O.J. Simpson, the football great who rose from the mean streets of San Francisco to international celebrity, became the subject of a massive police manhunt Friday, after a warrant was issued for his arrest in connection with the murders of his ex-wife and a male friend.
His lawyer, Robert Shapiro, said Simpson disappeared around noon after agreeing to turn himself in to authorities. Shapiro said Simpson, 46, had been last seen with his friend, former USC teammate Al Cowlings.
The two apparently fled together as police were en route to the large, San Fernando Valley house where Simpson’s arrest was to have taken place. Shapiro said he was upstairs in the house when Simpson and Cowlings apparently left.
Shapiro, who publicly begged Simpson to turn himself in “for the sake of your family, for the sake of your children,” said that in the hours before his disappearance, Simpson had updated his will, called his mother and children, and gave a friend at the house three sealed letters.
One, addressed “To whom it may concern,” reiterated Simpson’s denial that he had any part in the murders of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, 35, and Ronald Lyle Goldman, a 25-year-old Brentwood waiter.
“I think of my life and feel I have done most of the right things,” the letter said. “So why do I end up like this? I can’t go on. No matter what the outcome, people will look and point. I can’t take that. I can’t subject my children to that.”
The letter concluded:
“Don’t feel sorry for me. I have had a great life, great friends. Please think of the real O.J., and not this lost person.”
Authorities, enraged at Simpson’s disappearance, warned the public against hiding the 1968 Heisman Trophy winner, who had promised to surrender to authorities on Friday morning but failed to show up. Scores of law enforcement officers fanned out across Southern California in an intensive search for one of the world’s most recognizable public figures when Simpson did not appear as scheduled.
“Many of us perhaps had empathy, to some extent,” said a visibly agitated Gil Garcetti, the Los Angeles County district attorney. “We saw the fall of an American hero. . . . But let’s remember, we have two innocent people who have been brutally killed.”
Nicole Simpson and Goldman were found stabbed to death early Monday morning outside her $700,000 townhome. Police sources said the two had been slain sometime after 10 p.m. Sunday night as her two small children slept inside.
Although police had refused to officially 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 and taken into custody at his mansion Monday afternoon. He was released, however, after questioning, and returned to the graceful Tudor-style home, where he remained as evidence against him mounted 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 found, tried and convicted.
Los Angeles Police Commander David J. Gascon said Simpson had been scheduled to turn himself in to police at 11 a.m., with arraignment set for later that afternoon in Los Angeles County Municipal Court.
But time 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 from justice.
“He is a wanted murder suspect,” Gascon said tersely, “and we will go find him.”
It was unclear how the 6-foot-1, 205-pound Simpson--who had been dogged by crowds of reporters and camera crews for most of the week--had managed to elude the 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 Brentwood and burial in Orange County. And 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 say that authorities now believe that that man was a decoy, and intend to interview Sgt. Dennis L. Sebenik, a 25-year veteran who works in the LAPD’s Harbor Division and who was a member of Simpson’s security detail.
Sebenik said, however, that the Simpson decoy had been intended only to help the grieving Simpson avoid the media.
“To get rid of you guys, maybe,” he told The Times, “but not to help him get away.”
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 providing security for a man widely reported to be a suspect in a double homicide.
Gascon, meanwhile, said department officials were investigating Sebenik’s conduct.
“I’m not going to rush in here and defend anything that might have occurred, but I’m not going to rush to judgment either,” Gascon said. “We have no interest in excusing what is obviously going to be a difficult situation to explain.”
Shapiro said Simpson had been told Friday morning that he would have to surrender that day. Because of Simpson’s “fragile” emotional state Shapiro said he had asked several doctors to join him at the San Fernando Valley home where a heavily sedated Simpson had spent Thursday night.
Shapiro said he was in constant contact with authorities as doctors were examining Simpson, a process that delayed the planned surrender for nearly an hour.
Police, impatient about the delays, called the house to say that they were coming to arrest Simpson. But, Shapiro said, he did not pass that news on to Simpson, who was with Cowlings in another part of the house.
It was apparently at that point that Simpson and Cowlings slipped away, Shapiro said.
As authorities announced to an audibly shocked press corps that Simpson was a fugitive, Nicole Simpson’s father rushed from her Brentwood condominium, begging a teen-ager to dial 911. LAPD Sgt. Bob Brounstein said a man claiming to be Simpson called the house at least twice, saying he was coming over to the scene of the murders to kill himself.
“I’m going to go join Nicole,” the caller allegedly said. But Simpson never turned up at the residence.
“We have a big mess,” said Sgt. Doug Abney. “This is a false alarm.”
As it became increasingly clear that Simpson was not likely to turn up, other law enforcement agencies throughout the region were notified of Simpson’s disappearance. Sheriff’s officials and the California Highway Patrol joined the manhunt for Simpson, focusing their search on the Los Angeles area.
Police said they were looking in particular for a white Ford Bronco apparently belonging to Simpson’s lifelong friend, Cowling. They also warned that Simpson might be armed and was considered possibly suicidal. That created yet another problem: If Simpson raises a weapon at an officer, there is the possibility that he could end up dead.
“If we can avoid a shooting, we obviously will,” Abney of LAPD said. “But we have to consider that if he’s suicidal, he may be homicidal.”
The disappearance of Simpson was a public relations nightmare for the LAPD and the district attorney’s office, whose decision not to arrest Simpson earlier had been second-guessed in some quarters. Police sources had been saying all week that the evidence against Simpson was strong enough to warrant his arrest, and yet the department held off, hoping to build an air-tight case before taking him into custody.
Gascon said the department was “very unhappy” with Simpson’s disappearance, and stressed that police had not given Simpson special treatment in their handling of the investigation.
Garcetti, who described himself as “upset and angry” about Simpson’s disappearance, also defended the Police Department’s performance, saying investigators had done a commendable job at building the case against the former football star.
In the four days since the killings, police sources say, evidence has continued to mount linking Simpson to the crimes.
Bloodstains on the walkway where the bodies were found matched Simpson’s blood type, they said, and two blood-stained gloves were recovered, one at the scene, its match outside his Brentwood home.
Police sources also said that a trail of blood drops stretched across Simpson’s cobblestone driveway. And Friday, they said that blood stains inside his home matched Nicole Simpson’s blood type. The blood evidence appeared to figure against Simpson but is not necessarily conclusive, sources said. Even the rarest blood types are shared by many people.
DNA tests can more definitively identify blood samples, but they take weeks or even months to complete.
Garcetti said that a murder weapon, which he described as a “substantial knife,” had yet to be found.
Police also have interviewed witnesses about Simpson’s relationship with his ex-wife, and on Thursday questioned a jogger who said she saw a light-colored car resembling one of Simpson’s outside the townhouse at around the time the murders are believed to have occurred.
Witnesses and authorities said O.J. and Nicole Simpson--who had apparently seen each other off and on after their troubled and sometimes violent marriage ended in 1992--had been together on the evening of the killings, attending a dance recital for their 9-year-old daughter in West Los Angeles.
But he was not with the family when Nicole Simpson, her children, and seven others arrived for dinner at the Brentwood restaurant where Goldman had been a waiter for the past three months.
Goldman’s co-workers at the restaurant, Mezzaluna, later said that when Nicole Simpson went home, someone in her party left behind a pair of glasses. Goldman, a sometime model who during the past several weeks had struck up a friendship with Nicole Simpson, volunteered to drop them off at her house on his way home, they said.
Their blood-soaked bodies were found sprawled on a Spanish-tile walkway shortly after midnight Monday morning. Coroner’s investigators said both their throats had been slit, and their corpses bore multiple stab wounds. Investigators added that there were signs that Goldman had put up a fierce struggle before he died. Police sources placed the time of death at sometime between 10 p.m. and 11 p.m.
Within hours, police began looking for Simpson, who, they later learned, had taken an 11:45 p.m. flight to Chicago. Lawyers for the athlete-turned-TV-pitchman said he had been scheduled to attend a meeting hosted by Hertz, the auto rental firm for which he has long been a spokesman.
Workers at the Chicago hotel where Simpson checked in hours afterward said that upon his arrival, he displayed the same affable, avuncular attitude that had been the hallmark of his public persona. When he checked out at 8:30 a.m. CDT, however, he was visibly agitated, they said, breaking into a line of other guests at the desk and demanding to be attended to immediately.
Simpson immediately returned to Los Angeles, arriving shortly before noon. Meanwhile, Chicago police scoured his hotel room, discovering a broken glass, bloody pillowcases and a bloody towel; a lawyer for Simpson later explained that he had slammed his hand down and cut his finger upon learning of his ex-wife’s death.
Later, as police struggled to conduct a deliberate investigation in the face of intense press scrutiny, Simpson’s lawyers protested the celebrity’s innocence--even as authorities stressed that he was not officially a suspect.
Howard Weitzman, the lawyer who initially represented Simpson, said at first that Simpson had been on his way to Los Angeles International Airport when the slayings occurred. Several days later, after Simpson replaced Weitzman with Shapiro, the second lawyer said that Simpson had been at home awaiting the arrival of his limousine at the time.
Shapiro, however, also signaled that Simpson was aware that he had become the focus of the case, and indicated that he was planning an aggressive defense with an announcement that he had hired a private forensics team on Simpson’s behalf.
Shapiro also said that Simpson had been distraught since the killings, and had been undergoing treatment for depression.
Simpson’s condition appeared to be particularly acute over the past three days, Shapiro said Friday. He and Simpson’s doctors feared that the football Hall of Famer might attempt suicide, and one of Simpson’s last acts before disappearing had been to write three letters--one to his children, one to his mother and one to the public.
Although the letters to his children and mother were not released, close friend Robert Kardashian read the public letter at a Friday afternoon press conference.
“Everyone understand,” the letter said, “I have nothing to do with Nicole’s murder. I love her and always will.”
The Day He Disappeared
Here is a partial transcript of the felony complaint filed against O.J. Simpson in the slayings of his ex-wife and Ronald Lyle Goldman.
Count 1: “On or about June 12, 1994, in the county of Los Angeles, the crime of murder . . . was committed by Orenthal James Simpson, who did willfully, unlawfully, and with malice aforethought murder Nicole Brown Simpson, a human being. It is further alleged that in the commission and attempted commission of the above offense, the said defendant(s), Orenthal James Simpson, personally used a deadly and dangerous weapon(s) . . . a knife.
Count 2: “On or about June 12, 1994, in the county of Los Angeles, the crime of murder . . . was committed by Orenthal James Simpson, who did willfully, unlawfully, and with malice aforethought murder Ronald Lyle Goldman. It is further alleged that in the commission and attempted commission of the above offense, the said defendant(s), Orenthal James Simpson, personally used a deadly and dangerous weapon(s), . . . a knife.”
FRIDAY’S SEQUENCE OF EVENTS
8:30 a.m.: Robert Shaprio, lawyer for O.J. Simpson, receives call from LAPD officials telling him to surrender his client.
9:30 a.m.: Shapiro goes to an undisclosed home in the San Fernando Valley, and informs Simpson he will have to surrender by 11 a.m.
Murder charges are filed against Simpson in the slayings of Nicole Simpson and Ronald Goldman; arraignment is scheduled for the afternoon.
11 a.m.: Simpson is scheduled to surrender.
Shortly afternoon, accoridng to Shapiro, the lawyer receives call from LAPD officials telling him that police must annonuce that Simposon is a fugitive. he gives police directions to the house.
Police arrive at the San Fernando Valley house. Shapiro, who is with Simpson’s doctors and others in a room at the house, says Simpson and Al Cowlings, a former college and pro football teammate of Simpson who had been with him, had left the house.
LAPD Cmdr. David Gascon announces that Simpson has not surrendered for arraignment as scheduled and is a fugitive.
The California Highway Patrol issues statewide all-points bulletin.
2 pm.: Police respond to 911 call at the scene of the slayings, after a man identified as Nicole Simpson’s father comes out of the house asking people to call 911.
3 p.m.: LAPD officer at Nicole Simpson’s condominium tells reporters, “O.J. Simpson is not here.”
Garcetti, at news conference, says anyone helping Simpson to flee will be prosecuted as a felon. “We will find Mr. Simpson and bring him to justice.” Police are searching for his former teammate, Cowlings. Garcetti says prosecutors have not decided whether to seek the death penalty in the case.
5 p.m.: Shapiro holds press conference, during which a longtime Simpson friend, Robert Kardashian, reads a letter from Simpson: “Don’t feel sorry for me,” ends the note. “I’ve had a great life, great friends. Please think of the real O.J. and not this lost person. Thanks for making my life special. I hope I helped yours. Peace and love. O.J.”