Bereaved families have last word as OJ book finally hits the shelves
What a difference 10 months makes. Last November, OJ Simpson, the most famous murder defendant in modern history, triggered an outcry and a US publishing scandal when he tried to release a book in which he all but confessed to the crimes of which he was acquitted more than a decade ago.
The families of the victims – his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her lover Ron Goldman – accused the former American football star of trading in blood money with the work, teasingly entitled If I Did It. Once again, they claimed, he had found a way to profit while shielding his vast assets from the $33.5m (£16.6m) financial settlement he was ordered by a civil court to pay them.
HarperCollins, the publishing arm of Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, agreed. It decided at the last minute to pulp the entire 400,000-copy print run and apologise to the Brown and Goldman families. Murdoch's Fox television network canned a two-part interview it had recorded with Simpson. Judith Regan, the book editor and promoter who cooked up the scheme, was fired and that, most people assumed, was that.
However, this week – to general astonishment and not a little head-scratching – If I Did It is finally hitting US bookshelves. It is published not by HarperCollins but by a small private company called Beaufort Books. And the whole enterprise, remarkably, is endorsed and managed by Ron Goldman's father Fred.
Here's how it happened. Mr Goldman quickly overcame the disgust he expressed publicly last year and realised that the unpublished manuscript of If I Did It was an asset he could legitimately chase as part of Simpson's unpaid legal settlement.In other words, he decided the publicity the book would give Simpson might be less objectionable if the profits went into his pocket, rather than Simpson's. Mr Goldman went to a bankruptcy court to have the rights signed over to him and, in August, won his case. The new edition of If I Did It differs from the original in several key respects. Its authorship is attributed to "the Goldman family" instead of OJ Simpson and it includes new material by members of the Goldman family and the society crime writer, Dominick Dunne. The cover cleverly conceals the word "If" to the point of near-invisibility so, on first glance, the book appears to be called I Did It. The new subtitle, Confessions Of The Killer, rams home the point that Simpson is no longer toying with the idea of having killed his estranged wife and her lover. Rather, he really is confessing to the crime.
Simpson has made no comment about what he thinks of this treatment. For Mr Goldman, though, it is some kind of vindication. "I made a promise to Ron that I would pursue this bastard – that we would never let this go," he told The Washington Post this week.
Certainly, the Goldmans stand to make far more from publishing If I Did It than they were ever able to extract from Simpson. This, they claim, has been no more than a few thousand dollars. It angers both bereaved families that Simpson has managed to exploit Florida law to shield his assets and continue to live the high life of golf, fine restaurants and holidays in the Bahamas. Those assets include the estimated $680m (£335m) he received as an advance for the book, which he was allowed to keep and plough straight into mortgages and tax bills, beyond the reach of the Browns and the Goldmans. Meanwhile, his settlement debt has risen, with interest, to about $38m (£18.6m).
Mr Goldman, though, along with daughter Kim, have generated their own controversy. Nicole Brown Simpson's sister, Denise Brown, says she will never speak to the family again. "This is evil. This is blood money," she said. "It is written by a man who is evil. And now [Goldman] is writing in the same book by the man who murdered his son? This is disgusting."
Yesterday, both Fred Goldman and Denise Brown appeared on Oprah Winfrey'0s daytime chat show to discuss the new book. Brown refused to share the stage with Goldman, preferring to tape her segment separately.
Reviewers have some sympathy with Ms Brown's position – not least because the book appears to cast her murdered sister in the worst possible light, including the blame-the-victim line: "Nice people don't go around getting themselves knifed to death".
Tim Noah, of the online magazine Slate, commented: "If I Did It is chiefly an indictment of Nicole's character and only incidentally the story of her murder. By reciting the details of his marriage history, OJ is, in some ways, committing spousal abuse all over again."