Saturday 14 December 2019

He said: 'I know OJ killed Nicole because he told me'

Nicole Simpson was stabbed multiple times and her throat was cut. Photo: Reuters
Nicole Simpson was stabbed multiple times and her throat was cut. Photo: Reuters
OJ Simpson

David Blake Knox

A new TV drama series has just taken the US by storm. Its runaway success is not only because of its all-star cast - which includes Oscar winner Cuba Gooding and Hollywood icon John Travolta. It's not even because one of the characters in the series is Kim Kardashian - as a nine-year-old child. It's because the series is based on a real-life double homicide and one of the most extraordinary criminal trials in US history.

OJ Simpson became famous as an American footballer. When he quit playing, he found other ways to make a living. He starred in movies and was the 'face' of Hertz Car Rentals. He also acted as spokesperson for several food companies and presented sports programmes on TV. Then, in the summer of 1994, he was arrested and charged with murder.

Nicole Brown was just 18 and working as a waitress in a nightclub when she first met OJ. By all accounts, she was a somewhat naïve young woman. But she was beautiful, blonde and leggy - and OJ was rich and famous.

They married in 1985 and soon had two children. Their relationship proved turbulent - and at times even violent. They divorced in 1992. However, their relationship remained volatile and unstable.

On June 13, 1994, two bodies were found outside Nicole's condo in the Brentwood district of LA. One of them was Nicole - the other was a young man called Ron Goldman. Nicole had been stabbed multiple times, and her throat had been cut with such ferocity that she was almost decapitated. Goldman's throat had also been slashed and he had been stabbed repeatedly. Goldman was fit and muscular and so it seemed to police that whoever killed him must have been very strong.

After a bizarre car chase - broadcast live on all the US networks - OJ was charged with both murders. His trial was the longest ever held in California.

It also received the most extensive press coverage - with more than 2,000 accredited reporters. For many, it became a media carnival and a travesty of the US judicial system.

After 10 months of evidence, it took the jury only three hours to acquit OJ on all counts. Soon after that, I travelled to Los Angeles to make a documentary about him for the BBC.

I met up with OJ in one of the booths of a cheap steak house. He was with Mike Gilbert, his former sports agent. To my surprise, OJ seemed eager to talk about his murdered wife.

"They say I wouldn't let her go after we broke up" he said, "but it was the other way around. She was always calling me."

He formed the shape of a phone with one hand, and affected a high-pitched voice to imitate Nicole.

"OJ, there's a leak in the roof. What should I do? OJ, there's a bill to be paid. Will you take care of it? OJ, what do you think of my new boyfriend?"

We were joined by a young woman called Christie Prody. She was attractive, leggy and blonde.

OJ took me to one side. "I don't want her in the film," he said. "She's not my girlfriend." Later that night, I asked Mike Gilbert to clarify their relationship. "He's going out with her." he told me, "but she's not his girlfriend." I thought she looked remarkably like Nicole. "Yeah, she does," Mike shrugged, "I guess that's OJ's type."

We had intended to do some filming with OJ in a restaurant in Beverly Hills. But the next day, the manager called to cancel our booking and no one else would accept it. Instead, OJ took us on a tour of the murder crime scene.

As we drove into Brentwood, we passed the home of the Los Angeles District Attorney. It was close to the spot where Nicole and Goldman were killed. OJ wound down his window and shouted abuse at the DA's house. "That jerk ruined my life," he muttered as we drove on.

Eventually, we found a restaurant that would serve us.

"I had a great life before all this happened", OJ told me. "Why would I throw it all away?" As we ate, he said he hoped our film would show that he was a guy "with a great sense of humour."

When he went off to make a phone call, I took the opportunity to ask Mike Gilbert if he thought OJ had killed Nicole. He paused for a moment, before saying: "I don't believe you should judge a man by the worst day in his life."

A few nights later, I went to a Simpson family reunion. His children were there and so was his mother. Towards the end of the evening, Mike Gilbert came over to me. He seemed tired and emotional.

"You asked me a question," he said. "Did I think OJ killed Nicole? Well, I don't just think he killed her. I know he did." I asked him how he knew. He smiled. "Because he told me. "When?" "Just after he killed them." He smiled again, but wouldn't answer any more questions. "I'll write the story up one day," he said, "I like to think of it as my pension."

Since then, OJ has made a few more headlines. Some years ago, Christie Prody was hospitalised with extensive bruising and bleeding in her brain. She appeared to have been badly beaten. According to OJ, she had fallen down the stairs while drunk. According to the hospital, there was no alcohol in her bloodstream.

On the last day of OJ's trial, Mike Gilbert had asked him for the suit that he was wearing. In 2007, Gilbert took the suit to Las Vegas to see if he could sell it. OJ followed him there and took the suit back by force. As a result, he was charged with numerous felonies - including armed robbery and kidnapping.

There was no 'dream team' this time around. He was found guilty and sentenced to 33 years in prison. The next year, Mike Gilbert finally published his account of the Brentwood killings. It was called 'How I Helped OJ Simpson Get Away With Murder'.

Twenty years ago, over 150 million viewers in the US watched the verdict being given in "the trial of the century". I'm only surprised it has taken this long for the drama series to be made.

'The People vs OJ Simpson' - a 10-part series on BBC2. Mondays, 9pm.

Irish Independent

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