October 6, 2008
This Trial, No Hoopla and No Fans for Simpson Few Cared As Court Finds Him Guilty
By Steve Friess
By the time O.J. Simpson stood up in court to hear the spray of guilty verdicts on robbery and kidnapping charges that may send him to prison for the rest of his life, he was already so far removed from the heights of his fame and popularity that an entire generation of young Americans was barely aware that he had ever been a football star.
One measure of his downfall: Few cared.
Gone were the adoring fans who lined the streets of Los Angeles more than 14 years ago as Simpson, a Heisman Trophy winner in college and a National Football League Hall of Fame inductee, led police officers on a slow-speed chase in a white Ford Bronco after they went to arrest him in the killings of his former wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ronald Goldman.
Instead of millions of Americans obsessively stewing over the daily details in the case against him, a city block set aside for media tents was largely empty for the four-week trial in Las Vegas. Simpson's comings and goings were barely noticed.
Acquitted of murder in 1995, Simpson was convicted Friday of rounding up five men, most with lengthy criminal records, and bursting into a $35-a-night Las Vegas hotel room to steal a trove of sports memorabilia from two collectibles dealers.
As guilty verdicts were read on all 12 charges, Simpson, 61, stood up older and noticeably less confident than he did when he emphatically declared himself "absolutely, positively, 100 percent not guilty" in the 1994 killings.
This time, he sighed heavily as his sister, Carmelita Durio, sobbed and fainted. He appeared resigned to the idea that the jury of nine women and three men had not believed his argument that he was trying to retrieve personal keepsakes that had been stolen from his home or that he was unaware that two of the five men had carried or displayed weapons.
Judge Jackie Glass ordered Simpson remanded into custody until Dec. 5, when she is scheduled to sentence him. The most serious charges, two counts of kidnapping with a deadly weapon, carry a minimum sentence of 15 years to life with parole possible after five years. The dozen charges, which include robbery, burglary, conspiracy, assault and coercion, could carry a total minimum sentence of more than 50 years in prison if ordered consecutively.
"I don't like to use the word payback," said Yale Galanter, Simpson's lawyer. "I can tell you from the beginning my biggest concern was whether or not the jury would be able to separate their very strong feelings about Mr. Simpson and judge him fairly and honestly."
Jurors, none of whom agreed to speak after the verdict, heard from several witnesses who contradicted themselves, including four of Simpson's five accomplices who had accepted plea deals in exchange for their testimony. Still, the jury decided after 13 hours of deliberation that Simpson's explanation was less credible and that Simpson and the fifth accomplice, Clarence Stewart, were guilty. Stewart, 54, faces the same sentences as Simpson.
The fact that the key evidence against the pair was hours of surreptitious audio recordings of the planning and execution of the event by Thomas Riccio, a memorabilia auctioneer who arranged the hotel-room confrontation, reflected a peculiar reality of Simpson's post-acquittal life.
"Many people carry recorders around him to see if they can catch him slipping to make money," said Debbie Alexander, the former wife of Walter Alexander, 46, one of the four men who accompanied Simpson on the raid.
Indeed, even the victims in this case were heard on the recordings discussing how they could profit from the crime by selling their stories to tabloid news shows. Simpson's solitude was palpable to Dominick Dunne, the Vanity Fair columnist who made a name for himself during the 1995 trial for his forceful denunciations of Simpson.
"There's a loneliness, a sadness about O.J. that I never saw before," said Dunne, who observed the first two weeks of the robbery trial. "I think he understands how wrecked his life is."
Public interest in the trial was minimal. Seats in the Las Vegas courtroom set aside for the public were vacant most of the time. One Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist, so disgusted by the matter, declared at the onset that it would be her "first and only" column on Simpson.
In 1995, Simpson was a cause celebre for many blacks who viewed him as suffering a raw deal from a racist judicial system. This time, not a single black activist in Las Vegas picketed, protested or even commented on the case.
An hour before the verdict, Galanter reflected on Simpson's bizarre path. The football star parlayed his popularity into an acting career that spanned a part in the miniseries "Roots" and the "Naked Gun" franchise.
But after he was found not guilty in the 1994 killings, he remained a pariah. In 1997, a civil jury found him liable for the deaths and ordered him to pay $33.5 million to the estates of his ex- wife and Goldman. Simpson had further run-ins with the law, most notably having been acquitted in 2001 of battery and auto burglary charges stemming from a road-rage incident in Florida.
He also appeared in a video that seemed to make light of the 1994 deaths by being seen wielding a knife, and he penned what he called a fictional tell-all book, "If I Did It," which outlined how he might have committed the killings.
"As horrible as the murders were, and they were a terrible tragedy, just think about this: What if the jury in L.A. got it right, what if O.J. Simpson didn't do it?" Galanter said. "He never got his life back after he was acquitted."
Originally published by The New York Times Media Group.
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