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O.J.'s fate

Simpson's conviction last week raises the question of whether two wrongs can make a right.

October 07, 2008

For an arrogant thug of limited intelligence, O.J. Simpson has given us much to think about over the years. This past weekend, his first in custody in awhile, presented yet another opportunity.

The two most serious crimes for which he's stood trial were very different. One was a stick-up in a Las Vegas hotel room, an armed faceoff over sports memorabilia. The other left a young man and woman in a pool of their own blood outside a quiet condominium in Brentwood. And yet across those events, one a farce, the other a tragedy, Simpson has forced us to consider such matters as the role of race and celebrity in American justice. He has offered case studies in how money tweaks justice, and provided a template for questioning the implications of police abuse -- the Los Angeles Police Department's long history of mistreating black suspects made it impossible to dismiss out of hand those allegations in the murder case 13 years ago. Now, Simpson's conviction confronts us with another idea: In the law, can two wrongs make a right?

His guilt in the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman has, of course, never been established, though a civil jury did find him responsible for their wrongful deaths. And in the hotel room episode, an all-white panel concluded that he was, in fact, guilty of a host of offenses. But it's hard not to wonder whether the first jury wasn't distracted by the reputation of a football star who dazzled fans and an actor who cheerfully bored audiences. It's equally imaginable that this jury saw its chance to make amends for the last one.

Before returning Simpson to the recesses of our memories, it is worth remembering one poignant detail of that murder in Brentwood on a June night in 1994. Whoever killed Nicole Simpson left her two children -- O.J. Simpson's children -- alone in that condominium. They slept inside while their mother's throat was slashed on the front step of their home. The killer left them to discover her mutilated body. There is no forgiveness for those acts, which surely would sear the soul of any father. After he was acquitted of murder, Simpson did what any father would: He pledged to devote his life to finding the killer responsible for taking his children's mother from them. Instead, he has spent inordinate time over the last decade searching amid the nation's golf courses and resorts.

Today, Simpson is in jail, awaiting sentencing on convictions that could keep him in prison for the rest of his life. Whatever his guilt, whatever the jury's motives, we can rest assured of this: It couldn't happen to a nicer guy.

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