WORLD

O. J.: take one

The Simpson case becomes an instant TV hit

TOM FENNELL July 11 1994
WORLD

O. J.: take one

The Simpson case becomes an instant TV hit

TOM FENNELL July 11 1994

O. J.: take one

WORLD

UNITED STATES

The Simpson case becomes an instant TV hit

As a football star turned celebrity actor, O. J. Simpson was always the centre of attention. He had wealth, fame and a string of glamorous girlfriends. Last week, in one of the most bizarre spectacles in legal history, Simpson, 46, found himself cast in a new role—this time as the defendant in a nationally televised preliminary hearing into charges that he murdered his former wife Nicole, 35, and her friend Ronald Goldman, 25. As the hearing began in a Los Angeles courtroom, the atmosphere blended the melodrama of an afternoon soap opera with the play-by-play of a Super Bowl. All the major networks suspended regular programming to carry the proceedings live, interrupting frequently to offer commentary on what was taking place. Outside, more than 100 reporters jostled with Simpson supporters wearing—and selling— “Free O. J.” T-shirts. At times, it seemed as though all of America was watching. “It’s the only news happening,” said Atlanta diesel mechanic Darrell Lee. “Like the whole world stopped, and they have centre stage.”

The millions of viewers who tuned in expecting a dramatic legal confrontation were not disappointed. Police, who say that the victims were slashed to death, have yet to find the murder weapon. But José Camacho, a clerk at a Los Angeles cutlery store, told the court that he sold Simpson a 15-inch folding knife on May 3, and that he sharpened it at Simpson’s request. In one of many bizarre twists, Camacho admitted that he and two others had sold their story to The National Enquirer tabloid newspaper for almost $17,000. When Simpson’s lawyer, Robert Shapiro, asked presiding municipal court Judge Kathleen Kennedy-Powell to dismiss Camacho’s evidence, deputy district attorney William Hodgman pointed out that the Enquirer story quoting Camacho had not yet appeared. Said Hodgman dryly: ‘With your testimony today, we have scooped The National Enquirer." His request denied, Shapiro dramatically turned over to the judge a mysterious sealed envelope containing, he said, one or more important pieces of evidence. Kennedy-Powell ordered both sides to submit briefs on how the evidence should be handled, postponing any decision until this week.

Shapiro also asked Kennedy-Powell to suppress a long list of evidence gathered by police at Simpson’s mansion. Under U.S. law,

police normally need a search warrant to enter an individual’s home. But Shapiro told the court that police did not obtain a warrant until nearly six hours after arriving at Simp-

son’s home, and that they climbed a fence to enter the property. Some legal experts said that Kennedy-Powell may have little choice but to suppress the evidence. Said Martin Pollner, a former head of the U.S. Secret Service: “It could well be that police not only jumped the fence, but jumped the gun too.” According to documents filed in court, police found blood on the door of a white Ford Bronco and a trail of blood leading from the vehicle to the front door of Simpson’s home. They also found bloodstains in the master bedroom and a bloodied glove that resembled one found at the murder scene outside Nicole Simpson’s condominium. If the first days of testimony were any indication, the spotlight on Simpson will only grow brighter. In fact, at Dan Marino’s Sports Grill in Miami, manager Bill Myers opened a halfhour early so the lunch crowd could watch the proceedings on TV. And in Buffalo, N.Y., where Simpson became a football legend, Lenny Miller turned away from the television at the American Sports Bar & Grill just long enough to declare: “I don’t think Simpson did it.” The search for the truth will keep America tuned in for weeks to come.

TOM FENNELL