The recent decision to convict O.J. Simpson on kidnapping and robbery charges comes down to a very simple reality: White America wanted payback and an all-White jury gave the country what it wanted. The farce of a trial in Las Vegas, made more sad by Mr. Simpson’s seemingly obliviousness to the disdain and hatred he engenders, was certainly not the doing of justice.
For barging into a room, demanding personal items apparently taken from his home and storage lockers, cursing, grabbing a cell phone, sunglasses and a hat, the former football great and ad pitchman may now face life in prison. Mr. Simpson may be guilty of not having a clue about how to avoid the wrath of Whites convinced he murdered wife Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman 13-years-ago, but he wasn’t guilty of these major felonies.
As one Simpson attorney said, his client could have walked into a bank, tied-up and duct taped employees, taken money and faced the same charges for essentially a nasty argument in a hotel room.
Even CNN analyst Jeffrey Toobin, whose career was made during the first Simpson trial, saw the Las Vegas prosecution as a vindictive witch-hunt. Before the Oct. 3 verdict, Mr. Toobin described the accused victims, sports memorabilia collectors, as “sleazeballs.” He also pointed to what White America saw as the main point of the trial: “The first trial ‘was about the cold-blooded murder of two people,’ (Toobin) says. ‘This crime, if it was a crime, was a bunch of creeps screaming at each other in a hotel room about a bunch of junk that’s probably not worth much, anyway,’ ” according to TV columnist Gail Shister.
Mr. Toobin argued Mr. Simpson “clearly got away with murder in the first case. This bizarre, questionable case is the one that could get him thrown in jail.”
O.J. was a racial flashpoint 13-years-ago and a clear sign of the racial divide in this country, with Blacks on one side and Whites on the other side of the verdict. Exasperated Whites couldn’t understand how Blacks could identify with O.J. and complained that the Pro Football Hall of Famer wasn’t connected to the Black community. The country was riveted to TV screens for the verdict and cameras captured the joy of Blacks and anguish of Whites. Blacks said the court made a decision, respect the decision. Whites called the decision an outrage.
Given the long history of Blacks murdered by White bigots and racist police officers and protected by unjust “not guilty” verdicts, swallowing bitter legal decisions is commonplace for Black America.
The entire Las Vegas episode was a highly sordid affair from all ends–which involved reported betrayals and counter-betrayals between Mr. Simpson and these memorabilia dealers, some of whom he has worked with for the past 14 years.
While much has been made of Mr. Simpson’s reputation, the alleged victims and the main prosecution asset aren’t spotless. The group includes convicted felons, thieves, tax cheats and businessmen with a penchant for making a buck off the notoriety and misfortune of others. But even when a shred of decency surfaced, the court in Las Vegas squashed it.
Alfred Beardsley, an alleged kidnap and robbery victim, testified Sept. 25 that he didn’t want to be part of the trial. Apparently a victim saying he was not a victim of a crime wasn’t enough to stop the legal steamroller headed at Mr. Simpson. Mr. Beardsley said both he and Mr. Simpson had been set up by Thomas Riccio, who lured Mr. Simpson to the room where Mr. Beardsley and another memorabilia dealer were expecting a buyer for items stolen from Mr. Simpson.
Mr. Riccio, under the guise of helping his friend O.J., walked his friend into a bad situation and tape recorded that clash and separate conversations that included Mr. Simpson and Mr. Beardsley.
The tapes that have been made public captured angry words from Mr. Simpson accusing the memorabilia dealers of stealing from him, his insistence that nobody leave the room and assurances that anything taken that was not his would be returned. Prosecutors say guns were involved but Mr. Simpson said he never saw any weapons. Of course, another defendant in the case who crashed the room with O.J. testified that weapons were involved as part of a plea deal.
The all-White jury told the media Oct. 6 that it wasn’t witness testimony, settling a score or racism that led to the guilty verdict. The key, they said, was the tapes that provided evidence against Mr. Simpson and sealed his fate.
But how valid was the evidence? Mr. Beardsley testified that the tapes were doctored by Mr. Riccio. His motive? Money. Mr. Riccio, who didn’t mention the tapes to police when questioned, admitted on the witness stand that he sold recordings to TMZ.com, the celebrity gossip website, for $150,000. He raked in another $25,000 from “Entertainment Tonight” and socked away $20,000 courtesy of a sponsor for shock jock Howard Stern’s radio show. Mr. Riccio also wrote a book, “Busted: The Inside Story of the World of Sports Memorabilia, O.J. Simpson, and the Vegas Arrests,” according to ESPN.com writer Lester Munson. He wasn’t the only one. Bruce Fromong, another “victim,” called “Inside Edition,” the TV tabloid program, and later called police, Mr. Munson noted. Mr. Fromong is also offering items on eBay, “under the headline, ‘The Same Things that Were Stolen in the Robbery in Las Vegas,’ ” according to the ESPN.com piece.
There may be no honor among thieves, but the court system is supposed to represent the granting of justice–not revenge and retribution. The evidence against Mr. Simpson was weak at best and though he was acquitted in the murder case, he was found liable in a civil case brought by the Goldman family and now has been found guilty and could possibly go to prison for the rest of his life.
Though the judge, prosecutors and jury would like to say justice was done, the verdict issued in Las Vegas is another page in the sad history of racial injustice in America.