Lawyer Details Simpson's Day in Gripping Tale

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

It was the central act in a week of high drama, a spine-tingling glimpse at the torment haunting America's best-known fugitive.

When O.J. Simpson's lawyer, under fire for failing to surrender his client, summoned the media to Century City on Friday afternoon, there was no hint that it would be anything more than a curt denial that he knew of the ex-football star's whereabouts.

Instead, over the next half an hour, attorney Robert Shapiro produced a remarkably detailed account of the hours leading up to Simpson's disappearance, all the while defending his own reputation. In what was surely one of the most captivating news conferences ever on live TV, it also became apparent that Simpson's life--by his own hand-written account--could be headed for a sad, tortured end.

As a normally jaded press corps listened in rapt silence, the unflappable Shapiro strode to the polished oak podium in a slate-blue double-breasted suit, and without any introduction, said: "O.J., wherever you are, for the sake of your family, for the sake of your children, surrender immediately . . . please do it immediately."

Shapiro, who first gained fame for successfully defending adult film star Linda Lovelace on cocaine charges, then launched into a flawless description of how a seemingly suicidal Simpson sneaked away just minutes before police came to arrest him for the June 12 murders of his ex-wife and her waiter friend.

After attending Thursday's funeral for Nicole Brown Simpson, Shapiro disclosed, the 46-year-old former running back chose not to return to his Brentwood home. Instead he was taken to a sprawling and secluded San Fernando Valley residence, where Simpson was sedated and kept under the supervision of psychiatrists and physicians due to his "frail and fragile emotional state."

"What I was thinking," Shapiro said, "and what I told the police department and the D.A. was that he was suicidal."

About 8:30 a.m. on Friday, Shapiro said, he was contacted at home by authorities with word that Simpson would be charged with the two murders and was expected to surrender by 11 a.m. Shapiro immediately traveled to the hideaway and broke the news just as Simpson was waking.

The prime suspect was examined again by his internist, whom Shapiro said had found an inflamed lymph node under one of Simpson's armpits. While Shapiro kept in touch with Los Angeles police every 15 minutes, Simpson called his personal lawyer and updated his will.

"We were never concerned he might run," Shapiro said in his own defense, explaining that he had made similar arrangements to surrender Erik Menendez on murder charges several years ago. "I believe having four physicians there and his best friend--a former professional football player--there's no way we could have been better prepared."

When 11 a.m. came and went, anxious police officials called Shapiro, saying they were no longer going to wait for Simpson to arrive at Parker Center. At that point, authorities told the lawyer, "We must announce O.J. as a fugitive, wherever he is."

Officers asked for the address and said they would send a patrol car to pick him.

By then, Simpson was downstairs with former USC and Buffalo Bills teammate Al Cowlings, "wailing."

Although the attorney said he never tipped his client that police were on the way, Simpson and Cowlings stealthily slipped out of the large house while Shapiro and the doctors waited upstairs in a conference room. Shapiro said that Simpson was not carrying his wallet or any identification, although he had been given $60 in cash to help cover his expenses in jail.

"I've never felt worse in my professional career," said Shapiro, 51. He added: "I've always kept my word and my clients have always kept their word."

The revelations were another twist in what already had been an emotional roller-coaster--a week of anonymous accusations and vehement denials that had stirred feelings of anger, grief and betrayal among an entranced public.

But there was more, a bombshell that Shapiro had saved for last. Simpson, the lawyer said, had taken the time Friday morning to put his agony in writing. There were three letters, one to his children, one to his mother, and one for the public.

Not only would these contain the first statements from Simpson about the accusations, but the one meant for public consumption would be read--right there and then.

"To whom it may concern," began Robert Kardashian, a businessman and lifelong confidante of Simpson's who had been counseling the Hall of Famer during the past few days.

It was written with black pen, the letters printed on white, unlined paper. The pages were filled with crossed-out words, marked with corrections and addenda.

"First, everyone understand I had nothing to do with Nicole's murder," Kardashian continued reading to his astonished audience. "I loved her, always have, and always will. If we had a problem, it's because I loved her so much."

Simpson acknowledged that there been stormy times in the past, noting a widely publicized 1989 New Year's fight that left his then-wife bloodied and bruised. Despite his earlier admissions that police had been summoned numerous times to their home, he characterized the dispute as an aberration.

"Unlike what has been written in the press, Nicole and I had a great relationship for most of our lives together," Simpson wrote. "Like all long-term relationships, we had a few downs and ups." At one point, he even characterized himself as a "battered husband."

He then thanked all the people who had filled his life with joy, referring to several dozen friends, former teammates and golfing buddies--most of them just by their first names. As he went on, it sounded more and more like Simpson was saying goodby.

"I think of my life and feel I've done most of the right things," he 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. This way they can move on and go on with their lives."

As soon as Kardashian had finished reading, reporters began firing questions at Shapiro, who fielded them in an unflinching voice.

How did Simpson leave the house unnoticed? "The house has a front door, the house has a back door," the lawyer dead-panned.

Was the letter a suicide note?

"After talking with the four doctors," he said, "clearly that was their interpretation."

Do you still think he is innocent?

"Next question," Shapiro barked.

Afterward, Kardashian briefly showed the letter to reporters, then folded it in thirds and tucked it in the breast pocket of his sports jacket. Those close enough to get a glimpse saw this salutation: Peace and love, O.J.

Inside the O, he had drawn a happy face.

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