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Sports agent keeps lawyers guessing about O.J. Simpson's clothes

Mike Gilbert says he owns the suit that the former football player wore the day he was acquitted of double murder. At other times, he appears to deny it.

June 12, 2009|Harriet Ryan

The suit O.J. Simpson wore the day he was acquitted of murder charges hangs in the bedroom closet of a house south of Fresno.

Or maybe it doesn't.

It depends on the mood of the balding, bespectacled former sports agent who owns the house and maybe the suit.

"I've had it in my possession since the morning after the verdict," Mike Gilbert declared at the start of a recent interview.

Twenty minutes of circuitous conversation later, he backtracked: "When I told you that before, I wasn't under oath."

The once grand legal battles of Simpson's double murder case, which began 15 years ago today with the slayings of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Lyle Goldman, have come to this -- an argument over a jacket and pair of trousers.

The case that transfixed the country has largely disappeared from cable news and dinner conversation. It made a brief return last year with Simpson's armed robbery and kidnapping conviction.

But it never left the docket of the Los Angeles County Superior Court. The wrongful-death lawsuit won by the victims' families more than a dozen years ago remains a pending matter, and the brownish-green suit an open issue.

Goldman's father and sister, whose dogged pursuit of their portion of the $33.5-million jury verdict has kept the case active, turned their attention to the "acquittal suit" last year after Gilbert appeared on the "Dr. Phil" show.

Promoting a book about his soured friendship with Simpson, Gilbert said that he had the suit, that it was worth at least $50,000 and that he would give it and other items to the Goldmans to atone for the help he gave a man he now believes is a murderer.

But the Goldmans say Gilbert refused to return their calls or produce the suit. This quickly led to another kind of suit -- the type written by lawyers. The Goldmans demanded the clothing and anything else Simpson had given to Gilbert after the slayings.

The outfit worn by Simpson during what was then the most-watched moment in U.S. television history "might have significant economic value," wrote one of their lawyers.

"The stylishness of the suit became emblematic of his invincibility to the justice system. It was a suit of armor. This was not a man who was beaten down," said lawyer David Cook.

But with a judge poised to take the issue up Monday, there are questions about whether the garment is the same one Simpson was wearing when he and 150 million Americans watching on TV heard the words "not guilty."

Simpson, locked in a Nevada prison for the next nine to 33 years, isn't talking. A lawyer who represented him in past collections battles, Ronald Slates, said the former NFL star couldn't say if the suit Gilbert has is genuine.

"O.J. doesn't know where it went. He just doesn't remember," Slates said.

But Simpson's lawyer in the Las Vegas case, Yale Galanter, insisted Gilbert was lying.

So where is it? "I can't say, but I can tell you categorically that Mike doesn't have it. Whatever he does have, as far as we are concerned, the Goldmans can have it."

There is no love lost between Simpson and his former confidant and agent Gilbert. Gilbert took the stand for the prosecution at the armed robbery trial in Las Vegas and published a book, "How I Helped O.J. Get Away With Murder." (Short answer: Advising Simpson to not take his arthritis medication so that his knuckles swelled and the gloves allegedly used by the killer were too small when he tried them on for the criminal jury.)

In the book, Gilbert described walking into the master bedroom of Simpson's Brentwood home the morning after the Oct. 3, 1995, acquittal. Simpson, he writes, was still in bed after a night of partying and the suit and a shirt were crumpled on the closet floor.

"You want it? Take it," Gilbert quoted Simpson as telling him.

In an interview this spring, Gilbert recalled being thrilled.

"To me, it's [a piece of] history," he said.

Gilbert has a record of finding memorabilia in unlikely situations. When Simpson was in jail before his acquittal in the Brown-Goldman slayings, Gilbert brought him jerseys, balls, photos and other items to sign, an enterprise that he estimates netted Simpson $3 million.

When Simpson was moving out of his Brentwood home, he showed Gilbert the spot on the floor where he and his former wife first made love. Gilbert cut out a piece of the carpet.

"I still have it," he said.

Before the most recent hearing, Gilbert said that a drop of blood on the shirt lapel -- from a shaving nick -- would prove that it was Simpson's.("Yeah, sure. Does he have a lab report?" Galanter said.)

Referring to his comments on "Dr. Phil," Gilbert said what he intended to say was that he would help track down Tiffany lamps and art that Simpson had hidden from the Goldmans.

The suit, he said, was never on the table because Simpson gave it to him before the civil verdict. He said he might give the suit to the Smithsonian some day or bequeath it to his children.

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