ON O.J SIMPSON'S CONFESSION
Thursday, November 29, 2007.
By Larry Smith
Then something went terribly wrong, and I know what happened, but I can't tell you exactly how...The whole front of me was covered in blood, but it didn't compute...Any moment now I would wake up at home, in my own bed." -- O J Simpson, If I Did It.
I just closed the cover of one of the most bizarre books that has ever been published.
Former football star O J Simpson was acquitted a dozen years ago of killing his ex-wife, Nicole, and her friend Ron Goldman, with a knife. The case was watched by millions around the world, and it polarised racial emotions in the US like no other before or since - something that has puzzled blacks and whites equally, given Simpson's willing identification with white society.
The following comments are instructive:
"For many, Simpson’s not-guilty verdict was perceived as a victory that far too few blacks accused of crimes -- particularly those with smaller bank accounts and less fame than Simpson -- were given the opportunity to have." - Blackamericanweb.com
"[In] the trial, everything is about race. Black people deal with race everyday. Whites who said it's not a trial about race speak that way because they haven't been on the receiving end of injustices at the hands of a white person," - Marc Watts, a black reporter.
"[Johnny Cochran, Simpson's lead lawyer] suggests that racism ought to be the most important thing that anyone of us ought to listen to in this court ... and set his murdering client free." - Fred Goldman, father of one of the victims.
And at a barbershop in Los Angeles 10 years after the trial, the PBS investigative show, Frontline, determined that none of the black customers believed Simpson was innocent. But they did agree that the police behaved as expected: "They framed a guilty man -- that's all it was," said the barber.
A year after the aquittal, a civil trial was launched by the Goldman and Brown families charging Simpson with causing wrongful death. In 1997 they were awarded $19 million in damages after Simpson was unanimously found guilty.
The civil jury took six days to make a decision after a four-month trial. That compared to the five hours it took the criminal court jury to decide on a verdict after over nine months of testimony a year or two earlier.
But Simpson said he was broke - aside from a $25,000 a month pension that the court couldn't touch. And then he moved to Florida where the law protects his assets from being seized to pay damages. "They can't touch my earnings here. And it will be a cold day in hell before I pay a penny," he was quoted as saying recently.
According to news reports, being found liable for the deaths of two people and making millions aren't mutually exclusive in the US. Simpson made nearly $400,000 from his NFL pensions every year from 2003 to 2005, for a total of $1.2 million, and even earned $50,000 from "appearances," according to tax returns.
The bizarre book we referred to earlier was another attempt to earn money. It is actually Simpson's confession - hypothetically speaking that is. And it is made even more bizarre by the fact that it was published by the Goldman family. Released only two months ago the book has soared to the top of Amazon's best-seller list. It's called, If I Did it: Confessions of the Killer.
In his introduction, Fred Goldman explains his motives for continuing to hound Simpson: "It is about taking from him, it's about making him feel the impact of what he did. It's about hitting him where it hurts - his pockets, his livelihood...It is not about revenge, and we are not going to apoplogise for wanting him to feel a tenth of what we feel every day....Sadly we have been unsuccessful - until now."
The whole idea of the book was to cash in on Simpson's value as a celebrity "murderer" (or wrongful death causer). When Harper Collins paid Simpson upwards of $1 million as an advance, the Goldman family launched a massive campaign to stop publication.
They complained that Simpson's income and assets were protected from the civil judgement they won. "He has established companies in the names of his children to serve as 'pass-throughs' for his own gain. He has completely taken advantage of the system and manipulates it to avoid paying...He is virtually untouchable."
All that negative publicity led the publisher to pull the book. And the Goldmans eventually won the rights to If I Did It after a bankruptcy court ruled that the Simpson family company that owned the book was "a sham formed to perpetuate a fraud".
The Goldmans then decided to publish the 60,000-word manuscript themselves, with part proceeds going to the newly formed Ron Goldman Foundation for Justice, a victims rights group.
"There is no doubt in our minds that this book was originally written so that (Simpson) could finally tell his side of what happened," Goldman says in his introduction. "For us the hardest part of reading this book was hearing him talk about that night....nothing prepares you for hearing it straight from his mouth."
Harper Collins, the original publisher, had hired a former journalist named Pablo Fenjves to interview Simpson and ghost write an account of what might have happened on the night of the murders: "I was being given an opportunity to sit in a room with Simpson and listen to his confession, or an ersatz version of his confession," Fenjves said.
After days listening to Simpson's story Fenjves had a draft ready for review in a few weeks. Simpson signed off on the manuscript and the interview tapes were turned over to him - never to be seen again. But once the Goldmans won the rights to publication Simpson declared that the book was a fiction created by the ghost writer.
"O J read the book, his book, several times," Fenjves responded. "I made every change he asked for, and he signed off on it. It's his book...Judge for yourself."
In Simpson's account he is the loving father and long-suffering husband, while Nicole was nothing more than a bi-polar bitch on wheels whose drug use and sex life eventually spun out of control. This is despite the fact that police had been called to the Simpson home at least nine times over the years to sort out domestic arguments in which he was the villain.
As one reviewer put it, the book's "hypothetical" scenario allows Simpson to have it both ways - to put himself at the crime scene with motive and opportunity, yet dissociate himself from the actual murders, as if they somehow committed themselves while he happened to be there holding a knife.
Ironically, Simpson starred in the crime news again this past September when he was implicated in an armed robbery at a Las Vegas hotel trying to retrieve allegedly stolen memorabilia that belonged to him from a guest's room.
Last month, two of his companions in that escapade pleaded guilty and accepted a plea deal to testify against him. And it was announced a week ago that Simpson and two others will stand trial on 12 criminal counts, including robbery, assault with a deadly weapon, conspiracy, kidnapping and burglary.
But the never-ending Simpson saga has long ceased to be about law and order or justice or race relations. It's all about money and voyeurs being served up a special brand of entertainment.
The original Simpson trial may have been the most-watched event in television history, but it signified nothing. And Simpson's life since the trial underlines this. His pathetic and bizarre "confession" will end up as his true legacy.
Larry Smith writes a column called "Tough Call" every Wednesday for the Bahamas Nassau Tribune. A former reporter and editor, he now operates a communications agency in Nassau (www.bahamasmedia.com). He also blogs at Bahamapundit.
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