A DISCUSSION OF LAW AND JOURNALISM

EBay item: O.J. Simpson Murder Knife?

OJ Simpson

By Jennifer Williams

In 1976 and 1977, David Berkowitz terrorized New York City, killing six people and injuring several others. As the case remained unsolved, Mr. Berkowitz, aka the “Son of Sam,” both horrified and mesmerized the public leaving taunting letters at his crime scenes, addressed to the likes of New York Police Department Captain Joseph Borrelli and New York Daily News columnist Jimmy Breslin.

Once captured, Mr. Berkowitz received numerous lucrative offers for the rights to his story.  As a result, New York was the first state to enact a “Son of Sam” law (ironically, the law was never applied to Mr. Berkowitz), which mandates that any profits made by a criminal for publicizing his crime, must go his victims or their families. Today, most states and the federal government have enacted “Son of Sam” laws to ensure that crime does not pay.

Last month, The New York Post reported that “sources close to O.J.’s inner circle believe he has held on to the 5-inch knife” he used for the murders of ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and waiter Ron Goldman. These sources further said that Mr. Simpson is looking to sell this knife in a cash-only transaction, for no less than $5 million.

We don’t know if it’s true but if it were, would O.J. really get to make money by having committed murder? The media didn’t address the issue, and our curiosity was piqued.

You may know him as the two-time All-American halfback for the USC Trojans or the first NFL player to rush for more than 2,000 yards in a season. Or maybe you remember him for his role in “The Naked Gun” trilogy.  But our guess is that there’s even more of a chance you know him from the infamous police chase of the white Ford Bronco, or the subsequent murder trial itself. It was 18 years ago, but some people talk about the trial of the century like it was just yesterday.

In 1995, during one of the first nationally gavel-to-gavel televised trials in U.S. history, audiences were captivated by Mark Fuhrman’s undoing, by Kato Kaelin’s surfer boy affect, by the bloody footprints — in Mr. Simpson’s shoe size — leading away from the crime scene, and, of course, by the unforgettable glove try-on, brilliantly captured in Johnnie Cochran’s mantra “if it don’t fit, you must acquit.”

Astonishingly, acquit is precisely what the jury did.

Because he was acquitted, and because there is no double jeopardy for murder, Mr. Simpson will never be found guilty of the murders in criminal court – and so the Son of Sam laws don’t strictly apply.

Of course there is a possibility that Mr. Simpson isn’t selling the authentic murder weapon. It could be any stiletto knife that Mr. Simpson is hawking, and nobody but him would know for sure.

If Mr. Simpson represents the knife as authentic and it were later discovered that it was not, in fact, the murder weapon, he’d be guilty of fraud.  As Mr. Simpson is now serving 33 years in Lovelock Correctional Center for armed robbery and kidnapping, we wouldn’t put it past him. We strongly suggest that anyone in the market for this knife conduct due diligence before purchase.

If you think there’s no market for this kind of thing, you’d be wrong. In fact, there’s a strong appetite for “murderabilia,” a term coined by Andy Kahan, Houston’s Director of the Mayor’s Crime Office, a staunch victim rights advocate. Some murderabilia items for sale now and their asking prices:  a Charles Manson Polaroid for $235, a Bible owned by the executed Michael Bruce Ross with a handwritten message for $2,999.99 or (Christmas is around the corner, folks!) a handwritten Christmas card signed by the “Son of Sam,” yours for only $450.

Sometimes murderabilia is offered at even steeper prices. In 2006, the “Gilmore Gun”, used by Gary Gilmore. The asking price was on the block for $1 million. The gun never publicly sold for such a price, likely because Utah prohibits the sale of murderabilia, but did net an offer for a cool half million.

Under current law, in most jurisdictions it’s not illegal for third parties to sell alleged murder weapons. If these industrious salesmen then turn around and send money or gifts to the inmate who committed the crime, historically, there’s been nothing to stop them.

Things are changing, though, and the law is catching up to this unsavory practice; eight states are now addressing murderabilia, many of them through their Son of Sam laws.

In any event, whether or not the knife for sale is the actual murder weapon, O.J. is certain to come up a day late and a dollar short on the deal. After the criminal trial’s not-guilty verdict, the families of Ms. Brown Simpson and Mr. Goldman went on to sue Mr. Simpson in civil court, which carries a lower burden of proof than criminal trials.  And there, a jury found Mr. Simpson liable for the wrongful deaths of both victims. A judgment was ordered against Mr. Simpson for $33.5 million.

Mr. Simpson has not paid, saying it would be “a cold day in hell before I pay a penny.” The judge presiding over the civil case determined that Mr. Simpson’s pension of over $20,000 monthly from the NFL couldn’t be touched to satisfy the judgment. And Mr. Simpson moved to Florida where the state’s homestead protection laws meant he was free to purchase a 4000-square-foot home without worrying it would be taken to satisfy the judgment.

Nine years after the civil suit, Mr. Simpson hoped to release a book, a fictional account of the murders, called If I Did It. Public outcry resulted in canceling publication (however, at least one original copy survives). But the Goldman family succeeded in resurrecting the book after they sued and were awarded the rights. They changed the title to, If I Did It: Confessions of the Killer, and the proceeds were used to chip away at the civil judgment. Mr. Simpson still owes his victims families tens of millions of dollars.

If he wants to sell the knife, he may. And though it can’t possibly compensate them for their terrible loss, the proceeds of the sale, under the law, would likely go to the families of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman. May they rest in peace.

Comments

5 Comments »

5 Responses

  1. Claude says:

    You had me with that headline. Had to keep reading. Good article.

  2. [...] to the Lewis tweet, though the New York Law School blog speculates that OJ’s murder weapon could someday be up for grabs), it looks like Lewis is suggesting he wants to murder an unfortunately-named white woman here, [...]

  3. Natasha says:

    Speaking of the white Bronco — just saw this — you can apparently rent it for parties! http://thevivant.com/peter-brant-rents-o-j-simpsons-infamous-white-bronco-for-party-for-art-opening/

  4. T.R. says:

    And why does this guy MCaffee get to sell his life story? Is it because he hasn’t been convicted of anything (yet)? What if he is convicted of murder?

    http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/tech-guru-john-mcafee-sells-movie-tv-rights-399820

  5. Mike says:

    Found a knife that’s exactly as the one said to be used by Simpson around the time the trial was going on inside a 1994 Ford Tauras that I bought at the time. It was under the back seat. Has what appears to be blood stains. Have kept it all these years. Found it under the back seat with a movie star magazine. Tauras was previously a rental car. I’m in Texas. Could that rental car have come from California??? I’m doing a history report on the VIN. Far Fetched but possible.

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