1995: The year the future began
Claiming top spot on the New York Times nonfiction bestseller list 20 years ago was a wretched, narcissistic little book nominally written by O.J. Simpson, who then was on trial in Los Angeles for the slayings of his former wife, Nicole, and her friend, Ronald Goldman.
The book, titled I Want to Tell You: My Response to Your Letters, Your Messages, Your Questions, was Simpson’s maudlin and self-serving response to some of the 300,000 letters he had received in jail, since his arrest on murder charges in June 1994.
It had been slapped together from interviews tape-recorded with Simpson while he was in jail — and it quickly became a bestseller, providing some financial cushion for Simpson’s enormous legal bills. He had tapped his multimillion wealth to recruit a high-priced defense team that included the likes of Johnnie L. Cochran Jr., F. Lee Bailey, and Alan M. Dershowitz.
I Want to Tell You was “striking in its narcissism and raging self-pity,” I write in my new book, 1995: The Year the Future Began.
Simpson, for example, declared: “The first week I was in jail, I thought about Jesus being crucified.”
He also wrote:
“There’s times, now that I am in jail, that all I have is God.”
“I felt there were three homicides. Some unknown killers murdered Nicole and Ronald Goldman; now the press was murdering me.”
The book contained the pledge, which Simpson never redeemed, to give testimony at the trial, which stretched across much of 1995 like an indelible stain.
“Let me get in front of the jury,” Simpson stated. “Let everybody say what they’re going to say, then I’ll get up there and say my piece—and let them judge.”
Never happened, although Simpson rather cleverly managed to claim center stage at several key moments of his trial, including what likely was the turning point of the proceedings.
That came in mid-June 1995 when Christopher Darden, one of the prosecutors, asked Simpson to face the jury box and try on the blood-stained leather gloves that the killer was believed to have worn in attacking Nicole Simpson and Goldman. One glove had been found at the murder scene, near Nicole Simpson’s condominium; its mate had been found by a police detective outside Simpson’s mansion.
As he faced the jury box, Simpson appeared to struggle mightily in pulling the leather gloves over the latex gloves he was required to wear. He grimaced repeatedly, even theatrically, and in a voice loud enough for jurors to hear, said: “Too tight.”
The “ill-advised demonstration had allowed Simpson to testify in effect, without having to face cross-examination,” I write in 1995. And it became a rallying cry for defense lawyers—an idiom still familiar today. In his closing remarks in late September 1995, as the trial neared its bitter end, Cochran recalled the glove demonstration and told jurors:
“[R]emember these words; if it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.”
In part because of the bungled demonstration, Simpson was acquitted in verdicts that were announced October 3, 1995.
“I’m going to come out of this [trial] with my dignity intact,” Simpson predicted in I Want to Tell You.
But he did not, of course. Simpson became a pariah, despite his acquittal.
The trial’s “popular verdict, which has proven unshakeable over the years, was that Simpson killed his former wife and Goldman,” I write in 1995. “No plausible suspect other than O.J. Simpson has emerged, and the not-guilty verdicts of October 1995 could not contradict that conclusion.”
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