1995: The year the future began
If he is paroled, it will be no cause for cheer.
Expectations are that O.J. Simpson — former football star, erstwhile celebrity, and now aging felon — will win parole at a hearing in Nevada tomorrow, making him eligible for release from prison as early as October 1.
His being freed almost certainly would set off a media and pop culture frenzy, at least for a while. Indeed, O.J. mania is already building, given the intensive media coverage planned for tomorrow’s hearing.
Simpson, who recently turned 70, is serving a sentence of 9-to-33 years at Lovelock Correctional Center in Nevada for kidnapping, armed robbery, and other criminal offenses.
The crimes stemmed from a confrontation in a Las Vegas hotel room in 2007. Essentially, Simpson had recruited a posse of thugs to retrieve, at gunpoint, sports memorabilia that claimed had been stolen from him.
The encounter in Las Vegas led to his conviction on October 3, 2008 — 13 years to the day when he was acquitted of double murder in Los Angeles, at the close of what often was called the “Trial of the Century.”
Simpson stood accused in 1995 of the grisly stabbing deaths of his former wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ronald Goldman.
The trial lasted much of the year and brought together those rare features that define exceptionally high-interest cases: The defendant was well-known and well-liked, at least before trial. The crimes were appalling and the victims were horribly attacked by their killer. Plots twists abounded.
Moreover, an array of hot-button social issues crowded the case. These included domestic violence (Simpson had been convicted of spousal abuse in 1989), police misconduct, race relations, media excess, even cameras in the courtroom.
It was, as the inimitable Dominick Dunne wrote in Vanity Fair, “like a great trash novel come to life.”
If not the “Trial of the Century,” the proceedings in 1995 surely qualified as the most riveting and sensational murder case of the decade.
Simpson was tried again for those killings in civil court, found liable in 1997, and ordered pay $33.5 million to the victims’ estates. That amount now exceeds $50 million, given interest that has accrued over the years.
Before he went to prison in Nevada, Simpson had paid no more than a small faction of that sum — and his indifference to the judgment is an important reason why not to cheer should the hearing tomorrow go his way.
Another reason is Simpson’s strutting arrogance and narcissism. After acquittal at the criminal trial in 1995, Simpson released a statement through his eldest son, vowing to devote his life to tracking down “the killer or killers who slaughtered Nicole and Mr. Goldman. They are out there somewhere.”
Simpson’s pledge, as I pointed out in 1995: The Year the Future Began, was hollow and insincere — a gratuitous insult to the victims’ angry and grieving families.
I also noted in 1995 that while Simpson never fulfilled his vow to take the stand at his murder trial, he “was never very far from center stage, certainly not at key moments in the proceedings. He was a dominant presence in the courtroom, projecting ‘undeniable star quality,’ as one frequent observer said. Simpson’s words, actions, and lifestyle commanded frequent attention during the trial, sometimes spontaneously, sometimes in scripted ways.
“Rarely did Simpson recede into unimportance.”
Simpson’s arrogance and narcissism may have been chipped away during the years behind bars at Lovelock.
But it’s not likely.
By one account at least, Simpson hasn’t done hard time in prison. He’s gorged on junk food and played fantasy football at Lovelock. According to one of his friends, Simpson has said he expects to be out “playing golf again soon.”
No journalist had Simpson pegged as surely as Dominick Dunne, who covered the 1995 trial for Vanity Fair. Following the acquittal, Dunne wrote:
“Adulation is what [Simpson] craves. He is addicted to it.” Cheering that accompanies his release will come as sweet music to the old con, as a reminder of those times when he was charismatic and well-liked, when adulation was the norm.
Perhaps most important as to why his release should bring no cheers is the memory of the victims, Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman.
They and their lives have been mostly overlooked, and treated with studied detachment, in the runup to the hearing. They were similarly treated last year in the 10-part FX miniseries, The People vs. O.J. Simpson, that was adapted from the 1995 trial and won considerable though underserved acclaim.
The series was crassly exploitative, presenting Simpson in a faintly sympathetic way while mostly ignoring Nicole Simpson and Goldman. It was as if the victims were incidental. An afterthought.
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