Blood lust runs dry as hypocrites fear fate of their Juice

June 22, 1994|By MIKE LITTWIN

His eyes, when they are open, seem hollow. They give way to great rings of puffed yellow, suggesting heavy sedation or lack of sleep or too many tears. His head, meantime, wobbles to one side.

This is O. J. Simpson, or what's left of him, standing in a courtroom, waiting to be arraigned. His lawyer is patting him on the shoulder, much as one pats and soothes a distraught child.

We watch it all -- every sad moment. The arraignment is on national TV, of course, with big-time news anchors doing the play-by-play.

Put aside, for the moment, the presumption of innocence and whether all the publicity allows for the possibility of a fair hearing and get to something more basic. Ask yourself what you're thinking as you see this lost man they tell us is O. J. Simpson.

I suspect in your heart you feel pity. Even though you think you probably shouldn't.

If Simpson didn't kill his wife, he certainly beat her. Maybe repeatedly.

But, still, pity. Because we think we know him. And we think we like this handsome, suave, impossibly friendly man. We always did like him, anyway.

We hope from somewhere deep inside that he didn't do it, that it's all a terrible mistake, that he was somehow set up, that this will eventually play out like some mystery novel once we get enough clues and we learn about who else might have had a motive.

But what if he did do it? And here's where it gets tough, even gruesome. If he did do it, he stabbed two people to death with a 15-inch knife.

These are first-degree, special-circumstance murder charges he faces. The D. A. could ask for the death penalty. That means, if guilty, O. J. could get the gas chamber.

Imagine, if you can, the Juice sucking for the last gasp of good air in a California chamber designed to take the life of those who take the lives of others.

You can't imagine it, can you?

I haven't found anyone who wants to see Simpson put to death.

That should be surprising, although it's not. It should be surprising because Americans overwhelmingly believe in capital punishment. It's the craze in American jurisprudence. More capital punishment, more often.

But O. J.'s different, isn't he? If he did it, it must have been an aberration. We know him. We've seen his grace on a football field. We've laughed at his movies. He has that smile. Do killers really have such smiles?

In his note to America, a letter that seemed then like a suicide note, he signed his name with a smiley face in the O. Are there such murderers?

Yes, we believe in capital punishment, but for a certain kind of person.

For the losers in life.

For the outcasts.

For people like John Thanos, who was crazy with hate and twisted with pain.

For people who aren't like us.

We hear a lot about an eye for an eye, and we hear a lot about deterrence and we hear a lot about how we shouldn't waste our tax money paying to keep scum in prison all their natural days.

And we hear a lot about the victims.

But there's a deafening silence as to these latest victims. We don't hear much about Nicole Simpson. We don't hear much about Ronald Goldman.

The focus is all on O. J. and on the police chase and on his mental state and how we just can't believe he did it.

What we believe in is the death penalty, despite all the evidence showing it to be applied unfairly. If the victim is white, the murderer is significantly more likely to get death than if the victim is black.

Simpson is, of course, black, and he's accused of killing a white woman and her white friend. But it's more complicated than that.

Often, the issue is class above race.

If Simpson is convicted, it is very unlikely he would get the death penalty. Because he's rich and he's famous and because he can afford a great lawyer with a great defense team. And because he's O. J., whose fans still pin notes of encouragement on the gates outside his home.

Let others, less fortunate, get the gas.

We allow ourselves these little inconsistencies because we prefer to think of the people we put to death as less than human. But, somehow, we have the feeling that O. J. Simpson, charged with two brutal murders, is all too human.

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