Fact

The Day I Met O.J. Simpson

The nondescript church sat on a side road in a small town just outside Shreveport, LA. Eight years later, I can’t remember the name of the church, or the name of the small town.

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What I remember is the man. “The Juice.” O.J. Simpson.

Back in 2006, I worked weekends at KSLA as a reporter, but I wore more hats that just that. Saturdays and Sundays meant endless running around in my car by myself from 8AM until 2PM gathering video of 5ks, house fires, school festivals, car wrecks, burglaries, and whatever other spot news occurred. I played producer, assignment editor, photographer, and reporter all by myself until the other three people who worked the weekends showed up at 2PM. Yes, we ran that newsroom on the horsepower of four people. Most days I worked 8AM to 10PM both days, not leaving until I filed stories both for the 6PM and the 10Pm shows. If something happened, I was the only reporter they could send to  the story, and often the only photographer. I felt like I could never leave the TV station to go home because  I didn’t want to miss anything. I hated it when KTBS or KTAL beat us on a story and held myself personally responsible. Once I started anchoring the AM show on the weekends, the day got longer. I often got to the newsroom at 6AM and didn’t leave until 10PM.

I was young. Hungry. Determined.  I’d never worked that hard in my life. And I loved it.

When I got the assignment that morning, I had to read the print out from the day file twice because I couldn’t believe what it said.  Basically, O.J. Simpson had arrived in town the night before for a reunion of his mother’s side of the family.  The staff at KSLA didn’t find out until he arrived at Shreveport Regional Airport, so of course no one waited at the airport to get video of him or ask him any questions.

In the world of smaller market TV, that was kind of a big miss.

Now, though, I had a chance to make it up. I just needed to drive out to the church, walk up to him, get video of him with his family, and ask him a couple of questions about what he thought about Shreveport. By myself.

And,  of course, I also needed to ask him the question he’d been asked one million times since his acquittal in 1995 of the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman: “Are you still looking for the killer?”

O.J.’s extended family was already at the church when I arrived. Some of them wore family reunion shirts and wide brimmed baseball caps. A few stared at me, and others ignored me because the local TV news reporter wasn’t as interesting as the large red fire truck the family rented to ride through town during the reunion as they celebrated.

O.J., though, walked right up to me within two minutes of my arrival. There, in the blazing Louisiana heat, I met the man at the center of the murder case that made me want to be a journalist.

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Like everyone else back in 1994 and 1995, I watched more of O.J.’s slow speed chase through Los Angeles and subsequent murder trail than I’d like to admit. Everything about it fascinated me. O.J .had been so respected and beloved. Ron Goldman had nothing to do with anything and wound up dead. Nicole Brown Simpson had been a beautiful mother who’s life ended too soon. Then there was the chase, the spectacle,  and the attorneys who seemed like they came straight out of Hollywood. I couldn’t look away, and I didn’t want to.

Even more than that, the media circus seemed so exciting. Watching the reporters inside and outside the courtroom had a huge impact on me. That’s when I decided I wanted to be one of them and vowed I’d make it happen.  I wanted that job.  I wanted to witness history. I wanted a piece of the action.

I just didn’t think my piece of the O.J. story would come in a small town church parking lot.

At first, O.J. and I made small talk as I set up the camera and turned it on. We started the interview.  He told me how his relatives enjoyed NW Louisiana, and how he was glad for a chance to visit because a visit meant excellent food, like mudbugs and fried okra (nobody cooks like Louisiana, I promise you).  He laughed a few times and made more than one joke. He really was “The Juice”–the charismatic man who could win a room in seconds. He was just like the guy in the Hertz commercials, only older and fatter.

Then I asked the question— THE QUESTION—the one I knew I couldn’t leave the parking lot without asking.

“It’s been just over ten years since the end of the trial,” I said. “Are you still looking for the killer? Do you still think about the case?”

“Has it been ten years?” he said.

“Yes,” I said, thinking there was no way he didn’t know that information. No way. He knew. It had defined his life every day since then.

Hadn’t it?

“Ten years,” he said. “Huh. Well, it it what it is. I don’t really think about it.”

Then, he laughed.

Honestly I didn’t know what to do. My stomach twisted and I wanted to throw up. I’ll never forget how scary and creepy he looked at that moment–dead behind the eyes and stone cold. The man had just laughed about a horrific double murder case, and he’d been the prime suspect. As I stood there, still recording, he switched the conversation to the red fire truck and told me a story about filming The Towering Inferno with Steve McQueen in the 1970s. Once again, he slipped into that famous persona of “The Juice”.

I just wanted to get out of there.

Right then, as I looked into his eyes, I had confirmation of what I always had suspected. This man had something to do with that murder. I don’t know if he had help, and I don’t know if he was alone.  O.J. could have planned it, or maybe it happened in a fit of rage.  I’ll probably never know.

But I do know one thing for sure. O.J. Simpson was on Bundy Drive that night. He has some sort of responsibility. An innocent person doesn’t laugh about a murder while doing an on camera interview with a TV reporter. An innocent person doesn’t switch subjects that easily.

And an innocent person doesn’t make jokes about a case that everyone called “The Trial of the Century.”

On this, the 20th anniversary of Nicole and Ron’s murder, my heart goes out to those families. That case played out in such a public way, but two decades later,  no one sits in jail for the crime. Yes, O.J. is in jail on other charges. A civil court held him responsible. The LAPD considers the case closed. But it’s still sort of a hollow thing.

For me, it’s a case I’ll always have a small tie to. The day I met O.J. Simpson still ranks at the top of my list as one of the strangest things I have ever encountered in my years as a TV reporter and anchor. It’s one of those moments I couldn’t forget, even if I tried.

 

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