Paynesville native recalls Simpson trial

This article submitted by Linda Stelling on 7/9/96.

For 16 months, Ron Olsen, Los Angeles, lived and breathed O.J. Simpson.

A Paynesville native, Olsen is a news reporter for KTLA-TV, a CNN affiliate. He worked a year at KELO-TV, Sioux Falls, S.D. before moving to Los Angeles. He has been with KTLA since 1984.

Olsen said the station received a tip that O.J. was about to be arrested by the police for the slaying of his ex-wife and Ron Goldman. KTLA was the only local station to provide wall-to-wall coverage of the trial.

"We were among the first reporters on the crime scene. The scene was taped off and the cops were there. But it just seemed inconceivable that O.J. was a suspect. He was in Chicago, he couldn't have done it," Olsen said. "It seemed the tipster wanted O.J. to be a suspect."

"A lot of people in Los Angeles are outraged that O.J. wasn't convicted. Iŕll never understand why the prosecution never introduced the slow speed chase at the trial. Inside the vehicle was a gun, $8,700 and O.J.'s passport," Olsen said.

"Speculation is that if it had been introduced, it would have made the jury more sympathetic to Simpson. In retrospect, I think it did more harm to leave it out than to admit it," Olsen stressed.

Camp O.J. was the media center located on the 12th floor of the court house during the trial.

The DNA evidence went on for weeks during the trial. "I was working closely with a Chicago Tribune correspondent and half-way through the evidence we asked each other if they understood what they were trying to tell the jury. It was very confusing and hard to understand. One juror said all she ever read was the racing form. How was she to understand the complicated DNA evidence they were trying to introduce when we couldn't," Olsen said.

"The defense had the argument confused and muddied. The way they presented it was difficult for anyone to understand," he added.

"In retrospect, the prosecution did a lousy job!" Olsen said.

In reference to Mark Furman, the police detective who claimed the fifth amendment for racial slurrs and planting evidence, the LA public defenders office investigation checked into 35 cases handled by Furman and found nothing to back up his allegations.

"Last week, results of an LA internal investigation says they found no factual evidence to back up anything that was brought out in the trial," Olsen said.

Many news reports stated O.J. wouldn't get a fair trial because of the media attention. Olsen disagreed. "I feel it is possible to seat a jury despite the heavy media coverage. Lay it on the line, this is law and this is evidence.

"However, I don't think you can find 12 untainted jurors because who can convict O.J. Simpson? He is an American icon who can do no wrong! He has an excellent public personna," Olsen said.

Olsen said during the trial his day started at 7 a.m. and by 8:30 a.m. he was at the criminal courts building and on the air live at 9 a.m. "We were on the air live two or three times in the morning and again in the afternoon. Coverage was nonstop," he added.

"Whenever there was a break in the trial we were on the air. Once the court adjourned for the day at 4:30 p.m., the reporters would start working on their pieces for the next day," Olsen explained.

Olsen said during the trial they lived and breathed O.J., there was no room for anything else. The trial was all consuming. A person was exhausted by the time Saturday rolled around, Olsen stressed. "On some days the developments occurred so rapid fire you didn't have time to blink. Everybody was totally committed to the trial. . .the attorneys, protestors, news media."

Olsen said on Sept. 9 the civil case starts against O.J. Simpson. "Some say the civil trial will take two to three months. The burden of proof lies with the family. O.J. will have to take the stand," he added.

Olsen said many people were left with the impression criminal law is too much of a game, it is an adversaral system.

"I do believe we need a system where the attorneys interact as adults, searching for the truth, with ethical conduct and honesty," Olsen said.

Olsen feels the trial left an impact on all their lives at Camp O.J. There aren't many opportunities for a reporter to cover a trial of this magnitude. "It was the best and worst of times," he added.

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