‘American Crime Story’ 109 Manna from Heaven shows America’s dark underbelly

On this week’s episode of American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson, “Manna From Heaven,” lead defense attorney Johnnie Cochran and his colleague F. Lee Bailey go across the country to try and obtain recordings that could change the course of the trial entirely.

The episode begins with a brief introduction to a woman named Laura Hart McKinny, who eventually plays a big role in the development of the case. However until that point, the show transitions back to the courtroom where co-prosecutor Christopher Darden is in the midst of examining a witness.

Darden asks the witness, who claims to have been near Nicole’s residence at the time of the murders if the voices of one of the people he heard “sounded black.” This triggers Cochran to burst out in rage, as he accuses Darden of being racist in his questioning. Immediately Darden fights back, stating that Cochran has “continually [made] statements about [him] and race” and it is negatively impacting both him and his family. Fortunately, before the banter between the two lawyers gets any more out of hand, Judge Ito steps in and threatens to hold them both in contempt if they don’t cool down.

Shortly after, the defense team is seen in a meeting discussing the recent discovery of tapes that supposedly feature Detective Mark Fuhrman making extremely racist statements. Cochran tells his team that these tapes “take [his] breath away,” as he confidently claims that they will be just what they need to set their client free.

Meanwhile, the prosecution team is busy trying to figure out why the defense team is so adamant in getting a set of tapes from some washed up screenwriter (McKinny). While Marcia believes that it is another one of the defense team’s ploys to make something out of nothing, Darden is hesitant to write the tapes off as simply fluff.

Next, F. Lee Bailey and Cochran are seen in North Carolina, where Laura McKinny resides and holds the desired tapes. Here, they venture on an unrelenting quest to get a judge to subpoena McKinny into handing over the tapes. After performing a charismatic spiel in front of a local judge, Cochran and Bailey are initially turned down as the judge feels that the tapes have no relevance to the O.J. trial.

Fortunately, Bailey has plenty of experience with the ins and outs of the legal system and ends up successfully filing an emergency appeal. Thus, McKinny is inevitably forced to turn over the tapes to both the defense and the prosecution team.

american crime story manna from heaven mark fuhrman racist comments

Once the two sides receive the tapes, they both brace themselves and listen to the extremely explicit recordings. On them, Fuhrman is heard making shocking remarks, most of which are filled with the n-word and descriptions of using excessive violence when dealing with black people. In addition, he also makes numerous offensive comments directed towards Mexicans and women.

While the language on the tapes is shocking enough, the prosecution team is further taken back when they hear Fuhrman’s mention of an LAPD commander named Peggy York. Peggy happens to not only be Mark’s former superior, but she is also the wife of Judge Ito. This causes complications, as Judge Ito would have to be removed from the case if his wife is called upon as a material witness. When Marcia and Chris explain the messy situation to their boss Gil, he freaks out as he points out that their key witness is now on record slamming the judge’s wife.

While the prosecution contemplates going through with a mistrial, the defense team freaks out about the idea of the prosecution getting a (in their opinion) much-needed 2nd chance.

Once Judge Ito is made aware of the fragile situation, he decides to hold an open hearing and publicly explain what is going on with the tapes. He gets emotional as he explains that it pains him to hear what Fuhrman says about his wife on the tapes. Afterward, the prosecution is left to determine whether they want to ask for a mistrial or not. However, in the end, they decide to proceed, as Marcia feels that a mistrial would be risky as it could end in double jeopardy (i.e. O.J. walks free).

Later in the episode, Darden bursts out in rage at Marcia. He blames her for not taking him seriously when he repeatedly warned her not to use Fuhrman as a witness. He goes on to claim that she merely put him on the team so that she could have a “black face” on the prosecution panel.

In an emotional plea, Marcia is shown “begging from [her] soul” for Judge Ito to not allow the jurors to hear the tapes. While Cochran claims that they are evidence that Fuhrman planted evidence to make O.J. appear guilty, Marcia states that the defense team is just trying to use the explicit tapes as a means of appealing to the emotions of the jury.

After recess, Judge Ito announces his controversial decision, as he explains that the defense will be allowed to play two excerpts from the tapes. Ito states that because the tapes have become a “national concern” he feels that this is the appropriate plan of action. Inevitably, this decision and Cochran’s sly remarks leads to an outburst from Darden. Darden goes on to call the case a “circus” and claims that the defense has relied on lies and public deception throughout the trial. Judge Ito interrupts telling Darden, “I am considering holding you in contempt,” in which Darden passionately replies, “I should be held in contempt.” In actuality, this became a big moment in the case for Darden and ended up being the title of his eventual book, In Contempt. Following Darden’s outburst, Marcia proceeds to stick up for him as Ito gets further enraged. Thus, Marcia and Chris are able to somewhat mend the tension from before after she shows her obvious regret [about not seriously listening to his thoughts about Fuhrman] and newfound support for him in the trial.

Inevitably, the two excerpts from the tapes are played before the jury, and they showcase Fuhrman explaining incidences of systematic police cover-ups, racism and brutality.

The last scene of the episode shows Mark Fuhrman finally taking the stand. Right away Darden walks out, as he is evidently disgusted by Fuhrman’s presence. Nonetheless, Cochran proceeds to examine him. Mark answers every question by pleading the Fifth (i.e. legally refusing to answer a question to avoid saying anything that may potentially incriminate him). Unfortunately, this doesn’t play well for the prosecution, as it makes it seem as though Mark was lying during his initial examination in which he talked about gathering the evidence against O.J.

While the case may be going downhill for Marcia, she does get a bit of a break at the very last second when her assistant informs her that she was granted primary custody of her children.