He was found not guilty of double murder in 1995, but now OJ Simpson will go to prison for armed robbery. Simpson's first trial, of course, became known as the "trial of the century." The former Buffalo Bills player, sportscaster and actor was a household name and he divided the country with some believing him innocent of the murders, and some, guilty. So 13 years later, picking an impartial jury to try OJ Simpson was quite a challenge.
"Because I got this raw deal, and because I was unjustly accused of something I didn't do, the American system... the American legal system ended up working." That was OJ Simpson four years ago, in an exclusive interview with 7 News Anchor Keith Radford. When we talked to him, he was relaxed, laughing and still proclaiming his innocence.
Yesterday, in a Nevada courtroom, OJ was somber. He was found guilty on 12 charges of armed robbery and kidnapping. The case involved a confrontation over sports memorabilia in Las Vegas. "I remember not being surprised that he would do something like this. Somebody had something that he thought belonged to him so he gets his friends and some guns and goes and does something violent and illegal," said Steve Boyd, a former Channel 7 reporter. Boyd covered the OJ trials in the early 1990s. Now he's a lawyer and he sees how Western New York's sentiments about OJ Simpson have changed over the course of three trials. "People were split along racial lines and after the second trial, I don't think that was the case anymore. And so this thing breaks, and he's charged with armed robbery, and I think a lot of people here and around the country start to think, well, this is a violent psychopath," said Boyd.
While Simpson was acquitted of the murder charges, he didn't win at the civil trial. The jury found him liable for the wrongful death of Ron Goldman, and the battery of Nicole Brown, and ordered him to pay a $33-million judgment. For years, OJ Simpson refused to pay up. "If I had to pay them, I wouldn't work. I didn't commit the crime, I don't believe they deserve a dime," OJ told 7 News in 2004.
The publicity from the two trials made it very hard for the Las Vegas court to find an impartial jury. Hundreds of potential jurors had to answer a long questionnaire to determine if they had a biased opinion on Simpson. "The judge in this case took every step to keep what happened in LA out of this case," said Boyd.
The Vegas jury was made up of nine women and three men. All admitted they had heard of OJ Simpson before this trial. But were they able to stay open-minded? That may be an issue on appeal, since Simpson's attorney vows to petition for a new trial or appeal the verdict.
"Look, I've been a good guy in my life. I don't think anybody who is watching this in Buffalo can't say that I wasn't courteous and nice to them," OJ told 7 News in 2004.
Good guy or not, the appellate judge will now be the one who decides. But veteran OJ watchers say he may not be done. "He has shown the ability to, every time you think he's down, all of the sudden, there's OJ on the golf course again. So who knows what will happen?" said Boyd.
The 61-year-old could get life in prison. Sentencing is set for December 5th, 2008.