The saga of OJ Simpson continued yesterday with a bizarre arrest for armed robbery and conspiracy charges that could put the celebrity in prison for decades. Almost immediately, the moribund OJ industry snapped back to life, with people like Geraldo Rivera calling Mark Geragos back into session for the freak show that will follow the case as it wends its way through Las Vegas courts. And the nation sits in rapt attention, watching the further decline of a man who had reached the pinnacle of public adulation, only to become a by-word for narcissism and power.
First, let’s look at the case, which almost seems designed by OJ to land him in prison:
Simpson, 60, was in custody at the Clark County Detention Center in Las Vegas on Sunday night after a judge ordered that he be held without bail, pending an arraignment set for Thursday. He was booked earlier in the day on suspicion of two counts of assault with a deadly weapon, two counts of robbery with a deadly weapon, conspiracy to commit burglary and burglary with a firearm.
Simpson has said he and his companions went to the room at the Palace Station Hotel & Casino on Thursday night to reclaim personal photos — some snapped by his slain ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson — and football souvenirs that he said had been stolen by a former agent. He said that no one in his group was armed; police said Sunday that they found two guns after the incident and that members of Simpson’s entourage had pointed weapons at people in the room.
Simpson claimed that a former sports agent had stolen the items from him, and that he wanted to conduct a “sting” to get the material back. He openly admitted to conspiring to steal the items at least through intimidation, since he hadn’t bothered to notify the police, and he had a good reason not to do so. Simpson had moved these assets out of his possession to keep them from getting confiscated by the Goldman family to satisfy part of the $33 million judgment against him for Ron Goldman’s murder. An acknowledgment to police that these assets had been dispersed to keep them from the Goldmans would have amounted to an admission of fraud.
Instead, police say that Simpson started conspiring in August to track down the memorabilia, which he needs to provide some income. His co-conspirators pointed guns at the possessors of the memorabilia, and not only took back what Simpson claimed was his but also the cellphones of the victims so they could not call for help. That’s armed robbery, and the Vegas police have charged everyone involved with two separate counts of that and conspiracy. If convicted, Simpson could spend decades in prison, and legal experts figure he will get little leniency from a sentencing hearing if it comes to that.
That’s the case, at least for the moment. OJ has revealed himself to be almost uniquely self-destructive once again. Shaun Mullen at TMV has some thoughts in a good post on how his celebrity couldn’t cover the vulnerabilities that “bedevil us all,” but in fact, they don’t. Very few of us murder our wives and innocent bystanders, and far fewer of those who do get away with it. Having done that, almost none of them commit armed robbery. In fact, it’s very likely that no American celebrity has managed to dissipate his life so totally and completely, legally, financially, and morally, as Simpson has done over the last thirteen years.
And maybe that’s the fascination. The original trial provided Americans with an object lesson on the perils of pedestals for our celebrities, but it was more than that, too. It was a trainwreck in progress, both for OJ and our own sense of judgment about people based on superficialities. Perhaps with OJ’s second tour of self-destruction, the fascination will subside. Based on the breathless reporting we saw yesterday, that sounds a little optimistic.