O.J. Simpson, the football great who rose from the mean streets of San Francisco to international celebrity, was arrested Friday for the murders of his ex-wife and a male friend after leading police on a gripping, two-hour chase through the rush-hour freeways of Southern California.
The dramatic capture of one of the best-known and best-loved public figures in America came shortly before 9 p.m., about 10 hours after he was to have turned himself in to Los Angeles police. Simpson's lawyer, Robert L. Shapiro, said Simpson, 46, had agreed to surrender earlier, but bolted at the last minute with Al Cowlings, a longtime friend and former teammate at USC and with the Buffalo Bills.
A massive manhunt involving scores of law enforcement officers ended in the cobblestone driveway of Simpson's Tudor-style mansion, as Los Angeles Police Department officers in bulletproof vests converged on the white Ford Bronco in which Simpson and Cowlings had fled.
As the truck sat parked, its hazard lights blinking silently in the balmy June night, Cowlings got out of the driver's seat and walked into the house. Then, for nearly an hour, a distraught Simpson sat inside the truck, reportedly cradling a blue-steel revolver and demanding to speak to his mother.
Hundreds of supporters gathered in the upscale neighborhood, chanting "Free O.J.," and rocking police cars. Meanwhile, the LAPD Special Weapons and Tactics team and negotiators surrounded the house, eventually coaxing Simpson out of the vehicle by cellular telephone. He put the gun down and emerged about 8:50 p.m. carrying a framed family photo.
Simpson went into the house, used the bathroom, called his mother and drank a glass of juice, authorities said. He was then transported by police motorcade to Parker Center for booking and transported to Men's Central Jail. Cowlings was booked on suspicion of harboring a fugitive. He was being held on $250,000 bail.
The dramatic arrest, broadcast live on national television, capped a tragic weeklong drama that began with the slayings of Simpson's ex-wife, 35-year-old Nicole Brown Simpson, and Ronald Lyle Goldman, a 25-year-old Brentwood waiter whom she knew.
Nicole Simpson and Goldman were found stabbed to death early Monday morning outside her Brentwood condo. Police sources said the two were slain sometime after 10 p.m. Sunday as her two small children slept inside.
Although the Police Department had refused all week to label Simpson a suspect, and Simpson's lawyers said he was innocent, sources inside the LAPD made it clear from the outset that he was the focus of their investigation. The former college and professional football star was briefly handcuffed at his mansion Monday afternoon and taken to police headquarters for questioning. He was later released, and remained free as evidence mounted against him day by day.
By Friday, detectives had concluded their case, recommending that Simpson be charged with two counts of first-degree murder. The charges, which include a "special circumstance" of multiple killings, could bring him the death penalty if he is convicted.
Los Angeles Police Cmdr. David J. Gascon said Simpson had been scheduled to turn himself in to police at 11 a.m. Friday, with arraignment scheduled for that afternoon in Los Angeles Municipal Court.
But 45 minutes, and then an hour, ticked by and Simpson was nowhere to be seen. Finally, just before 2 p.m., police held a news conference to announce that Simpson had officially become a fugitive.
"He is a wanted murder suspect," Gascon said tersely, "and we will go find him."
It was unclear how the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Simpson--who had been dogged by crowds of reporters and cameramen for most of the week--had managed to escape authorities, who had felt confident that someone so famous would never attempt to flee.
Throughout the week, Simpson had appeared to be sequestered in his Brentwood home, emerging only to visit his children and to attend Nicole Simpson's funeral in Orange County. After the services Thursday, a man resembling Simpson was photographed ducking past hordes of news reporters into the home--escorted by an off-duty LAPD sergeant.
Police sources said Friday, however, that the man who resembled Simpson was a decoy, who was under the escort of LAPD Sgt. Dennis L. Sebenik, a 25-year veteran who works in the LAPD Harbor Division. Police said they want to interview Sebenik.
Unbeknown to department leaders, Sebenik was serving as a member of Simpson's security detail even as police were investigating the former football star.
Sebenik said he manages a "legitimate security company" and had been hired to provide security for Simpson. He would not comment on why an off-duty Los Angeles police officer was protecting a man widely reported to be a suspect in a double homicide.
Gascon said department officials were investigating Sebenik's conduct.
FROM THE ARCHIVES
Simpson Held After Wild Chase | He's Charged With Murder of Ex-Wife, Friend
Football legend had agreed to surrender but disappeared, prompting manhunt. Car is spotted in Orange County; pursuit ends in driveway of his Brentwood home.
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