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‘The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story’ Recap: Mark Fuhrman’s Racist Tapes Rattle Prosecution

Dropping the ball! On the Tuesday, March 29, episode of FX’s The People vs. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story, Chris Darden (Sterling K. Brown) was vindicated when the witness he never wanted to put on the stand, Mark Fuhrman (Steven Pasquale), turned out to be a racist with a known track record for brutalizing black people and falsifying police documents. As Chris and the prosecution dealt with this blow, the defense was overjoyed at how well Fuhrman’s past played into their strategy.

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Very Sticky Tape

The episode started with two conflicting arguments from the defense and prosecution. A doctor on the witness stand testified that O.J. Simpson (Cuba Gooding Jr.) couldn’t have murdered his ex-wife Nicole Brown and her friend Ron Goldman because he had crippling arthritis. Then, an exercise video taped by O.J. a few weeks before the murder was shown. He was squatting with ease.

With that argument weakened by the exercise video, the defense doubled down on following up on a tip that told them there were tapes in existence that held audio proof of Fuhrman using racial slurs.

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Race wasn’t just a topic to be dealt with on the alleged recordings of Fuhrman, either; in the courtroom, Darden and Johnnie Cochran (Courtney B. Vance) squared off, firing personal accusations of one another during a cross-examination of a witness. Judge Lance Ito (Kenneth Choi) intervened, but it was all seen by the constantly viewing public as it played out across their television screens.

Johnnie didn’t stay upset for too long, anyway. His team had confirmed the authenticity of the tapes while he and Chris fought in court. Now, they just had to find a way to get them from a woman who didn’t want to sell them. She was a screenwriter who hadn’t managed to sell the screenplay based on her taped interviews with Fuhrman. The defense got Judge Ito to subpoena her, as Marcia Clark (Sarah Paulson) was left to wonder what, exactly, they were trying to get out of “an unemployed screenwriter.”

F. Lee Bailey (Nathan Lane) and Johnnie were on the next flight to North Carolina to get those tapes.

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The Prosecution Has Peg on Their Faces

Lee and Johnnie pored over transcripts of the tapes. They saw that Fuhrman used racial slurs and bragged about brutalizing black people and owned up to torturing those in his custody. In spite of the horrible admissions made by the detective who showed up the night Nicole was killed, the judge in North Carolina would not enforce the subpoena. As Johnnie raged outside the courthouse about how asinine the judge’s ruling was, Lee pointed to a statue of a Confederate soldier behind them and told Johnnie that when they filed the emergency appeal, it would be best to let him speak because white people simply had more sway in the South.

It worked. The tapes were delivered to the courthouse in L.A.

Judge Ito decided that both teams could review the tapes, but beyond that, they must be sealed and kept from the courtroom, pending his approval of their use as evidence. Chris and Marcia listened to their copies in silence as Fuhrman was heard casually admitting to a variety of torturous interrogation and submission techniques. They looked at one another. This was not good.

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Marcia and Chris took District Attorney Gil Garcetti (Bruce Greenwood) into a conference room to tell him of an “O. Henry twist” they’d found on the tapes. One person who’d been attacked in particular was Judge Ito’s wife, Peggy. His description of her was vile, and Marcia had discovered that she, the highest-ranking woman in the LAPD, had reprimanded Fuhrman for writing “KKK” on an Martin Luther King Jr. poster. That meant she lied when she signed the affidavit saying she had no recollection of any encounters with Fuhrman. If she was called as a witness, Judge Ito would be forced to disqualify himself, and there would be a mistrial. That would cost taxpayers $6 million and Garcetti, who was up for reelection and doing badly in polls, wanted nothing to do with that. Neither did either legal team.

Upon learning that his wife had lied to allow him to preside over such a huge case and that she was insulted horrifically on tape, Judge Ito gave an emotional address in the courtroom. He spoke about the unfair treatment successful women receive in male-dominated fields, and Chris looked at Marcia, who kept her eyes down.

Judge Ito called for another judge to make the call whether the case could remain before him. The room erupted into panicked chatter.

An Audio-Visceral Reaction

As a new judge declared it would take him time to review the tapes and determine where to go with the trial, Johnnie assembled a coalition of local black community leaders to demand an investigation into the tapes that went “beyond O.J.”

Back in the courtroom, Johnnie presented Judge Ito with the defense’s latest plan. They would only use the portions of the tapes that showed Fuhrman using the n-word, which he swore under oath he had not said in the last 10 years, and the portions that showed him personally admitting to police misconduct when dealing with community members of color. Marcia countered by producing other cases where similar evidence had been ruled unusable and begging Judge Ito to “act on precedent.”

Judge Ito ruled that the tapes should be played in their entirety for the court to hear before deciding which parts were admissible. Chris and Marcia both began to yell at the judge and the defense. No one said a word as it became clear that the prosecution was unraveling.

The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story
‘The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story’

The tapes were played. Everyone in the room recoiled in disgust as Fuhrman’s voice boomed through the speakers with a cavalier description of beating the faces of black people into “mush” and washing the blood of his hands before going out to direct traffic. The looks on the faces of officers, family members and observers were ones of absolute horror.

Later, Marcia told Chris she was sorry for not listening to him when he expressed his initial hesitation about using Fuhrman as a witness. He apologized for forcing the issue with the gloves, and they shook hands.

Fuhrman’s Filthy Fifth

The defense team was not in such a positive place. They found out that Judge Ito had only allowed two sentences out of the 13 hours’ worth of tapes. The only sentences he would allow were evidence of Fuhrman’s perjury; none of Fuhrman’s statements about brutalizing people of color or forging police documents were allowed. Most importantly, nothing about the planting of evidence was allowed, which the defense had been banking on.

Johnnie gave a press conference about how corrupt the decision was, urging residents of Los Angeles to “stay calm.” Back at his house, he couldn’t stop shaking as he told his wife, “I feel like I failed.” She comforted him quietly.

In court, he gave off a much more polished vibe as he recalled Fuhrman to the stand. A somber Fuhrman, who had to fight off crowds of protesters as he entered the building, walked into the room and took a seat at the stand.

“It’s hard to be hated by both sides,” Lee whispered as everyone glared at the detective. “It takes a man of a certain … character.”

Chris stood up and walked out as Johnnie got up to question Fuhrman, who shocked everyone by pleading the Fifth repeatedly when asked if he had lied under oath or falsified police documents.

Johnnie hit him with one last question: “Did you plant or manufacture any evidence in this case?”

Fuhrman pleaded the Fifth, making himself look very, very guilty.

As O.J. gloated later to Robert Kardashian (David Schwimmer) about how well it had gone that day, Kardashian looked sick to his stomach. Maybe that had something to do with the fact that he thought his friend was guilty of murdering Nicole, and the attorney’s kids — Kourtney, Kim, Khloé and Rob — had been facing bullies at school due to his defense of a possible murderer.

The episode ended with Marcia learning she had won primary custody of her children.

Tell Us: Is it fair that the Fuhrman tapes affected the case?

The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story airs on FX Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET.

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