20 years on, O.J. Simpson's white Bronco freeway chase remains an iconic TV moment

20 years on, Simpson's white Bronco freeway chase remains an iconic TV moment

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 June, 2014, 3:21am
UPDATED : Monday, 16 June, 2014, 3:21am


It's like JFK or Princess Diana dying: almost everyone in America old enough remembers where they were the day of the O.J. Simpson white Bronco freeway chase.

Twenty years later, it remains an unforgettable TV moment.

About 95 million Americans watched the slow-speed chase live on television on June 17, 1994, as the NFL megastar went on the run after the murder of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown, and her friend Ronald Goldman.

The anniversary is being marked by a resurgence of memories of the motorcade, and the trial that followed, the first followed by a mass international audience in real time.

It was a surreal spectacle ... Shakespearian. It was a reality show
Journalist Jim Newton

The day's events started with police announcing that OJ was the chief suspect in the murders of Brown and Goldman, whose bloodied bodies had been found four days earlier.

Hours later, Simpson was seen driving along Interstate 5 outside Los Angeles with his football friend Al Cowlings. The star had a gun that police feared he would use to kill himself.

Some TV stations broke into coverage of the NBA finals to transmit the unfolding drama.

"There are some watershed moments in American culture that kind of transform the way we view the world, and I think that chase was certainly one of those moments," said legal expert Marcellus McRae.

"It was a surreal spectacle. It was almost Shakespearian. It was a reality show."

TV viewers were hypnotised by the story because "it's not Hollywood, it's real life and it's someone that you actually know", McRae said.

Live TV coverage showed dozens of police cars following Simpson's white Bronco at slow speed, while thousands of bystanders gathered on bridges and on the side of the freeway to watch the procession.

Journalist Jim Newton, who covered it for The Los Angeles Times, said the chase was ideally suited for real-time, round-the-clock TV coverage, which was still in its infancy. "It was a precursor of the reality show," he said.

Moreover, "Simpson really divided people," Newton added, comparing it to the Michael Jackson child molestation claims and trial, in terms of public debate and controversy.

Television news helicopters followed the pursuit all the way to the gates of Simpson's house, where he gave himself up after hours of negotiations with police.

The blanket media coverage continued during Simpson's criminal trial, which began in January 1995, lasted for nine months and drew more than 2,000 journalists from around the world.

The trial provided iconic moments itself, including when the former sports star tried on a bloodied glove found at the scene of the crime - which turned out to be too small, undermining a key prosecution claim.

The day of the verdict, October 3 1995, 145 million tuned in to see him declared not guilty.

His fans took to the streets to celebrate, while critics accused the jury of ignoring DNA evidence, and pointed out that 10 of the deciding panel's 12 members were African American, like Simpson himself.

Controversy over the case returned two years later when he was ordered to pay US$33.5 million to the families of the victims following a civil trial.

Simpson's problems with the law did not end there. In 2008 he was found guilty of armed robbery and kidnapping in Las Vegas and sentenced to between nine and 33 years in jail.


O.J. Simpson: a life of legal woes


June 13: police find the bloodied bodies of Simpson's former wife, Nicole Brown, and her friend Ronald Goldman at her home in the Los Angeles suburb of Brentwood. Simpson returns from Chicago, where he had flown the previous night.

June 16: Simpson attends his ex-wife's funeral, accompanying the couple's two children, Sydney and Justin.

June 17: LA police formally charge Simpson on two counts of homicide. The former football star embarks on his infamous low-speed chase with police in a white Bronco, watched live by TV viewers across America. He finally surrenders in the evening.

July 8: An LA judge rules Simpson will face trial for the double murder, saying there is ample evidence against him.


January 23: Start of the O.J. Simpson trial.

June 15: In court, Simpson tries on the bloodied glove found at Brown's house. "They're too small," he tells the jury.

Oct 3: Simpson is declared not guilty on all charges, in a triumph for his so-called Dream Team of lawyers.


Oct 23: Start of the civil trial against Simpson, after legal action brought by Ronald Goldman's father, Fred Goldman.


Feb 4: A jury finds Simpson responsible for the two murders, and orders him to pay US$33.5 million to the families of the victims.


Sept 13: Simpson and a group of men are accused of staging an armed robbery and kidnapping in a Las Vegas hotel.


Oct 3: Thirteen years to the day after his acquittal on murder charges, Simpson is found guilty over the Vegas robbery, and jailed for 9-33 years. He remains behind bars at the Lovelock Correctional Centre northeast of Reno, Nevada.


Nov 27: A judge rejects Simpson's request for a retrial on grounds that his long-time lawyer Yale Galanter had botched his defence.