Twenty years ago Saturday, a jury acquitted O.J. Simpson of murder in the death of his ex-wife and a friend of hers, in what many considered the trial of the century. But if the jury had seen this CNET computer reenactment of the killings, perhaps a different verdict would have been handed down that day.
The summer of 1995 marked the launch of "CNET Central" and for its very first episode, the fledgling cable TV show latched onto the biggest story of the time: Simpson's murder trial. The reenactment, created by Failure Analysis Associates of Menlo Park, California (since renamed Exponent Inc.), was intended "to demonstrate some of the awesome power of today's computers and some of the social implications of that power," CNET host Richard Hart explains in the video.
Of course, this "awesome power" is laughable by today's computing standards, but the computer simulation CNET commissioned of the crime scene is surprisingly well done, and chilling. As Hart warns: "Even though it's an animation, some moments of violence may be too graphic for some audiences."
Indeed, the "forensic animation" shows the killings (whoever committed them) as being far more violent than I recall. Sure, seeing how Simpson's ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and waiter Ronald Goldman were killed by a knife is obviously violent and shocking. But there are details included in this simulation that make the murders feel more real, which, of course, is the purpose of this technology.
Prior to the Simpson trial, a computer simulation had been used only once in a criminal court: in 1992 Jim Mitchell was accused of murdering his brother in Corte Madera, California. You can read about that case and the use of computer animation here.
CNET's forensic animation was not seen at Simpson's trial. After you watch it, ask yourself if the jury had seen it, would they still have proclaimed the ex-football star not guilty?