How the Bengals and a local photographer got involved in O.J. Simpson's trial

WCPO OJ Renken
Posted at 11:21 PM, Jul 20, 2017
and last updated 2024-04-11 15:31:45-04

GREEN TOWNSHIP, Ohio -- Celebrity was contagious during O.J. Simpson's trial for the 1994 murders of Nicole Brown-Simpson and Ron Goldman. The media and the public's ravenous appetite for details turned police officers, attorneys and civil servants into household names -- and pulled one Green Township photographer 2,000 miles across the country to testify about photos he'd taken years before.

Bill Renken didn't go to Riverfront Stadium on Jan. 6, 1991, to take pictures of Simpson. His focus was on the first-round NFL playoff game between the Bengals and Houston Oilers.

Simpson was there broadcasting the game for NBC. He had retired as a player following the 1979 season.

After the Bengals’ 41-14 victory, Renken photographed Simpson interviewing Bengals quarterback Boomer Esiason and coach Sam Wyche on the field. Renken’s pictures captured one detail that would become the subject of keen interest in 1995: Simpson's gloves.

Renken was among a group of photographers summoned by the prosecution during the trial to testify about pictures they'd taken of Simpson wearing gloves during various football games, according to a Los Angeles Times article written during the trial.

Prosecutor Marcia Clark's hope was that his testimony would help establish the gloves Simpson wore in those pictures were similar in color, size and stitching to a bloody glove discovered at the scene of Brown-Simpson and Goldman's deaths.

Everyone in the country knows what happened in the end. The glove didn't fit. Simpson was acquitted.

But some of the the macabre celebrity shine and Guignol glow rubbed off on Renken, who said his  48-minute testimony earned him awed reactions from people following the case.

On his way home, he said, someone asked him for his autograph. The crew of the flight he took back to Cincinnati treated him like a VIP.

"The stewardess found out who I was and invited me to first class," he said. "The pilots came out and introduced themselves. It was like, wow. It was like a celebrity flying home."

Renken said he expected interest in the case would remain high in October when Simpson emerged from nearly a decade of imprisonment for an unrelated crime. 

"With his background or what he did, it's not going away," he said.

He added that he hoped Simpson, now 70, would be able to lead a normal, private life after his release.

And although he didn't end up writing a book or parlaying his involvement in the case into a talking-head career like Marcia Clark, Renken has kept a peace of macabre memorabilia: He still has his subpoena from 1995.