Editor's note: On Friday at 9 p.m. ET, ESPN will broadcast the premiere of Part 4 of "O.J.: Made in America," a five-part documentary chronicling the life of one of America's most polarizing figures, O.J. Simpson. ESPN.com sat down with the producer and director of the film, Ezra Edelman, to talk about the fateful day of Bronco chase and the key players surrounding the trial.
In one of the big surprises to me from Part 4, which focuses on the trial, O.J. was allowed to sign autographs from prison, which reportedly earned him $3 million and helped to pay for his defense team. In your research, did you find that to be an unusual development?
Ezra Edelman: It's unusual in the sense that, first of all, there aren't many celebrities who are tried for murder, let alone a celebrity whose primary means of making money is signing autographs. There are so many unique things about this story, and that's part and parcel of it. You have a guy who was a celebrity and former football star who signed autographs for a living, and if you haven't been convicted of a crime, you still have the right to earn an income. But that was surprising to me. I didn't know that before I started.
The defense couldn't have played this any smarter. Did you get the sense that they went out of bounds on any one thing? Or did they merely play within the rules of the legal system better than the other side?
Edelman: They absolutely played within the rules of the system. As Marcia Clark says in the film, it's up to the judge to determine what is fair or foul in a criminal proceeding, and a defense attorney's job is to defend the client using everything in their tool kit.
Judge Lance Ito doesn't get much play in the documentary. Why?
Edelman: First of all, he didn't do an interview, and he's never done an interview about this, so there's that. And there are a lot of characters in this trial -- not everyone gets equal play. And the fact is, I was more interested in the issues of criminal and social justice that were brought to bear in this story, so I didn't get a chance to tell much of Judge Ito's story. There wasn't a purpose -- it just happened that way.
Whereas the defense seemingly did everything right, the prosecution erred in many ways. If they were given one do-over during the trial, what would they have done differently?
Edelman: I'll bounce it back to you: what do you think is their biggest blunder?
Based on the documentary, I'd roll with Chris Darden's insistence to have O.J. try on the gloves before the jury, despite the fact that he'd be wearing latex over his hands, which affected the fit.
Edelman: Well, if I were able to ask Chris Darden whether he regretted that decision, I would have. I would've loved to have asked him that question, but he declined to participate in the film.
Look, I don't want to speak to what they think is their biggest regret, because there's a confluence of factors that went into the acquittal. Obviously, the glove episode is something that everyone acknowledges was a mistake. Having said that, I don't want to throw everything at the feet of Chris Darden. Mistakes were made throughout the trial. I don't think there's one regret that everybody would point to.
The film suggests that Darden was made a key figure in the prosecution's team at least in part for optical reasons -- the color of his skin matched the defendant's. In Part 4, a juror goes as far as to say Darden ruined their case. Do you get the sense that Darden was, at the time, unfit for that stage?
Edelman: I don't. I think Darden was a very seasoned attorney who had worked for years in the DA's office, who worked in their special SID unit, which prosecuted cops. Sure, I think there was a sense that the trial was already becoming a referendum on race in L.A., and from an optics standpoint, it certainly helped the prosecution to have a black attorney on the team. But I don't think that should diminish who Darden was as a lawyer. As [former district attorney Gil] Garcetti said, he was a very accomplished, albeit slightly less experienced lawyer than Marcia Clark and Bill Hodgman.
People on both sides of the case continue to direct a lot of scorn toward Mark Fuhrman, the prosecution's star witness who turned out to be a racist in the eyes of most observers. Why do you think he agreed to appear in this film?
Edelman: I think he appeared in the film because he understood that the story we're telling was going to be different than a lot of the treatments of the trial before, and he'd get a fair say. Look, this is a historical document, and I think the people who participated understood that they were going to be a part of the film one way or the other, and it behooved him, just like everyone else, to speak for himself. And I have no idea if, in the end, he was happy that he chose to participate. And I don't know what his feelings will be after he sees the film.
He told you that the case ruined his life. As a filmmaker, do you have empathy for him?
Edelman: I have empathy for everybody. I think that's a part of the process in trying to interview somebody. You have to try to have empathy for everyone. He's a human being who went through a traumatic life experience and I was interested in hearing about that time in his life. If I had approached him without empathy, I think the result would have been very different.
Coming Friday: Part 5 of our conversation with Ezra Edelman.