Did 'Dateline' miss the mark with OJ?

When Josh Mankiewicz asked a question about tampering with evidence, I thought the Dateline correspondent was finally heading in the right direction. After all, the NBC News program had been hawked with the tantalizing title "The People vs. O.J. Simpson: What the Jury Never Heard."

It was 20 years ago this month that Simpson's ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ronald Goldman, were brutally knifed to death in a fashionable neighborhood on the west side of Los Angeles.

But the only person Mankiewicz asked about evidence tampering was Carl Douglas, a member of Simpson's defense team. He should have put that question to Mark Fuhrman, the onetime Los Angeles police detective whose questionable police work continues to escape serious scrutiny.

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Mankiewicz pressed Douglas about tampering after he said the NFL Hall of Famer's lawyers rearranged some things in Simpson's house shortly before the jury went there during the murder trial. This visit came after police had finished processing the home for evidence.

"We wanted to make (his home) look lived in … so that the jurors would say O.J. Simpson would not have risked all of this for this woman," Douglas explained.

But Mankiewicz should have put his evidence-tampering question to Fuhrman, the bigoted cop who claimed to have discovered the most damning evidence against Simpson. On the night of the double murder, he found a speck of blood on Simpson's Ford Bronco parked outside of his walled estate. This discovery gave police a reason to enter Simpson's compound. And it was while he roamed the property — alone — that Fuhrman found a bloody glove that matched one found miles away near the bodies of Goldman and Brown Simpson. Fuhrman had just come from that location.

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Ironically, in an incident that was never revealed to Simpson's jury, Fuhrman was accused of tampering with evidence in another murder case. That killing occurred just two months before the deaths of Brown Simpson and Goldman. Fuhrman, the lead investigator in that case, allegedly destroyed a piece of physical evidence that would have exonerated the defendant, his lawyer, Darryl Mounger, said in a motion filed in that case.

When Fuhrman could not produce that evidence, Los Angeles prosecutors agreed to drop the murder charge "in the interest of justice." The records of this case were sealed at the request of Los Angeles prosecutors. A few weeks later, the very same district attorney's office put Fuhrman on the stand to testify about evidence he allegedly found that pointed to Simpson's guilt.

"I'm the key witness in the biggest case of the century," Fuhrman said to an aspiring screenwriter in 1994 about his role in the Simpson case. "If I go down, they lose the case."

And here's something else the jury in the Simpson trial didn't know — and Dateline didn't explore in its report: Mounger, the attorney who accused Fuhrman of destroying exculpatory evidence in January 1995, defended him against a similar charge seven months later.

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When Fuhrman was put on the stand during the Simpson trial with the jury out of the courtroom and Mounger at his side, he asserted his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination when asked whether he had testified truthfully in the trial's preliminary hearing, or planted evidence in the Simpson case.

Maybe Simpson got away with murder. Maybe he didn't. I don't know.

If the Dateline report on what the jury never heard was supposed to move us closer to the truth of what happened, it didn't. That can't happen without a more expansive examination of Fuhrman's role, which might lead people to change their mind about Simpson's guilt or innocence. Or, it might cause them to conclude cops badly bungled their attempt to frame a guilty man.

DeWayne Wickham, dean of Morgan State University's School of Global Journalism and Communication, writes on Tuesdays for USA TODAY.

In addition to its own editorials, USA TODAY publishes diverse opinions from outside writers, including our Board of Contributors. To read more columns like this, go to the opinion front page or follow us on twitter @USATopinion or Facebook.


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