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Tackling O.J. again

The arrest of the infamous former football star puts prosecutors in a unique position.

September 18, 2007

In sports, when referees make a bad call, it's not uncommon for them to follow up by making a similarly bad call against the opposing team; though it compounds the mistake, at least it evens out the consequences. That's an analogy O.J. Simpson might appreciate, given that prosecutors are being presented with an opportunity to make the ultimate makeup call against the former star running back.

The events that transpired Thursday at the Palace Station Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas remain murky to all but their participants, who are giving contradictory accounts. The facts were at first murky in June 1994 too, when the only things the world knew were that Simpson's ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and a male acquaintance were found murdered outside her Brentwood condominium and that O.J. was the prime suspect. This time, age and the knowledge that he can get away with anything seem to have mellowed Simpson; rather than lead police on a low-speed chase down the Strip in a white Bronco, he calmly granted media interviews in his hotel room until officers arrived to arrest him Sunday morning.

Simpson has been booked on six felony counts and may ultimately be charged with seven. What they add up to is years, maybe decades, in prison for armed robbery if he's convicted. It's conceivable that the 60-year-old former football star and actor famously acquitted of murder in 1995 could spend the rest of his life in prison for the alleged theft of his own sports memorabilia. Prosecutors say they won't be influenced by his notoriety, but they wouldn't be human if they didn't see this as a prime opportunity to make up for a past injustice and go for the maximum.

Simpson has already prepared his defense in the media, and it isn't hard to guess where his lawyers will go if this ever comes to trial: A man hated by the police for impugning the reputation of law enforcement personnel during his murder trial is once again being targeted. Granted, there's a tape recording in which someone thought to be Simpson orders members of his entourage (who were allegedly carrying guns) not to let anyone out of the room as he angrily confronts men he accuses of stealing his memorabilia, but that's nothing for a talented defense attorney. Last time around, there was blood from the victims in Simpson's car, blood on his socks and blood on a glove found in his yard, but lawyers still convinced a jury that the evidence had been planted. Even after Simpson's "hypothetical" confession, "If I Did It," has become a runaway bestseller, many still believe that the sports hero was framed by racist cops.

If nothing else, the events of last week must have the phones ringing off the hook at HarperCollins with pitches on Simpson's follow-up -- "If I Stole It."

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