OJ's "hypothetical": "I remember I grabbed the knife"

Normally, a “hypothetical” would get couched in a lot of ifs and third-person references. In 2006, when O.J. Simpson wanted to sell a book describing the hypothetical manner in which the brutal double-murder of his former wife Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman was committed, he did an interview with Fox News hosted by publisher Judith Regan to promote it. The interview got buried after massive criticism of the project, but Fox dusted it off last night and promoted it as OJ’s confession. And it certainly appears they weren’t kidding, either:

In the interview, Simpson described Goldman as “a guy that I didn’t really recognize. I may have seen him around, but I really didn’t recognize him.”

At one point, Simpson referenced a friend, whom he identifies only as “Charlie,” who went with him to confront Brown and handed him the knife that would be used as the murder weapon in the scenario.

“As things got heated, I just remember Nicole fell and hurt herself and this guy kind of got into a karate thing. And I said, ‘Well, you think you can kick my ass?’ And I remember I grabbed the knife — I do remember that portion, taking a knife from Charlie — and to be honest after that I don’t remember, except I’m standing there and there’s all kind of stuff around and …” he said, trailing off.

Judith Regan, who conducted the interview in 2006 for the book, “If I Did It,” pressed Simpson: “What kind of stuff?” “Blood and stuff around,” he replied.

It doesn’t sound hypothetical at all here, and didn’t to Regan at the time, either. She spoke with CNN’s Alisyn Camerota this morning, who asked why it didn’t air in 2006 when she first recorded the interview. Regan says Camerota should ask Fox and News Corp, but noted that the families of the victims objected to the whole idea of the interview:

The original prosecutors objected to the event too, and the objections were a little more substantial than Regan credits with Camerota. Everyone involved had concerns about Simpson exploiting the murders to reinflate his celebrity value, or at least to make that attempt, and accused Fox and Regan of exploiting the murders for profit and ratings. That’s why Rupert Murdoch eventually apologized for partnering on the project and shelving the interview and why the publisher spiked Simpson’s book. Fred Goldman eventually seized the manuscript in enforcing the multi-million-dollar wrongful death judgment on Simpson and published it as OJ’s confession, with the word “If” made very small in comparison to the rest of the title, “I Did It.”

One of the prosecutors who publicly objected at the time was Christopher Darden, the man who infamously demanded that Simpson try on the bloody gloves in the courtroom. He changed his mind last night after watching the interview:

In the view of prosecutor Christopher Darden, O.J. Simpson confesses to the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman in his 2006 TV interview that aired Sunday night. …

Darden was featured on the two-hour special, “O.J. Simpson: The Lost Confession?” as part of a panel of experts who added commentary and analysis intercut with sections of the 2006 interview. Moderator Soledad O’Brien emphasized that Simpson was not paid by contemporary producers of the special.

During the interview, Simpson appears at times delusional, saying that he went to Nicole’s condo on the night she died with a friend he described as “Charlie,” who gave him a knife as he encountered Nicole and later Ron Goldman.

“I think he’s confessed to murder. If I’d known he said this in 2006 I would not have objected to the release of this video,” Darden said. “I don’t think there’s any question of his involvement and that he is the person who is wielding the knife.”

There wasn’t much question about it in 1994 and 1995, either. Prosecutors had a mountain of evidence against Simpson but made several strategic errors during the trial, of which the bloody-glove maneuver was just the most notorious. Simpson’s legal team delivered a magnificent performance of misdirection and distraction, and the obsessive media coverage probably doomed the issue from the start. But it was clear then and has remained clear all along that Simpson committed the murders, and the only question left is the identity of “Charlie,” his “hyopthetical” accomplice.

In retrospect, one might wonder why Simpson agreed to the interview at all, given his wise decision not to take the stand during the trial. The answer is probably that he didn’t have much to lose. Having been acquitted, Simpson could not be retried for the murders (although “Charlie” certainly could get prosecuted for them, if he’s ever identified). Having lost the civil case to the Goldmans, there wasn’t any financial incentive to stay quiet either. The only real damage this will create for Simpson is among his fans who continue to insist to this day that he got framed, a position that will be all but unsustainable with Simpson talking in the first person and in a definite tone about what happened that night. Denial is a strong impulse and so is belief in conspiracy theories, but they both have their limits. We hope.