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Marcia Clark explains domestic violence bias in the O.J. Simpson trial

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O.J. Simpson prosecutor opens up about infamous trial (6:03)

Marcia Clark, the head prosecutor in the O.J. Simpson murder case, joins Hannah Storm to talk about the atmosphere around the trial and the discussions that led up to Simpson famously trying on the bloody gloves. (6:03)

Marcia Clark was the lead prosecutor in the O.J. Simpson criminal trial more than 20 years ago. She had worked on high-profile cases before, but the heavy public criticism she received in the media frenzy around the Simpson case was unparalleled.

After the trial ended in Simpson's acquittal, Clark became a TV legal analyst and a writer. Her book about the trial, "Without a Doubt," came out in 1997 and she now writes crime fiction, including "Blood Defense," the first in a book series released this May.

This year, with FX's "The People vs. O.J. Simpson" and ESPN's "O.J.: Made In America," a five-part documentary that made its debut Saturday, Clark, 62, has been revisiting the infamous trial and its aftermath. In the ESPN series, Clark talks about the roles domestic violence and race played in the case. She sat down with me in New York recently to discuss those topics and more.

Jane McManus: Why didn't the domestic violence piece of the crime, and the fact that it can be lethal, connect with jurors as an issue?

Marcia Clark: Here's the thing: We have to take the facts as we find them. I can't make up a better motive. I would love to script it the way the defense gets to: "Hey, I think the jury is going to like this, I'll go with this." I have to show the truth. And the truth was, this was a domestic violence killing. Classic. So common.

JM: Why didn't the jury see Nicole Brown Simpson in a more sympathetic light as a victim of domestic violence?

MC: A lot goes into that. It is for sure true that the black community has been notoriously reluctant to make the connection between domestic violence and murder. The research shows that. So why did we put it on [make it a key part of the trial]? Because that's the truth. That's the motive, and that explains the mentality. And you have to hope that the jury will set aside their bias and vote based on the evidence. That's what the jury instruction says.

But I think it's complex. I think it's not just that, because I had certainly obtained convictions in cases involving domestic violence victims with black juries before. That really isn't the problem in the case, whether or not they believed there was a connection. Had he not been so famous, that jury would have convicted him.

JM: It seemed from the documentary that one juror was not sympathetic to Nicole because she had gone back to Simpson. Were you aware of that?

MC: That's a really common feeling about domestic violence. I was confronted with that mentality early on. When we first got the case we brought it to the grand jury. A few weeks into the grand jury, the adviser told me they'd been watching television and I had to disband them. When they were leaving, the grand jury adviser overheard two black women talking and one said, "She had it coming." So I definitely knew, but you put on the evidence you have.

Yes, it's a problem, but I really think the bigger problem was a reluctance to believe, a reluctance to convict and a huge sense of payback [for the Rodney King verdict, which Clark expounds on here].

JM: About the notion of payback ... in the big picture there are still terrible injustices experienced by the black community in policing -- Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland -- how do you square that?

MC: There's no squaring that because there is no equivalence. Both things can be true. Simpson got away with murder and minorities suffer mistreatment by law enforcement. There's a reason why black juries are willing to acquit in spite of the evidence; Simpson's far from the only case where that's happened.

It's not just because they feel like it or that they are Simpson groupies. It has a great deal to do with the history of black experience when it comes to law enforcement, and that's very real.

JM: Has the criminal justice system improved when it comes to domestic violence or sexual assault? Look at former Stanford swimmer Brock Turner, who just got six months for a conviction of sexual assault when the recommendation was a six- to 14-year sentence.

MC: Yes, they have. The fact they're reporting on [Turner's] case is a sign right there. The fact that the victim's words were broadcast, that CNN is reporting on her statement, that wouldn't have happened 15, 20 years ago. The fact that we're talking about it today. Bad things happen still, but our awareness of the fact that they are bad and remarking on that is a sign of progress in my opinion. And I have seen a difference in the way we handle these rape cases, domestic violence cases.

It used to be if the victim recants, we walk away. [Now] we'll put on the police officer to impeach her testimony. If she gets up and says nothing happened, I'll put on the cop that took her statement and he'll say, "That's not what she told me, and at that time she was bleeding." We no longer let those crimes get swept under the rug as much. That's not to say things are perfect, but they're better.

JM: The "likeability" of accomplished, professional women is an issue to this day. Women get, "Yeah, she's really smart, but maybe she's a bitch." Why do women get that even now?

MC: I think there still is a double standard. That's the one thing that the FX series brought up very clearly, is the sexism that we subject women to when they step into a job perceived as a man's job. There's a willingness to believe the worst of them. There's a kind of scrutiny that's inappropriate. It's one thing to evaluate a woman's work, it's another thing to say, "Your hair was this, your makeup was that."

The minute you step into a job where you have to be at all tough and assertive, that's when the mischief happens. And you're not allowed to be assertive and feminine. And if you are assertive, then you're a bitch. Where a man is forceful, a woman is shrill.

JM: After all the scrutiny of being in the public eye, you went to "Entertainment Tonight." That's surprising; I'd have wanted to run away.

MC: I really did want to run away and hide and bury myself, I wanted to be left alone and that's why I wasn't sure I was going to write ["Without A Doubt"] because I thought, it will just maintain the scrutiny. And my agent said, "You're going to be in the spotlight a while no matter what you do." I thought, I have to write down the truth and I have to let people know, and I've got to do it now before I forget. Especially as traumatic as that all was, there's a willingness to forget.

That kept me out there in the public eye and there was a lecture and speaking tour and there was no way to get out from under it. I was there, might as well make the best of it. And [TV] pays pretty well and I had two little kids to support. It was a cool gig, but it was not a forever gig.

JM: What has the last year been like, revisiting the Simpson case for two shows?

MC: It's been a mix of different things. Painful. Reliving, revisiting all of those horrible days. The trial was unending misery for me. Two people were brutally murdered, no one cared and I was confronting that reality every day. What about Ron [Goldman] and Nicole? And the whole trial turned into a circus, it was incredibly traumatic and depressing.

You're on this nightmare train that you can't stop because the judge [Lance Ito] is supposed to stop it and he's totally out to lunch. Steady stream of celebrities in and out of his chambers each and every day. Pandering to the press constantly. He sits down for a six-part interview in the middle of the trial about his life. Who does this? At the same time, it's very good to see that it's been placed in context.

JM: They have the old crime scene photos in "O.J.: Made In America." They are graphic, but is there value in seeing the murder scene?

MC: I am so glad they do show that. [It shows] what's at stake. ...Such a tragedy, these two lives lost. That's why I rededicated ["Without A Doubt"] to Ron and Nicole.