There were rumors flooding the media that Oprah Winfrey had landed a jailhouse murder confession from O.J. Simpson. According to the Daily Mail via the National Enquirer, the NFL player turned actor turned murder suspect was ready to admit to killing his wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman in 1994.
On June 12, 1994, Brown and Goldman were found dead outside her home. Simpson was tried for the double-murder and was acquitted. At a recent convention, Oprah said such a confession was her dream: “And I am going to make that happen people,” she said. “I don’t just want the interview. I want the interview on the condition that you are ready, Mr. Simpson.”
But it was not to be. It turns out there is no confession from Simpson. Rather, it was a hoax. Nevertheless, it is telling that the world’s biggest media personality listed an O.J. confession as her ultimate dream. Combined with the lingering attention paid to this 17-year-old case — June 17 marked the anniversary of O.J.’s infamous high-speed car chase in his white Chevy Bronco, which interrupted coverage of the NBA finals — it tells you that the O.J. trial is still on people’s minds. O.J. is behind bars as you read this piece, for a kidnapping and robbery conviction in an unrelated case.
Yet, in a classic example of tending to unfinished business, arguably unreasonable, perhaps, some people out there still want to hear him say “I did it.”
To be sure, the O.J. murder case was a watershed moment in popular culture, as well as in the media’s reporting of criminal justice issues. Simpson was the unsuspecting pioneer of reality TV, as his trial ushered in the era of the celebrity media culture we see today. Many a lawyer, reporter and legal commentator built a career from Simpson. And the attorneys involved in the case became household names.
First and foremost, the case received so much attention because a famous black man was accused of killing a white woman — his wife, no less. You’ll find the Simpson trial at the intersection of race, sex, celebrity and criminality. This titillating and combination always grabbed America’s attention, since the days of Jack Johnson, the black boxer who married a white woman and was convicted in 1913 under the Mann Act (also known as the White Slave Traffic Act) of “transporting women across state lines for immoral purposes.” Interracial marriages were once taboo, even illegal.
As for O.J., many whites felt betrayed. Mainstream society had previously endorsed O.J. as a respectable, all-American football hero — the clean, articulate type of black man you would bring home for dinner. He was colorless to many up to that point. After all, he lacked the anger, political activism or racial conscience of Muhammad Ali. But suddenly, Simpson’s face darkened — he was literally darkened on the cover of Time magazine — when he became a murder suspect. Across the racial divide, Americans had a great deal vested in O.J. Simpson’s guilt or innocence. In the opinion of many whites, it was an open and shut case. There was damning DNA evidence, the police found their man, and the prosecution’s case was airtight.
However, to many in the black community, it was a setup. Simpson was framed, in their view, and the D.A.’s case was full of holes. According to an ABC News-Washington Post poll taken at that time, 70 percent of whites thought Simpson was guilty and 74 percent of blacks thought he was innocent, with 64 percent of African Americans claiming there was a “police conspiracy” to frame O.J.
The verdict of “not guilty” from a predominantly black jury charges generated cheers in the black community, and cries of outrage and gasps of disbelief among may white folks. For African-Americans, who had experienced years of racial injustice in the legal system, the tables were turned for a moment in time. The justice system never worked for them, but oddly it did this time, albeit with the best legal representation money could buy, Johnnie Cochran.
For white America, their sense of betrayal was multiplied when the mostly black jury acquitted Simpson of the murder charges. Those were the days of the “quiet riot” among resentful white Americans, this visceral feeling that an injustice had been visited upon them collectively. Outraged that the justice system failed to work for them this one time, they sought payback. And the black community has been answering for O.J.’s not guilty verdict — not to mention its jubilant response — ever since.
Meanwhile, in recent years many in the black community have come to believe that Simpson committed the crime, or that it was a drug hit for an unpaid debt, and perhaps O.J. knows far more than he is willing to admit. This shift in opinion is due in no small part to Simpson’s bizarre behavior and criminal activity. “The Juice” just couldn’t stay out of trouble.
For example, in 1999 Simpson owed California over $1.4 million dollars in delinquent taxes. In 2001, he was arrested and charged with road rage in Miami, but cleared of the charges. Simpson was arrested in Miami in 2002 for speeding with his powerboat through a manatee zone, and paid a $130 fine. And in 2003 he had to pay $25,000 for pirating satellite TV signals from DirecTV.
In 2006, O.J. was to release a book called If I Did It, which the publisher then canceled. An excerpt of the book reads, “If I had actually done it… I would have brought my good gloves that day. I would have thought it was shame they shrunk when I left them out on the patio, but I would have brought them just the same. They were my lucky gloves, and I would have needed them cause I was going to stab my slut of a wife… hypothetically.”
And finally in 2007, Simpson was arrested in Las Vegas, charged with kidnapping and armed robbery in a hotel room, in connection with sports memorabilia allegedly belonging to the ex-pro-football player. He was found guilty of the charges — 12 felonies in all — exactly 13 years after his murder acquittal. The jury consisted of 3 men and 9 women, no blacks, and one Hispanic.
Orenthal James Simpson was sentenced to 9 to 33 years, and is currently doing time at the Lovelock Correctional Center in Nevada. Regardless of your take on the merits of the case, you may very well conclude that this final verdict was payback time for the 1995 acquittal.
But payback or not, apparently the public is not over O.J., although one could possibly think of a number of reasons why they should get over it. Perhaps it is fitting, though, that people want to know the full story about America’s first reality-TV star. They missed an episode and they want the details, a recap. They want him to admit that he really did it. What is certain is that he knows what really happened.