Tuesday, October 7, 2008

O.J. Simpson: If he only had a brain

By DeWayne Wickham

A few days after O.J. Simpson was acquitted in 1995 of the murder of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ronald Goldman, I asked Johnnie Cochran if the former NFL superstar was going to move abroad to restart his life.

"No, but he probably should," said Cochran, who was Simpson's lead attorney. But instead of packing up and flying off to the Bahamas or Cayman Islands, Simpson left Los Angeles in 2000 for Miami — a decision that set in motion a series of bad acts that ultimately resulted in a guilty verdict that could put him behind bars for life.

Simpson would have been smart to leave the country to get beyond the unflinching glare of the vast majority of Americans who believe he got away with murder. But as he has proved over and over again since his murder trial acquittal, Simpson isn't a smart guy.

He hardly had time to settle into his Florida home before he was back in court. That time, Simpson was charged with assaulting a neighbor during a road-rage incident. As he entered a Miami courthouse in 2001 for that trial, Simpson was heard whistling "If I Only Had a Brain," a prophetic tune from “The Wizard of OZ.” Still, he was acquitted, escaping a possible 16-year prison term.

Later that year, his house was raided by federal and local law enforcement agents after his name was mentioned during a wiretapped conversation between suspects in an international drug case.

The agents didn't find any illegal drugs, but they did seize some satellite TV equipment. Four years later, a Florida judge ordered Simpson to pay $25,000 for allegedly using two "bootloaders" that were taken from his house in that raid to steal signals from Direc TV.

Then, in a warped decision that proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Simpson lacks good sense, it was announced in 2006 that he had written a book titled “If I Did It.” In it, Simpson discussed how he would have killed his ex-wife and her friend, if he had committed the double murder — which he continues to deny. After a storm of protest, Simpson's book deal fell through.

But less than a year later, he was back in the news, and this time Simpson's luck ran out. While in Las Vegas to attend a friend's wedding, he enlisted the help of five seedy characters to recover some personal items he claimed were stolen from him and ended up in the possession of two sleazy sports memorabilia peddlers. The resulting six-minute confrontation caused him to be charged with kidnapping and armed robbery.

The night before Las Vegas police arrested him, Simpson emerged from his friend's wedding ceremony whistling “If I Only Had a Brain.”

A lot of people see poetic justice in the guilty verdict the Las Vegas jury gave Simpson in a case that pales in comparison with the grisly murders he was acquitted of 13 years ago. Even some of the jurors admitted they believed that Simpson got away with murder in that 1995 case, though they said it had no impact on their verdict.

What's certain is that Simpson was widely despised after he was set free in Los Angeles and has done nothing in the years since to assuage that harsh judgment. Instead, he has seemingly taunted his critics with his run-ins with the law and escapes from justice — until now.

And as he sits in jail awaiting his sentence, I can only imagine that O.J. Simpson spends a lot of time wondering why he didn't move abroad years ago — while he whistles “If I Only Had a Brain.”

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