Jan. 22, 2007 issue - The firestorm burned hot and fast: within days of acknowledging one of its divisions was publishing O. J. Simpson's "hypothetical" account of the murders of his ex-wife and her friend, News Corp. reversed course and canceled the book in late November. Rupert Murdoch, News Corp.'s chairman, apologized for the "ill-conceived project." Then the company fired Judith Regan, the hard-charging publisher who acquired the book for her ReganBooks imprint and who had conducted a TV interview with Simpson to air on Fox. All 400,000 copies of the book were recalled for destruction, save for one locked away in a News Corp. vault.
Regan and News Corp. were pressured to drop the project (NEWSWEEK was among the critics) because they were, in effect, paying Simpson at least $880,000 to tell how he might have committed the murders, money that should have gone to satisfy the $33.5 million judgment a 1997 civil jury ordered him to pay to the victims' families. Throughout the uproar, however, almost no one knew what the proposed book, titled "If I Did It," actually said. As always with the so-called trial of the century, there were competing narratives. Regan called the book Simpson's "confession"; his attorney scoffed at the idea that the Juice had admitted to anything. But NEWSWEEK has obtained a copy of the book's key chapter from a source who asked not to be identified because of the ongoing controversy. The narrative is as revolting as one might expect, but it's also surprisingly revealing. What emerges from the chapter is something new in the nearly 13-year Simpson saga: a seeming confession in Simpson's own voice.
To be sure, Simpson never explicitly admits to slicing his ex-wife's neck so savagely that he almost decapitated her. (According to the source, he told the ghostwriter that he could not have his children read such gruesome details of the slashing.) Simpson's Florida attorney, Yale Galanter, said again last week that the account is "purely hypothetical": "In the final manuscript and in the book there is a clear, concise statement disclaiming anything that is contained in the chapter as being fact or close to fact." NEWSWEEK did not obtain the book's six other chapters.
As a correspondent for this magazine, I covered the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman through the criminal trial and acquittal of O. J. Simpson in 1995. What is striking about the chapter I read, "The Night in Question," is how closely it tracks with the evidence in the case—and how clearly Simpson invokes the classic language of a wife abuser. In his crude, expletive-laced account, Simpson suggests Nicole all but drove him to kill her. He describes her as the "enemy." She is taunting him with her sexual dalliances, he says, and carrying on inappropriately in front of their two children.
On June 12, 1994, Simpson attends his daughter Sydney's dance recital. He writes that he is in a foul mood after the performance, stewing over the behavior of his ex-wife. He is due to fly to Chicago late that night. But first he races to Nicole's Bundy Drive condominium in Brentwood. He parks in the dark alley behind her condo and dons the knit wool cap and gloves he keeps handy to ward off the chill on the golf course. He also has a knife in the Bronco, protection against L.A. "crazies." He intends to scare her. He enters through a broken back gate—he's told her a "million times" to get the buzzer and latch fixed—and encounters Goldman, who is returning the glasses of Nicole's mother, Juditha. She had left them at Mezzaluna, where the Brown family dined after Sydney's recital and where Goldman is a waiter. Simpson accuses Goldman of planning a sexual encounter with Nicole, which Goldman denies. Nicole tells Simpson to leave him alone. Goldman's fate is sealed when Kato, Nicole's Akita, emerges and gives him a friendly tail wag. "You've been here before," Simpson screams at Goldman.
At Simpson's criminal trial, to explain how one man could have killed two people, the Los Angeles County coroner theorized that Simpson knocked out Nicole, then quickly slit her throat before turning to Goldman. If the book's account is true, the coroner's hypothesis was correct—almost. Simpson writes that his ex-wife came at him like a "banshee." She loses her balance and falls hard, her head cracking against the ground. Goldman assumes a karate stance, further angering Simpson. He dares the younger man to fight. Then, in the book, Simpson pulls back. He writes, "Then something went horribly wrong, and I know what happened, but I can't tell you exactly how."
Simpson writes that when he regains control of himself, he realizes he is drenched in blood and holding a bloody knife. Both Nicole and Goldman are dead. Simpson heads back to the alley but before getting into the Bronco to flee, strips down to his socks. He rolls his bloody clothes and the knife into a small pile. (That's an important detail. The police never recovered those clothes or the murder weapon, but they did find Simpson's socks—with Nicole's blood on them—at the foot of his bed at his Rockingham estate.) As he nears his house, Simpson sees the limo that will take him to the airport for his Chicago trip. He steals onto his estate via a darkened, hidden path that takes him directly behind the guesthouse where Kato Kaelin is living. Simpson describes how he stumbles into an air conditioner for Kaelin's room, making a terrific racket—just as Kaelin told police he had heard.
Simpson's account does diverge from the prosecution's theory of the case in one significant way. In his telling, a second man, a close friend he calls Charlie, is with him during the killings. Charlie is an unwilling accomplice, repeatedly urging Simpson to stop what he is doing. Does "Charlie" really exist? Perhaps. At the time, many wondered if Simpson had help, if not with the actual killings then with getting rid of evidence. The police never found sufficient evidence to charge anyone else. Fred Goldman, Ron's father, thinks the idea of a second man is absurd, but isn't surprised to hear what Simpson has written (he hasn't read it himself). "This is the guy who murdered them—of course he knows what the evidence is and how he did it," Goldman told NEWSWEEK. Denise Brown, Nicole's sister, told me in an e-mail that she agreed with my analysis. "It just goes to show you that he is guilty and that is what I have always said from the beginning ... Know this, though—I won't be reading [the book]."
By the end of the chapter, Simpson reverts to his more familiar public stance: outrage that anyone could believe he committed the murders. He tells his lawyers that he is, as he declared at an early legal proceeding, "absolutely 100 percent not guilty."
Readers may yet get their chance to judge the Simpson book for themselves. Galanter, Simpson's attorney, said last week that the rights to the book have already or will soon revert to the former football great (a spokesman for HarperCollins, of which ReganBooks was a part, declined to comment on any aspect of this story). Galanter wouldn't say if he has lined up a new publisher. More surprising was what Goldman family attorney Jonathan Polak had to say. Polak's pursuit of Simpson to pay the $33.5 million judgment has been largely fruitless; he's now attempting to claim the money ReganBooks paid for the book. He said he will also attempt to seize Simpson's copyright to the work. "This may be the one opportunity we have [to collect]," he said.
Of course, to do that, the book would have to be printed and put on sale. Would the Goldman family really seek to publish the book in which Simpson, hypothetically or not, describes the brutal murders? Fred Goldman was noncommittal; Polak wouldn't rule it out.