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Simpson vs. McVeigh: Trials a study in contrast

Simpson & McVeigh June 6, 1997
Web posted at: 10:33 p.m. EDT (0233 GMT)

From Correspondent Jim Moret

LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- With the intense public scrutiny and interest in the O.J. Simpson and Timothy McVeigh criminal trials, comparisons between the two are perhaps inevitable.

And while the post-trial reviews of the Simpson criminal proceedings -- as opposed to his civil trial -- were largely negative, the McVeigh case is being viewed in quite a different light.

"Hopefully, America will really get a sense of how justice can be served in this country. And hopefully, they'll forget the Simpson trial," says trial attorney Andrew Cohen.

Most observers say the main difference between these trials rests with who was sitting on the bench. The judge in the Simpson trial, Lance Ito, was criticized for letting it go adrift. The judge in Denver, Richard Matsch, kept a much tighter hold on the proceedings.

"I think Judge Matsch is the anti-Ito," says Professor Laurie Levinson of Loyola Law School. "He took a look at the Simpson case and said, 'That is not the kind of trial I will have.'"

"Judge Matsch made that abundantly clear [that] if you had an objection to make, you didn't have a bench conference that took an hour," defense attorney David Lane says.

Cameras barred in McVeigh courtroom

There were other significant differences between the trials.

Audiences were drawn to the gavel-to-gavel coverage on television of the Simpson case. Cameras are barred in federal courts, so the public's view of the Oklahoma bombing trial came through the eyes of artists and reporters.

Prosecutors in Denver called 137 witnesses, nearly twice as many as were called by prosecutors in the Simpson case. Yet, lawyers in the McVeigh case kept their presentation short and simple. As a result, the McVeigh trial took less than six weeks, while the Simpson trial lasted more than eight months.

Lawyers in the McVeigh trial were also barred from speaking to reporters about the case. No such restriction existed in the Simpson trial, and some attorneys seemed to relish the media attention showered upon them.

"In the Simpson case, you had lawyers who were actors," Levinson says. "It was all about them, their personalities. In the McVeigh case, these lawyers acted like lawyers."

The celebrity aspect of the defendant in the Simpson case was also absent in the McVeigh trial.

"They basically had an ordinary guy, and he was involved in an extraordinarily heinous crime," says John Burris, a criminal defense attorney, of McVeigh. "He just was not a likable person."

Now, with McVeigh now convicted of the most deadly act of terrorism on U.S. soil, many analysts think his trial was an important step toward restoring public confidence in a justice system so badly shaken by the Simpson trial.

 
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