So impactful was Reginald Rose’s Twelve Angry Men that it ignited Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s passion for law (Semple, 2010; Vergel, 2010). Multiply adapted from Rose’s 1954 teleplay, director Sidney Lumet’s film version was released in 1957 and is recognized today by IMDb as one of the top ten films of all time. It even received the laudable honor of being parodied by “The Simpsons” in 1994, which is akin to winning the most prestigious of awards (FlimSpringfield, 2016).
12 Angry Men is a testimonial to the inspiring power of one individual to make a positive difference, hence its enduring appeal. Renowned actor Henry Fonda stars as a juror who, despite damning evidence otherwise, manages to persuade his fellow jurors to vote on acquittal for the defendant known as “The Kid.”
12 Angry Men was released sixty years ago, yet one cannot help but think about its similarities to “The Trial of the Century,” the People vs O.J. Simpson. Twenty-two years have passed since the verdict of “Not Guilty,” yet it continues to fascinate: the celebrity defendant, his dream team of lawyers, the oddball witnesses, the inept prosecutors, the astonishing verdict, and the palpable grief of the victim’s families.
Did the juries, both fictional and real, let the defendants go free when their guilt was more than plausible? It challenges logic for the audience to believe “The Kid” to be guilt-free, just as it is a conundrum to deem O. J. Simpson innocent. In addition to convincing indications of guilt, both cases wield the inconceivable, “Who else would have done it?”
All a Defense Lawyer Has to Do Is Plant a Seed of Doubt
To get a client off, all a defensive lawyer worth his salt has to do is to successfully plant a seed of doubt in the minds of the jury. Strategies of creating reasonable doubt involve heavy insinuation of other suspects, real or imagined. The jury of 12 Angry Men were presented with pieces of evidence such as the bloody knife, and asked to consider the possibility that an unknown killer murdered the father, using a knife just the same as The Kid’s. It does not matter that there was absolutely no trace of any other suspect besides The Kid. The sole purpose is to create doubt, and in turn, a “not guilty” verdict, or at worse, a hung jury.
Each piece of evidence can be examined by itself with reasonable doubt. Put together all evidence, and the odds are infinitely small that all contradictions are true. Yet, Henry Fonda’s character managed to persuade each member of the jury of an overarching reasonable doubt, thus turning each vote into an acquittal for The Kid.
To create doubt, O. J. Simpson’s lawyers managed to make the case more about race than murder. Mark Fuhrman was the goose who laid their golden egg. That the prosecution failed to demonstrate that work gloves tend to shrink and shrivel when soaked in blood then dried once more certainly did not hurt. Today Brian “Kato” Kaelin, the much ballyhooed house guest of Simpson’s, soundly concludes with the majority of America that O. J. Simpson murdered his ex-wife Nicole Brown and her friend Ron Goldman.
While the jury acquitted Simpson, they never professed his innocence. The jury merely used the wiggle room given to them by the haphazard prosecution to find the accused not guilty. For the prosecution to put a defendant behind bars for any amount of time, an airtight case must be presented. Four hours of deliberation was all the Trial of the Century’s jury needed to agree that Marcia Clark’s prosecution did not prove Simpson’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
It was not unanimous at first for an anonymous two who originally voted to convict on the first round of deliberations. One juror later expressed regret that these two did not reveal themselves to argue a guilty verdict because she might have been persuaded to change her vote. It is interesting that another particular juror, on a previous case, convinced 11 other jurors to change their verdict to her’s in what must have been an impressive performance of persuasion, much like Henry Fonda’s juror in 12 Angry Men.
Putting fate at the hands of a jury is unsettling to say the least. Jury consultants are paid handsomely to optimize chances of the desired verdict, but it is never a sure thing. When the announcement came that the Simpson verdict was imminent, my husband and his work colleagues, who were in Los Angeles for a business conference, were making preparations to catch a flight back home to Atlanta. They were rightly concerned about the outcome, since a verdict of “Guilty” undoubtedly would have caused riots that could have either rivaled or gone beyond those in the case of Rodney King.
Our “innocent until proven guilty” legal system strives to be perfect, but justice is not always served. For the sake of the defendant, and ultimately our legal system, one hopes that each juror who serves is as thorough and principled as Henry Fonda’s Juror #8.
Quote Robert Shapiro, a leading member of O. J. Simpson’s legal dream team in an interview with Megyn Kelly (Fox News, 2016):
I felt that legal justice was served that day. As far as moral justice being served, I have not discussed that with anyone, not even my wife.
A hung jury is a judicial jury that after extended deliberation cannot agree on a verdict and is therefore unable to reach the required unanimous decision. In the US, if the jury cannot agree on a verdict on one or more counts, the court may declare a mistrial on those counts and retry the case at a later time.
A teleplay is a script written for television. First used during the early days of broadcast television, the term distinguishes teleplays from stage plays written for theater and screenplays written for films.
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2 thoughts on “12 Angry Men vs “The Trial of the Century””
Lucy, yours was a most interesting comparison of the Fonda film and the news event. Thank you. Sometime, when we’re not chatting online, remind me to share our family’s OJ story with you. Chilling. As an aside, you, like Mary, are a marvelous writer.
Hi Milam, My mother and I are practically twitching to hear your OJ Story!