No mercy for O.J.

Court of public opinion convicts former superstar

September 18, 2007|By Jill Rosen | Jill Rosen,Sun reporter

The first time, with the white Bronco and the glove and the bloodied Brentwood mansion walkway, America reeled. The man accused of murder wasn't our O.J. Simpson, the former football hero, occasional Hollywood actor and irresistibly charming rental car pitchman.

But this time, as news spread that Simpson had been arrested last weekend and charged in a Las Vegas armed robbery, people weren't only ready for it - they absolutely reveled in it.

Though a Los Angeles jury found Simpson not guilty in 1995, the justice system that is the blogosphere in 2007 issued its verdict, swiftly, surely and - more than anything - mercilessly.

They danced on his grave, perhaps prematurely, but enthusiastically nevertheless, delighted to have their long-delayed orgy of schadenfreude.

"O.J. Simpson is in Jail at Last," Gawker trumpeted.

"Karma is a bitch," concluded The Gossip Fix.

And on Deadspin, they called it the "O.J. Simpson feel good moment."

"It was like watching the bully who terrorized you in high school and got away with it get his comeuppance," Deadspin wrote. "We wonder if the Las Vegas police are getting the same satisfaction we are."

Not unlike the media vortex that swirled around Simpson after the brutal 1994 murder of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ronald Goldman, news of Simpson's Vegas arrest was all but unavoidable this weekend, all over the news, the Internet and even some front pages.

Except in 1994 Simpson was a bonafide celebrity, generally beloved, with a magical football career, sweet-faced good looks and media-friendly affability. He has fallen far since then, deemed guilty of murder by a large portion of the public despite his 1995 acquittal. That view was validated for many by the $38 million wrongful death verdict against him in 1997 brought by the Goldman family, and the revulsion only deepened with this year's release of If I Did It, a coy confessional in which Simpson discusses how he would have committed the murders.

"This situation also opens up the possibility of a second O.J. book [titled], of course, If I Stole It," About.com blogger James Alder joked.

Though he is an American icon no longer, people's fascination with the former running back seemingly hasn't diminished, observed Laurie L. Levenson, a Loyola University law school professor who observed Simpson's original trial.

"People somehow feel invested in O.J.'s life," she said. "Either you hope the system catches up with him, or it's `run, O.J., run.' "

Levenson says she thinks people assumed Simpson would tangle with the law again, that it was "inevitable." The only question, she added, was whether he would finally receive justice - a question people apparently don't need a trial to answer.

"It's a real rough sense of justice," Levenson said. "Even if he's convicted of this, it doesn't make up for a murder. I don't know if he will or even should be convicted of this because we don't have the evidence yet."

The Smoking Gun showcased Simpson's unsettling mug shot yesterday - he gazes straight into the camera with a faint smile playing on his lips. The Web site contrasts it with his much more dour 1994 arrest snapshot.

And on TMZ.com, so many people were logging on yesterday to listen to a profanity-laden tape of Simpson confronting a sports memorabilia dealer during the Las Vegas hotel robbery that the system jammed up. "Think you can steal my [expletive] and sell it," a man TMZ identifies as Simpson yells on the recording.

The people behind the Web site Jossip snidely marveled that Simpson allowed someone to tape him. "You're slipping, O.J. In fact, you're almost as rusty as a long-handled serrated-edged chef's knife that's been carefully washed, wiped clean for fingerprints and buried somewhere in South Los Angeles since just after midnight on June 12, 1994."

Debbie Newman, the Jossip editor and author of that quip, called Simpson the easiest of targets at this point, "a known criminal committing another criminal act."

Lauren Williams, editor of the black interest blog Stereohyped, said she hadn't gotten any backlash from a posting in which she imagines Simpson's cocky internal monologue during a robbery.

"A lot of people are furious that he's still walking the streets," said Williams. "He didn't humbly fall off the face of the earth - he's smiling, he's happy, he goes to events, he writes books. I can't say a white man would have been treated the same way in the media, but I'm not giving O.J. any excuses."

After Simpson's acquittal, polls revealed that people's opinions of whether justice was served largely fell along racial lines, with many black people cheering Simpson's perceived triumph over the system.

In Baltimore yesterday, people couldn't get enough of what they considered to be delayed justice.

"He brought it back upon himself," said Marvin Hewlin, a 59-year-old part-time court clerk, as he leaned against Baltimore's Courthouse East building. "Here's a man that got away with murder, but he might go to jail on this robbery charge. What goes around comes around - I hope he gets what he deserves."

Added J. Gaines, a city police officer: "You put yourself in a position where you think you're above the law. Karma is a mother."

jill.rosen@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Sam Sessa contributed to this article.

Developments

A profanity-filled audio recording, apparently of O.J. Simpson and others during the incident that led to his arrest, surfaced online.

Simpson, who is being held without bail on six felony charges, is to have a bail hearing early tomorrow.

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