LOS ANGELES — Americans revisited one of the most sensational murder trials of modern times when a new twist appeared March 4 in the O.J. Simpson case.
Los Angeles police announced that a knife was allegedly found on Simpson’s former estate in Brentwood, stirring memories of the stabbings of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ron Goldman outside her apartment in 1994.
The development conjured up a cast of characters from the trial that gripped the nation’s attention in the mid-1990s: Remember the televised slow-speed chase of O.J. Simpson’s white Bronco? His all-star legal team? The glove that did not fit? Judge Lance Ito?
And who can forget the ongoing crusade of Goldman’s outraged family against Simpson, who is now imprisoned in Nevada for armed robbery and kidnapping in a separate case.
Emotions still burn fiercely about the case and its underlying issues that sound remarkably familiar today: race, justice and policing in America.
A jury acquitted Simpson in the killings in 1995, but questions endure about his guilt in popular culture — fairly or not. His acquittal largely split the country along racial lines. He cannot be tried again.
The weapon used in the stabbing deaths was described as a long, serrated knife. It was not found, and the double-murder case remains open.
Los Angeles police said they are examining what’s been described as a knife reportedly found at the estate that once belonged to the former football great who became a movie star.
“The actual item is described as a knife. I’m not going to go into the description of the knife because that could be germane to determining whether or not this actual piece of evidence is in fact evidence or is just a facsimile or a made up story,” Los Angeles Police Capt. Andrew Neiman said.
Police learned within the last month that an ex-Los Angeles traffic officer received the item from a construction worker who found it “back in the 90s,” possibly when the estate was being demolished, Neiman said.
It is being examined for forensics — including DNA and hairs — at a lab, he said.
The now-retired officer who had the knife “held onto it until just recently,” and authorities “discovered he had it” within the last month, Neiman said.
The construction worker told the officer he had found the knife on the former Simpson property, according to Neiman.
Neiman said he is not sure whether the officer had left the force at the time.
He was then working off duty on a “movie” job, according to Neiman. The officer retired in the late 1990s, he said.
Whoever found the object should contact police, Neiman told reporters.
Neiman said he didn’t know why the ex-officer waited so long to turn it over to police.
“I don’t know what the circumstances are, why that didn’t happen or if that’s entirely accurate or if this whole story is possibly bogus from the get-go,” he said.
The officer possibly held onto it in the mistaken belief that the case was closed, Neiman said.
CNN legal analyst Danny Cevallos said a knife could be tested for hair or blood but, with the passing of time, “it’s going to be a difficult test because this stuff is probably degraded significantly by being buried in the soil.”
Police didn’t disclose how exactly the knife was found, other than that a construction worker assigned to Simpson’s house had supposedly found it. In fact, investigators publicly asked for the construction worker to come forward.
The former lead detective in the Simpson case, Tom Lange, said investigators thoroughly searched Simpson’s residence after the murders. They also searched nearby streets.
“Initially … there were several knives found around the property,” he told CNN. “There were dozens and dozens of hours spent with over 100 officers searching property areas, sewers, streets, no-stone-unturned type of a situation.
“As to knives, there were several knives turned in by various people. I mean, we even had people admitting to the crime,” Lange added. “This particular incident, we don’t know anything about the circumstances of the recovery. It’s very unclear, so we’re going to have to wait and see.”
Alan Dershowitz, a member of Simpson’s legal team, said that, if indeed a knife had been recovered from Simpson’s former home, it “illustrates what a bad job the LAPD did.”
Some legal analysts said the government could get around Simpson’s double jeopardy protection by accusing him of a federal civil rights violation.
Dershowitz acknowledged such a possibility, but he said Simpson would easily prevail in court.
“The only possible way around [double jeopardy] is if you can get a federal indictment for violation of civil rights,” but the statute of limitations has “almost certainly” passed on any such violation, Dershowitz said.
“It would be very hard to find a civil rights violation here,” Dershowitz said. “O.J. Simpson will not be tried again, and if he is, he’ll be acquitted. That would be a very, very easy case for any competent defense or constitutional lawyer to win.”
In the murder trial, Allen Wattenberg, owner of Ross Cutlery store, testified that his employee sold Simpson a 15-inch stiletto knife on May 3, 1994. He said Simpson asked that the knife be sharpened.
Prosecution witness Dr. Lakshmanan Sathyavagiswaran told the jury he believed the killings were done with a single-edged knife.
During cross-examination, however, the doctor said he could not be positive.
Flanked by his all-star legal team, Simpson was found not guilty in the two killings on Oct. 3, 1995.
Testimony in the trial took about nine months, encompassing about 120 witnesses, 45,000 pages of evidence and 1,100 exhibits. Ito presided over the jury trial.
But after being acquitted, Simpson wasn’t entirely clear of legal trouble.
The Goldmans filed a civil wrongful death suit against Simpson, and in 1997, a jury found Simpson liable in the deaths and awarded the family $8.5 million in damages and millions more in punitive damages.
Goldman’s mother, Sharon Rufo, was unable to collect the entire proceeds from Simpson, who was forced by the court to surrender his golf clubs, his 1968 Heisman trophy, a Warhol painting and other assets. She later sought to auction off her rights to the unpaid settlement.
Interest in Simpson and the 1994 killings has spiked since the February debut of the FX series “American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson.”
Google searches for Simpson and other key figures in the case have skyrocketed in recent weeks amid record-setting ratings for the cable series, which brought in the largest debut audience ever for FX, according to Variety.
The series is based on the book “The Run of His Life: The People v. O.J. Simpson” by CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.
CNN’s Stella Chan contributed to this report.