case compares with that of Pistorius, the double amputee Olympian and Paralympian who denies murdering his girlfriend, model Reeva Steenkamp, on Valentine's Day.

INVESTIGATORS' INTEGRITY CHALLENGED

In the still-unfolding Pistorius case, the prosecution has been undermined by revelations that lead detective Hilton Botha is facing seven charges of attempted murder in connection with a 2011 shooting incident involving a minibus taxi with seven people inside.

During the Simpson trial, Los Angeles police officer Mark Fuhrman -- who found the blood-stained glove at Simpson's residence that became a key piece of evidence in the case -- denied prior use of racial slurs. He went on to be convicted of perjury.

(Quoted by Fox News on Thursday, Furhman said the evidence against Pistorius looked overwhelming: "Here is what he admits: ‘I shot my girlfriend.' And he has to admit he fought with her in the past, because the police had been there previously. That's really all you need to know here.")

HIGH-PROFILE DEFENSE TEAMS

Just as Pistorius is banking on one of South Africa's top lawyers Barry Roux, to get him off the hook, Simpson spent an estimated $3 million to $6 million on a high-caliber defense team that included celebrity attorney F. Lee Bailey. Simpson's team also included DNA specialists tasked with discrediting the DNA evidence that was a key part of the prosecution's case.

SHAKY TESTIMONY

In the Pistorius case, prosecutors cited a witness who spoke of hearing what sounded like an argument at the track star's home in the early morning hours - but as it happened, the witness lived more than 300 yards (meters) away.

Another witness claimed to have heard a woman screaming between two rounds of gunfire, and of hearing a total of five or six shots. Police, however, contend that Pistorius shot his gun only four times.

In the Simpson case, Jill Shively, a neighbor of Nicole Simpson, reputedly saw Simpson leave the scene of the crime on the night of the murder. Knife dealer Jose Camacho meanwhile said he sold a 15-inch (380 millimeter) knife to Simpson three weeks prior to the murder. Both witnesses sold their stories to the media, but neither testified at Simpson's trial.

DUBIOUS EVIDENCE

Pistorius's defense team contends that the evidence fails to show the track star committed murder. Investigators neglected to wear protective clothing at the crime scene, did not verify the suspect's claim that he called the emergency services, and overlooked a bullet that fell into a toilet.

Simpson's lawyers successfully argued that DNA evidence was flawed because because blood samples - taken at the murder scene, at Simpson's home and in his car - had been poorly handled. One forensic officer even toted a sample around in his pocket all day before submitting it to the crime laboratory.

The infamous glove that bore the blood stains of Nicole Simpson and fellow murder victim Ronald Goldman meanwhile turned out to be too small for Simpson's hand. Prosecutors claimed it had shrunk as a result of being blood-soaked and refrigerated, while defense lawyer Johnnie Cochran famously told jurors: "If it doesn't fit, you must acquit."

PAST VIOLENT BEHAVIOR

Pistorius had been arrested in 2009 for violent conduct involving a young woman, and he was also once investigated for illegal ownership of .38 caliber ammunition that defense lawyers said belonged to his father. An autopsy meanwhile found no signs of physical violence on Steenkamp's body.

In Simpson's case, the prosecution spent the opening weeks of the trial presenting evidence that the former San Francisco 49s running back had a history of physically abusing Nicole Simpson. Defense lawyer Alan Dershowitz argued only a tiny fraction of women abused by their mates are murdered.

FLIGHT RISKS

At Pistorius's bail hearing, judge Desmond Nair openly questioned whether someone so famous would chose to slip out of South Africa prior to his trial - especially someone who needed prosthetic legs to get around. Simpson, on the other hand, did try to flee - during an eight-hour manhunt that included a dramatic suicide note and a car chase through Los Angeles freeways that was seen live on national television.

MEDIA COVERAGE

Both cases have doubtlessly generated enormous global media attention, but whereas the Pistorius case is unfolding in the era of social media, no-one at the time of Simpson's trial could have imagined how mainstream the Internet - let alone Twitter - would become.

Story first published on: Friday, 22 February 2013 13:45 IST

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