Rick Weinberg
Special to ESPN.com

The DNA of the drops of blood at the crime scene, found just to the left of the size-12 footprints, matched O.J. Simpson's DNA. So did the bloodstain on the back gate of the exclusive Bundy Drive condominium in Beverly Hills, California. And the drops of blood on Simpson's driveway and in the foyer of his house.

Blood from the two murder victims -- Nicole Brown Simpson, O.J. Simpson's wife, and her friend, Ronald Goldman -- was also found in O.J. Simpson's home. The black socks at the foot of Simpson's bed had a splotch of blood that matched Nicole Simpson's DNA.

Matching bloody gloves were found at the Bundy Drive residence and outside Simpson's home, showing genetic markers consistent with a blend of the murder victims' and Simpson's DNA.

Smears of blood that were mixtures of both murder victims and Simpson's DNA were found in Simpson's white Ford Bronco -- the one where he sat in the back seat holding a gun to his head while friend Al Cowlings drove for miles and miles with a fleet of 20 black and white police squad cars following closely behind, halting traffic from Los Angeles to Disneyland, prompting people to jam the freeway overpasses and TV news choppers to fly overhead, broadcasting the astonishing spectacle, play by play, from coast to coast.

Simpson, the Heisman Trophy winner later enshrined into the Hall of Famer, a person known for his rental car commercials and film roles, was knee deep in guilt, a shocking revelation to people who knew him well as well as to football fans.

Simpson was arrested and charged with a double murder, a crime that could result in life in prison. He spent 474 days in prison while a most publicized, talked about, controversial and bizarre trial dragged on for month upon month.

Simpson's hard-driving defense team, led by DNA experts Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld, fiercely challenged every piece of scientific evidence. They tore into the genetic analyses of one witness after another, ridiculing the Los Angeles Police Department crime lab as a cesspool of corruption that tainted evidence. They also raised an even more sinister theme, suggesting that police set out to frame Simpson.

Finally, after nearly a year in the most riveting courtroom drama anyone had ever witnessed, the defense rested. The world braced itself, waiting anxiously for the moment Judge Lance Ido's clerk would announce "guilty" or "not guilty."

THE MOMENT
It's 9 a.m., Oct. 3, 1995. Thousands of people converge on the downtown Los Angeles courthouse. The air is electric, for after 266 days of sequestration at the Inter-Continental Hotel in downtown L.A., jurors in the Simpson trial deliberate for a mere three hours, bringing one of history's most sensational trials to a stunning climax and dramatic close.

The courtroom is jammed. There is clamoring and pushing. Suddenly, the courtroom becomes silent as Simpson enters. Spectators tremble visibly in anticipation of the verdict, broadcast live nationwide. Business across the country comes to a virtual standstill. The world watches breathlessly from L.A. to middle America to the East Coast and everywhere else in between.

Goldman's sister, Kim, immediately starts sobbing. The tension builds as clerk Deidre Robertson hands the verdict envelope to the jury forewoman. She certifies the forms. Robertson takes back the envelope and begins reading.

Simpson's attorney, Johnny Cochran, clenches his hands. He then raises them to his lips in a gesticulation of hope. Simpson clenches his jaw. His mouth trembles with emotion. He purses his lips. He gulps once, then twice, then once more. He wears a pained expression as Robertson is about to read the verdict.

As millions of viewers nationwide watch the live drama unfold before their very eyes, breathlessly and nervously, Robertson begins reading the verdict in the tense courtroom.

Juror Lionel Cryer, a former Black Panther whom prosecutors had mysteriously and shockingly left on the panel, smiles and winks at Simpson, astonishingly. Defense lawyer Carl Douglas glances at the most hostile witness to the defense, Anise Ascherbach, a 60-year-old white woman. She breaks into a small smile, prompting Douglas to whip his head around and whisper to Simpson, "O.J., I think we won!"

The verdict is read: "In the matter of the people versus Orenthal James Simpson, we find the defendant . . . Orenthal James Simpson . . . not guilty of the crime of murder against Nicole Brown Simpson."

Simpson's body immediately uncoils, and he appears as if he is going to fall backwards and pass out. He breathes a sigh of relief. He regains his balance. A faint smile appears on his face. He waves limply, lifelessly, at the panelists and mumbles, quietly and softly, "Thank you."

Nicole Simpson's parents, Louis and Juditha Brown, sit stoically, motionless, unable to comprehend what they just heard. Nicole's her two sisters immediately began crying.

The Goldmans, fearing the worst, sit nervously as the reading unfolds again, this time for the verdict of Ronald L. Goldman. When the words "not guilty" are uttered once again by Robertson, the crowd breaks into a combination of fury, rage, anger and joy. Around the nation, the response is likewise mixed, and polarized.

Goldman's sister, Kim, sobs in gulping moans that ring through the courtroom. Goldman's stepmother, Patti, crumples forward on the wooden court bench, muttering, "Oh my God." Fred Goldman, Ronald's father, turns toward Simpson and shouts, "Murderer."

As the Goldmans and the Browns drown in anger, sorrow and outrage, Simpson's eldest daughter, Arnelle, joyously exclaims, "Oh, my God, yes!" Simpson's son, Jason, places his head in his hands and cries. Simpson's elderly mother, Eunice, smiles in her wheelchair.

Simpson, meanwhile, lets out a long, shuddering sigh. Cochran pounds him on the back and pumps his fist in the air. Simpson embraces Cochran and silently thanks the jury of nine blacks, two whites and a Hispanic man. Simpson's longtime friend Robert Kardashian pulls him close for a hug and wipes away tears.

On the other side of the courtroom, Deputy District Attorney Marcia Clark refuses to turn toward the jurors. She is pale, stunned. She purses her lips, obviously bitterly angry and astonished at the same time.

Prosecutor Christopher Darden, who as a high school football player aspired to wear Simpson's number, glares angrily at the jury panelists, his mouth half open in disbelief and dismay. The jurors refuse to meet his stare.

As the jurors leave the courtroom, Cryer, the former Black Panther, gives Simpson a clenched fist salute with his left arm. Judge Ito tells jurors to "expect the worst" from swarms of reporters seeking their tales. Virtually all of them immediately disperse and flee, saying as little as possible to the press.

The rage and fury inside the courtroom filters outdoors, where racial lines are drawn, where there is a haunting and peculiar combination of bliss and relief on one side, resentment and hostility on the other.

L.A. District Attorney Gil Garcetti, bewildered and humiliated by the stunning verdict, angrily tells reporters he is "profoundly disappointed" because there was a "mountain of evidence" against Simpson.

Dueling press conferences begin. Defense lawyers attribute the victory not to their battle against racism but to their ability to destroy the chronology of the prosecution's case. Cochran would tell the media that "no reasonable person" could believe that Simpson could murder two people, return home, change clothes, shower, conceal his weapon and flee to the airport in the time that prosecutors had illustrated.

"We always said that if we could shatter the prosecution's timeline so that O. J. couldn't have committed this crime, there would be a reasonable doubt," Cochran would say afterwards in the news conference in Judge Ito's courtroom. "That's even before we ever got to the socks, the glove and Fuhrman," Cochran would add, alluding to Mark Fuhrman, the L.A. detective who had boasted, according to testimony, of beating suspects, singling out minorities for brutal treatment and manufacturing evidence.

Critics of the verdict bellow that the jury had been manipulated by a contemptuous defense team that talked on and on about the racism of Los Angeles police more than the guilt or innocence of Simpson. Simpson's lawyers, meanwhile, continue to say that prosecutors simply had not proven their case.

Meanwhile, legal experts on TV and radio claim that what the verdict says is that fame and money can buy the best defense, can take a case of overwhelming and incriminating physical evidence and transform it into a case riddled with reasonable doubt.

"We came here in search of justice," Darden would say, slowly and sadly, in a wake-like news conference. His words abruptly stop. He shakes his head silently. He breaks down then waves his hand, essentially saying, "No more questions."

"I deeply believe the country lost today," Goldman tells the media, brushing away tears. "Justice was not served today."

At 11:16 a.m., Simpson returns to his Brentwood estate and embraces his longtime friend Al Cowlings in the same driveway where Simpson was arrested on June 17, 1994, just a few days after the violent, brutal murders of Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman. As night falls, crowds of people, some cynics, some well-wishers, gather beyond police barricades as the Simpson entourage parties inside the exclusive home, celebrating the landmark verdict.






The ESPN Take: 11-20

12: Pete Rose becomes all-time hits leader

13: Ripken tops Gehrig, takes lap around Camden

14: Montana hits Clark to win NFC Championship

15: N.C. State dunks Houston in NCAA final

16: Bonds hits No. 71 to set single-season HR record

17: Laettner's buzzer-beater sinks Kentucky

18: Cal's five-lateral kickoff return shocks Stanford

19: Adam Vinatieri's kick wins Super Bowl for Patriots

20: Nicklaus birdies 17, wins Masters at 46

Best of 1995