20 Years Ago Today: OJ Simpson’s Slow Speed Chase
(AP) — The first week of the O.J. Simpson case in mid-June 1994 moved quickly, with reporters racing to reach the news. The only thing that was slow was The Chase.
The football great had been accused of killing his ex-wife and her friend, and there he was on live television, in the back of his friend’s white Ford Bronco with a gun to his head. The freeway was like a parade — with the police, media and fans following “The Juice.” There were crowds on the overpasses, signs, cheers and fists punching the air as the pursuit unfolded.
In The Associated Press newsroom, editors and writers were riveted to small televisions. And that’s where many would stay for the next 17 months — glued to a TV as the so-called “Trial of the Century” unfolded.
Twenty years after its original publication, the AP is making available the story wrapping up all the developments from The Chase.
O.J. ARRESTED IN SLAYINGS OF EX-WIFE AND HER FRIEND
O.J. Simpson was hunted down and captured in his driveway Friday night after running from charges of murdering his ex-wife and her male friend and leading police along 60 miles of freeways and city streets.
“I can’t express the fear I had that this matter would not end the way it did,” said Simpson’s attorney, Robert Shapiro, who had worried earlier that the former football great would kill himself.
Outside the walls of Simpson’s estate, members of Simpson’s family hugged each other and cried after word of the arrest came out.
A cheer came up from the crowd of 300 spectators.
The arrest shortly before 9 p.m. culminated an incredible drama that unfolded on live national TV in which police first announced charges against the former football great, then said he had disappeared and finally followed him along the highways for more than an hour.
After the white Ford Bronco came to a halt at Simpson’s estate, a man believed to be his lifelong friend and teammate, Al Cowlings, got out. Simpson’s lawyer arrived at the mansion nearly an hour later and the arrest came minutes later.
Before fleeing as he was about to be arrested, the former football great left a handwritten letter proclaiming his innocence, saying goodbye to friends and making “a last wish” to “leave my children in peace.”
Shapiro earlier said he feared Simpson was suicidal and pleaded with him to give up. At the same news conference, a friend read Simpson’s letter.
“I’ve had a great life, great friends,” the football Hall of Famer’s letter said. “Please think of the real O.J. and not this lost person.”
The district attorney called it “the fall of an American hero,” and Los Angeles police, angered that he reneged on a promise to surrender earlier in the day, mounted a manhunt for him and a former teammate.
In the letter, Simpson wrote that he tried to do “most of the right things” in life and asked: “Why do I end up like this?”
“First, everyone understand, I had nothing to do with Nicole’s murder,” Simpson’s letter begins. “If we had a problem, it’s because I loved her so much.”
“I don’t want to belabor knocking the press, but I can’t believe what is being said. Most of it is totally made up. I know you have a job to do, but as a last wish, please, please, please, leave my children in peace,” he wrote.
Shapiro said Simpson has been “exceedingly depressed,” but he didn’t know if Simpson had committed suicide.
“I’m keeping my fingers crossed and praying that we will be able to bring him into a court,” Shapiro said.
“Wherever you are, for the sake of your family, for the sake of your children, please surrender immediately.”
Police immediately mounted a manhunt when Simpson fled, and said he may be armed.
“Mr. Simpson is out there somewhere and we will find him,” Police Cmdr. David Gascon told reporters.
If convicted of killing Nicole Simpson and Ronald Goldman, Simpson – among the most prominent celebrities ever charged with murder – could face the death penalty.
“We saw, perhaps, the fall of an American hero,” District Attorney Gil Garcetti said.
Simpson, 46, was scheduled to surrender at 11 a.m. but failed to honor the agreement made with Shapiro, Gascon said.
Shapiro said he was with Simpson, Cowlings and two doctors in a house in the San Fernando Valley on Friday morning when police called to say they were coming to arrest him. He said Simpson and Cowlings, who grew up with Simpson in a San Francisco housing project and was his teammate in high school, at the University of Southern California and the Buffalo Bills, vanished before police arrived.
“The Los Angeles Police Department is actively searching for Mr. Simpson,” Gascon said. “The Los Angeles Police Department is also very unhappy with the activities surrounding his failure to surrender.”
Authorities also were looking for Cowlings, Garcetti said, warning, “If you assist him in any way you are committing a felony.”
The investigation was anchored by a grisly array of evidence, from media reports of a blood-stained ski mask to a bloody glove.
Gascon declined to say how the police lost Simpson, who was handcuffed and questioned by police Monday but let go. He had been seen at his house earlier in the week and attended his ex-wife’s funeral Thursday. Someone resembling Simpson was seen driving away from his house an hour before his expected surrender.
Mike Botula, a spokesman for Garcetti, said the charges included the special capital punishment circumstance of multiple killings. There is no bail in such cases, Botula added.
“A final decision on whether we would seek the death penalty will be made at a later time,” Botula said.
Fans and colleagues of the sports legend who had insisted on his innocence were forced by Friday’s arrest warrant to confront an ominous possibility – that Simpson could have killed the mother of their two children, daughter Sydney, 9, and son Justin, 6.
“There’s nothing to say except that the law must take its course,” said Howard Cosell, who worked with Simpson on ABC’s “Monday Night Football.”
The bodies of Mrs. Simpson, the football star’s strikingly beautiful ex-wife, and Goldman, a 25-year-old aspiring model and waiter at a trendy restaurant, were found outside Mrs. Simpson’s posh condominium.
Mortally wounded by multiple stab wounds, the bodies were discovered in a pool of blood by a passerby.
The couple divorced in 1992 following a seven-year marriage. While still married, Mrs. Simpson called police in 1989 saying she feared he was going to kill her. She had been punched, slapped and kicked by Simpson, who pleaded no contest in the case, authorities said.
Some reports suggested the two were attempting to reconcile at the time of the slayings. They had recently been seen together, but a family friend said those attempts failed and Simpson had turned vengeful.
“He was telling her girlfriends and her that if he ever caught her with anyone he would kill her,” the friend told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity. “She totally broke it off with him three weeks ago.”
Through his attorneys, Simpson maintained his innocence, claiming he was at home at the time of the slayings, waiting for a limousine to take him to the airport for a flight to Chicago. He attended his wife’s funeral Thursday and hired forensic experts to assist in his defense.
Simpson flew to Chicago the night of the killings and was summoned home by police the next morning.
In filing the charges, authorities painted a grim picture in stark contrast to Simpson’s graceful moves on the football field. Simpson was accused of using a knife to kill Mrs. Simpson and Goldman. The knife hasn’t been found, Garcetti said.
Goldman, his family said, wasn’t romantically involved with Mrs. Simpson. Reports indicated he fought valiantly for his life.
Orenthal James Simpson is known to many as the nimble and powerful running back for the Buffalo Bills, for whom he set a single-season NFL rushing record with 2,003 yards in 1973. He helped make USC a national champion in 1967 and won the Heisman Trophy in 1968.
He also was widely seen as a television sports commentator and in advertisements for Hertz rental cars. He also produced several television movies and had featured roles in such productions as “Roots” and “The Naked Gun” comedies.
After the warrant was announced, Hertz dropped Simpson.