It’s been over 20 years, but finally Marcia Clark is back where she feels at home: calling people out on their bullshit.
“You know, Kevin, my favorite part of being a prosecutor was being an investigator,” the former-litigator-turned-cultural-lightning-rod tells me when I mention how much fun she seems to be having filming Marcia Clark Investigates the First 48, an A&E docuseries that premieres Thursday, in which she reopens and fastidiously re-examines the evidence from the first 48 hours of headline-making, controversial crimes including the Casey Anthony, Drew Peterson, and Chandra Levy cases.
Clark is, of course, intimately familiar with the ways in which the media circus tents that erect around these zeitgeist-seizing cases can obscure truth and justice in favor of sideshow sensationalism, spin, and bias. It was 23 years ago that she was lead prosecutor in the O.J. Simpson trial, and the unwitting victim of a burgeoning, ruthless, and it turns out sexist 24-hour news cycle.
After the veritable pop culture takeover of projects revisiting the O.J. Simpson case and her role in it these last few years, she’s keenly aware of how intensely our fascination with these crimes lingers. She also, however, understands how that fascination spreads misinformation and fosters irresponsible exploitation, too. (Case in point: Fox’s recent airing of The Lost Confession, which she dismisses as a cheap ratings grab.)
It’s all of that experience that energizes Marcia Clark Investigates the First 48: the opportunity to pursue justice in blockbuster cases that many of us still have grave questions about.
“My mission in the show is to stand up for the victims, and I mean victims in the broadest sense,” she says. “Those who have been wrongfully convicted as well as those who were wrongfully acquitted or never charged. Everybody who was done wrong in some way I want to be able to stand up for, and call bullshit where necessary, and get the truth out.”
That mission starts off with a bullet with Thursday night’s premiere investigation into the first 48 hours of the Casey Anthony case, during which she surfaces an explosive piece of evidence that puts into question Anthony’s acquittal in the murder of her daughter, Caylee, in 2008. By the end of the episode, Clark leaves her investigation with serious suspicion of Anthony’s guilt, and you likely will, too.
When the Casey Anthony trial unfolded across pretty much every cable network, news magazine series, and entertainment program in the country in 2008, Clark had long resigned from the district attorney’s office and left trial practice behind for work as a cable TV legal news analyst.
She, “like everyone else,” she says, thought Anthony was guilty at the time. In fact, she wrote about that very thing for The Daily Beast, calling the verdict “worse than the O.J. Simpson case.”
The way Anthony was depicted in the media after the disappearance of her child, whose body was eventually found near her home, was damning. It took her 30 days to report Caylee missing, during which she went out partying almost every night and got a tattoo reading “La Bella Vita,” the good life. There is the litany of flat-out lies she told the police and her parents, and the fact that the body was found so close to her home.
With Marcia Clark Investigates, the challenge that faced Clark was to dismiss all of those opinions, some of which might have been formed by media bias—may we never forget the star-making histrionics of Nancy Grace during the trial—and reset to a neutral position for her own investigation.
Revisiting the case, she had to think about why the young mother was acquitted. There is a standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, and the prosecution didn’t meet that standard of proof. Forget that the public was outraged when the jury acquitted Anthony. Clark had to look at the evidence again to determine if they were right.
And that’s when she had her mind blown.
The more she looked at the evidence, the more it stacked up—once again—against Anthony. Caylee was found with duct tape attached to her skull over her nose and mouth. Anthony’s defense was that Caylee had accidentally drowned. “If a child dies of an accidental drowning, you don’t have to tape the nose and mouth,” Clark says. “And if a child falls into a pool, why don’t you call 911?”
But the “coup de grace,” she says, was a piece of evidence she surfaced that few people know about. During the initial investigation, both the prosecution and the defense had a computer expert look through the Anthony family computer’s internet search history. The prosecution’s expert only looked at one browser, Internet Explorer. The defense’s expert looked at both Explorer and Mozilla Firefox, discovering a search in the latter for the term “foolproof suffocation.”
The defense lawyer, Jose Baez, eventually wrote a book about the case, revealing that information and claiming that the search was conducted when Casey Anthony’s father, George, was in the house. Baez argued that George was searching for ways to kill himself because he was so upset about the death of his granddaughter.
What Clark discovers, however, using the help of her own computer expert, is that there was a glitch in the software Baez’s team used to go through the search history. The search actually occurred an hour later, when George Anthony was no longer in the house and Casey was alone. More, Clark’s expert found that the search history was deleted at the precise time that Casey had been dropped off at home after her initial police questioning over Caylee’s disappearance.
“The only person who is even going to think to delete that history is the person who conducted the search,” Clark says. “That would have to be Casey Anthony.”
Clark, despite her stringent, self-proclaimed impartial investigation, doesn’t claim to be the judge and jury in a reopening of the Anthony case, or any of the cases her series revisits.
“It’s important to get that truth without spin and without bias,” she says. “These cases have engendered their fair share of both. So many people think it was a miscarriage of justice when Casey was acquitted, and it’s important to find out if that’s true or not.”
On a broader level, she says she hopes the show can serve as a call to arms for cases that should be reopened. She tells me that her reinvestigation into the Chandra Levy case surfaces ample reason to have that case officially reopened.
There’s a toughness to Clark’s on-camera inquisition. Media scrutiny certainly painted the same characterization of her during the O.J. Simpson trial. But talking with her, she radiates such an intensely warm personality that it’s nearly jarring.
She’s in Los Angeles on the set of The Fix, a pilot for ABC she wrote that is very loosely based on her life, when we connect.
After losing the biggest case of her career and being shredded by the media, a former prosecutor quits her job and—here is where it diverts from reality—leaves Los Angeles to move to a horse farm in Washington. “I wish I had thought of that,” laughs Clark, who became a successful crime novelist after stepping back from her law career. When the defendant who was acquitted in that case is suspected of having killed again, the former prosecutor is brought back to work on the case.
The Fix is one of several projects Clark has in development—a podcast will accompany new episodes of Marcia Clark Investigates the First 48 each week—a turn of events Clark herself says she couldn’t have predicted in the aftermath of the Simpson case 23 years ago, when so many pundits ruled her career ruined.
It goes without saying that much of her redemption in the public eye is owed to the sympathetic—and much closer to reality—portrayal of her by Sarah Paulson in Ryan Murphy’s The People vs. O.J. Simpson: An American Crime Story limited series. Clark audibly swoons at the mere mention of Paulson’s name. She lets out a loving sigh when I mention how Paulson wept while recounting how she would “never be the same” after playing Clark when I interviewed the actress in 2016.
“It’s one of those things where she happens to be an amazing gifted actress, and a beautiful person,” Clark says about Paulson. “You know, those don’t necessarily go together. Kevin, if I ever have a chance to get you drunk and listen to your stories, oh my god.”
While I fantasize about that, she describes what such a night might be like, remembering her dinner date with Paulson: “We had the best time. We closed the restaurant down. We got bombed. We laughed so hard we cried, and we’ve been friends ever since. I just love her to pieces.”
With her new show coming out and finally, two decades later, a general warmth radiating toward her in the public eye, I ask if she’s had a chance to reflect on what, in essence, is one of our culture’s greatest stories of redemption.
“I have reflected on it on multiple occasions with a sense of wonder and disbelief,” she says. “Who could ever have predicted that someone would want to do a miniseries about that case, that Ryan Murphy would be the one who would want to do it, that he would decide to shine a light on sexism and the sexism that I experienced in that case, that Sarah Paulson, of all people, would play me? One thing after another. I could never say that I would have anticipated such a thing. I still look back at it in amazement.”