Making a Statement : Simpson Proclaims Innocence in His Jailhouse-Conceived Book, ‘I Want to Tell You’; It Sells Briskly on First Day of Publication
Miguel de Cervantes wrote the West’s first great novel while in prison. Martin Luther King Jr. stirred a nation’s complacent conscience with a letter from his Birmingham, Ala., jail cell.
Comes now Orenthal James Simpson, and while his “I Want to Tell You,” which went on sale Friday, may never find a place in the pantheon of distinguished prison literature that stretches from Reading Gaol to Terminal Island, it already stands out as an ingenious innovation in legal fund-raising and public relations.
The 208-page book with color illustrations, priced at $17.95, was shipped to bookstores across the country in a blaze of publicity. The publisher, Little, Brown & Co., reportedly paid a $1-million advance to the accused double murderer’s defense fund. The fund will receive all of Simpson’s proceeds from the venture, which also includes a $9.95 audio version, produced by Time-Warner and recorded by Simpson himself.
Southern California bookstores from the San Gabriel Valley to the Westside and from the San Fernando Valley to Orange County reported brisk first-day sales.
The volume is composed of an introduction by Simpson’s collaborator, film producer and director Lawrence Schiller, and 12 topical chapters. Each of these begins with a selection of letters from among the more than 300,000 the former football star says he has received, followed by an edited version of his taped responses. The recordings were made in the Los Angeles County Jail in November and December during three-way conversations between Schiller, Simpson and the latter’s close friend, attorney Robert Kardashian, who conceived the project and brought the participants together. Simpson’s visiting arrangements were sharply curtailed after Superior Court Judge Lance A. Ito learned of the jailhouse interviews.
Throughout the book and in a variety of ways, Simpson repeatedly asserts that he is innocent of the murders of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Lyle Goldman.
“How could anybody say I could have killed Nicole?” he asks at one point, “How could anybody say that? Don’t they understand that I’d jump in front of a bullet for Nicole? I’d jump in front of a train to protect any member of my family. . . . Trust me, I would have never taken Nicole from our two little children. I would have taken myself out of their lives, not Nicole.
“I wonder what Nicole must have been thinking at the end, when she realized what was about to happen to her. It hurts me to think about it. . . . I’ll never hear my kids say ‘Mommy’ again. That hurts me every day. I know it hurts my kids, too. I could never kill anyone, especially Nicole. How could I deprive my kids of a mother?”
In a comment that may prefigure one possible line in the defense his lawyers will mount, Simpson asserts: “I know in my heart that the answer to the deaths of Nicole and Mr. Goldman lies somewhere in the world that Faye Resnick inhabited.”
Resnick, a friend of Nicole Simpson, is the author of “Nicole Brown Simpson: The Private Diary of a Life Interrupted.” In her book, Resnick claims to recount a number of sensational details from Nicole Simpson’s private life, describes her own abuse of cocaine and alleges that she overheard Simpson threaten his ex-wife.
In Simpson’s book, which is subtitled, “My Response to Your Letters, Your Messages, Your Questions,” he describes at some length the religious awakening he says he has undergone while in jail, prompted in part by his friend and frequent visitor, former football star Rosey Grier. On several occasions, Simpson describes his current girlfriend, Paula Barbieri, as “very spiritual.”
Simpson’s characterizations of his current life are bleak. Despite the many special arrangements that have been made for him in the Los Angeles County Jail, he says, “The legal system seems to ignore the presumption of innocence. I’m being treated like the worst criminal in the place.” At another point, he describes how he contracted athlete’s foot in the jail and compares his affliction to that of the biblical figure Job.
One experienced trial attorney who reviewed Simpson’s book before its release said its structure makes it unlikely that prosecutors will be able to make much use of it against him.
“If he doesn’t testify,” said the attorney, who asked not to be identified, “the prosecution will be hard-pressed to take any statement out of context to use against him. Under the evidence code, the defense could bring in the rest of the statement which--in every case--includes the assertion, ‘I’m innocent, I’m innocent.’ The book is very, very careful not to give them isolated things they can pull out. Even if he takes the stand, there probably are only a couple of lines that could hurt him.”
The chapter entitled “Spousal Abuse” might be considered a case in point. It begins with six pages of letters in which the writers say such things as, “No one has mentioned the abuse she inflicted on you.” And, “I said a lot of the same things to the police as Nicole did. But what I didn’t confess, and I believe is the same in your situation, is that I was as much to blame for the disturbance.”
Simpson’s brief reply begins, “Spousal abuse will be an issue at my trial and therefore I can’t discuss it in these pages.”
Across the country, there were scattered protests over the book’s publication, and some bookstores said they would donate their profits from it to local shelters for battered women.
But Neal Webb, director of marketing for Nashville-based Ingram Distribution Group, a major national book distributor, said his company “originally ordered 50,000 books, but that order was cut short so the publisher could fill the orders from supermarkets and drugstores.” Los Angeles will receive 10,000 copies, Webb said.
Vroman’s bookstore in Pasadena got 20 copies from an initial order of 150 and all sold before they could be put on display. By afternoon there was a long waiting list for the additional copies, which were expected in before 6 p.m.
Book Soup in West Hollywood sold out its order by midafternon. A spokesman for the B. Dalton chain declined to give figures, but said the book was “selling very well.”
While popular interest in the book appeared high, based on first-day sales, critical reaction was sharp. In an interview, Leon Wieseltier, literary editor of the New Republic, said, “Does it have any value? If he’s innocent, it’s disgusting that he’s making a buck off Nicole Simpson’s death; if he’s guilty, it’s disgusting that he making a buck off her death. But no one should be shocked by this. It’s all of a piece with this whole affair. It’s as if you went to the circus and were surprised to see a fat lady.”
Steve Wasserman, editorial director of Random House’s Times Books division, has edited more than 20 so-called instant books over the past four years. He said, however, that he would have declined to publish Simpson’s manuscript. “It’s a naked grab for people’s wallets,” he said. “It’s a mercenary act, not publishing. It compounds the charge of homicide with a literary mugging.”
Times researcher Cecilia Rasmussen contributed to this story.
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