Clark, Marcia Rachel

Clark, Marcia Rachel

Marcia Rachel Clark gained national prominence as the prosecutor of legendary football player o.j. simpson. Yet, long before the Simpson trial made her famous, Clark had built an enviable legal reputation. The one-time professional dancer left private practice to become a Los Angeles assistant district attorney in 1981, a fortuitous career choice that allowed the 28-year-old lawyer to combine her interest in victim advocacy with powerful preparatory skills and a strong courtroom style. Clark prevailed in 19 successful Homicide prosecutions in just over a decade against such high-profile defendants as the murderer of TV actress Rebecca Schaeffer and Los Angeles vigilante James Hawkins. Colleagues and adversaries alike praise her abilities. She is noted for her ability to critically examine complex Scientific Evidence.

Clark was born in Oakland, California, on August 31, 1953, to Abraham Kleks and Rozlyn Mazur Kleks. In their strict orthodox Jewish household academic achievement took priority. Clark and her brother studied heavily and took classes in Hebrew twice a week. Clark's passion was drama: she studied ballet; took lead roles in high school plays; and later, as a student at the University of California, Los Angeles, briefly toured with a professional dance company. But Clark had nonartistic interests as well, as reflected in her undergraduate degree in political science, awarded in 1976. Upon graduation, she married and enrolled in Southwestern University School of Law. The marriage, to Gabriel Horowitz, a flamboyant backgammon gambler known for his high-stakes hustling of celebrities, did not last. It did, however, once bring Clark across the path of Simpson, one of her husband's—and later her own—famous opponents.

Following her graduation from law school in 1979 Clark decided to specialize in Criminal Law. Her life changed rapidly. In 1980, she married Gordon Clark, a computer engineer and an executive in the Church of Scientology, and took his name. She had recently joined the Los Angeles firm of Brodey and Price as a junior attorney but the job did not suit her: she strongly disliked defending violent suspects and soon came to a personal crossroads. The turning point was her involvement in the defense of James Holiday, a man accused of fatally stabbing a woman he had lured into his car. So disturbing was the case to Clark that she believed herself incapable of completing a legal brief for him. But she did the work and won; the case was thrown out of court for lack of evidence and Holiday walked. Afterward, confronting her boss with her deep misgivings, Clark was advised to consider a career change. She took this recommendation, and in 1981 the Los Angeles district attorney's office hired her.

The new assistant district attorney assumed her duties in the Culver City, California, courthouse with enthusiasm. She knew that her sympathies lay with Victims of Crime and it only remained for her to prove herself as a prosecutor. Working with another assistant district attorney, Clark successfully tried several murder suspects over the next four years. These cases established her reputation for thorough preparation and toughness in court. In 1985, she won convictions in a lurid case involving the double murders of a college couple, Michelle Ann Boyd and Brian Harris, by four inner-city youths, convincing one of the murderers to testify against his friends. If tough guys did not intimidate her, neither did high-powered defense attorneys. In a case that anticipated their matchup in the Simpson trial, she faced off successfully against noted California defense attorney robert l. shapiro who ultimately entered a plea bargain for his client, Theodore Pacheco, an estranged husband accused of storming into his wife's home with a shotgun and killing her friend.

Clark's success quickly came to the attention of the district attorney's office. In 1985, she got a considerable career boost when she was assigned to work with veteran Los Angeles prosecutor Harvey Giss on the James Hawkins murder case. Hawkins, an African American who worked at his father's grocery store in Watts, had shot a street gang member. Hawkins said he intervened to stop the gangster from harassing a woman and her five children; the shooting, he claimed, was accidental. Turning him into an overnight folk hero, the media and community leaders praised him for fighting back against criminals. But investigators believed that he had simply shot a rival gang member. In 1987, in part because of Clark's skillful presentation of gun ballistics evidence, she and Giss won a conviction on not one but two charges of murder. Her success against Hawkins's top-notch defense team, headed by Los Angeles attorney Barry Levin, did not go unnoticed." She was born to be a trial prosecutor," Levin later told the San Jose Mercury News. "She's tenacious, she's ethical, she's highly competent, she's prepared."

"I can offer only that I will do everything in my power to see that her loss is avenged—I cannot promise justice because to me justice would mean Rebecca is alive and her murderer dead."
—Marcia Clark

Clark's reputation continued to grow, not simply because she won cases but because of how she won them. She was innovative and daring, as the Rebecca Schaeffer murder case revealed. After slaying the young TV actress in California in 1989, John Bardo, an emotionally disturbed Arizona man who stalked celebrities, fled back to Arizona where he was arrested. His public defender fought Clark's request for Bardo's extradition—but filed pleadings in the wrong Arizona court. Clark capitalized on his legal error by dispatching detectives at the eleventh hour to return Bardo to Los Angeles to stand trial. The action provoked controversy, but Clark withstood it, supported by Los Angeles district attorney Ira Reiner who praised her tactics and understanding of the law. The successful prosecution of Bardo in 1991 involved keen preparation that undermined the testimony of the defense's star witness, a psychiatrist who argued that Bardo had shot the actress in a fit of anger. Chipping away at the expert's testimony, Clark proved that the murder had been premeditated. Later, superior court judge Dino Fulgoni publicly complimented her on her trial preparation skills. Bardo's public defender was ambivalent; having refused to enter any plea for his client in protest of the surprise Extradition, he later told the Los Angeles Daily News that Clark was "very aggressive, but she's always very well-prepared, very professional in her presentation."

By the time of O. J. Simpson's arrest on suspicion of murder in mid-1994, Clark was highly qualified to bring the state's case against him. She had a record of 19 successful homicide prosecutions. She had matched abilities with star defense attorneys. Moreover, her ability to win a case in court using highly detailed, complex scientific evidence was proved; she had, after all, won the conviction of murderer Christopher Johnson in 1991 on the strength of a single drop of blood found in his car, establishing a link to Johnson through DNA comparisons with blood of the victim and of the victim's living relatives. In addition, Clark was already recognized as a victim advocate who went out of her way to forge close ties to victims' families. Early in the case against Simpson, she endeavored to build public sympathy for the slain Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Lyle Goldman. "We have two young people whose lives stretched out before them, with all the possibilities,"she said at a press conference in June 1994. "These two young victims have been murdered in a brutal and horrible way."

The Simpson trial earned Clark mixed reviews. At first, legal analysts generally approved of the prosecution's strategy although sometimes not of Clark's tactics. In the long, frustrating case, Clark readily held her own against Simpson's celebrated defense team in their many biting exchanges. Even from the beginning, Clark sparred with Shapiro as each warned the other not to try to direct her or his case. Yet, as the weeks wore on, she did not always come out favorably in the eyes of Judge Lance Ito, who sometimes admonished her for inappropriate remarks in court. Clark and lead defense attorney johnnie l. cochran jr., battled passionately over the admissibility of certain evidence, but it was with attorneys f. lee bailey and Barry Scheck that she fought most bitterly. In court, she likened Bailey to a bizarre character out of the novel Alice in Wonderland, and after a query from Scheck, she exploded, "There is no lawyer with half a brain, with an IQ above five, who would not have known that such a question was improper."

Given the extraordinary attention paid to the trial, it was inevitable that Clark herself came under exacting scrutiny. Her new status as the best-known woman attorney in the nation carried certain liabilities. Her gender opened her to peculiar criticism: initially, critics jumped on her decision to wear what the media called short skirts. When she changed clothes and hairstyle, the criticism sharpened. Clark took the advice of jury specialists (consultants who advise attorneys on the subtleties of body language, clothing, and speech) who had recommended that she soften her image to be more appealing to jurors. Feminist critics generally sympathized with her but called the need to change her appearance offensive. Susan Estrich, a University of Southern California law professor, told the Boston Globe, "This woman is in the business of prosecuting murderers, and the notion that she has to do it wearing pink is a stunning indictment of how far we've come in terms of equal rights." "She's not going to a tea party, after all," observed Gloria Allred, president of the Women's Equal Rights Legal Defense and Education Fund. Clark also became the focus of discussion about working mothers, after Gordon Clark, from whom she was divorced in 1994, sued for custody of their two children, alleging that she had no time left over from the Simpson trial to care for them.

On July 6, 1995, after five and a half months, the prosecution rested its case. The numbers were staggering: Clark and fellow prosecutors had presented 58 witnesses over 92 days of testimony with 488 exhibits—at a minimum expense to Los Angeles County of $5.69 million. As expected, defense attorney Cochran immediately filed a motion to have the case dismissed, arguing that the prosecution had failed to prove its case; the motion failed. If any consensus emerged among legal analysts, it was that the prosecution had presented too much Circumstantial Evidence, much of which defense attorneys had apparently been able to discredit. Standing by his prosecutors, Los Angeles district attorney Gil Garcetti told reporters,"The mountain, truly the giant mountain of evidence that we have produced in court over these many weeks, points to only one person, and we know who that person is." Esquire magazine named Clark its Woman of the Year for 1995, and speculation immediately began about whether she would continue her career as a prosecutor or pursue movie offers.

In October 1995, O.J. Simpson was acquitted. The jury verdict stunned the prosecution and strained race relations throughout the country. Immediately afterwards, Clark took a leave of absence and ultimately resigned from the district attorney's office in 1997. She began a series of speaking engagements that continues to this day.

In 1997, Clark published her book about the trial. Cowritten with Teresa Carpenter, Without a Doubt describes the Simpson trial as well as the experiences that brought Clark to her role as prosecuting attorney. The book immediately hit the best-seller lists where it remained for a number of weeks. Since then Clark has appeared as legal commentator on a number of TV and radio shows.

Further readings

Clark, Marcia, and Teresa Carpenter. 1997. Without a Doubt. New York: Viking.

Linedecker, Clifford L. 1995. Marcia Clark: Her Private Trials and Public Triumphs. New York: Pinnacle Books.


Simpson, O. J.