Hello? Los Angeles County district attorney's office? Anybody home? O.J. Simpson has delivered what any sensible person must now recognize to be a murder confession. If it isn't too much trouble, could you start collecting the evidence—audiotapes, videotapes, manuscript drafts—and then figure out what to charge him with?
I've been told that Simpson is a murderer by someone who's in an excellent position to know: Pablo Fenjves, the ghostwriter for the book containing Simpson's "hypothetical" confession, If I Did It. Fenjves taped many hours of interviews with Simpson in assembling the book, whose publication NewsCorp halted as it was shipping to bookstores in November because of what I've previously described as a bizarrely misdirected public outcry. (It would be obscene if Simpson were to profit from the book, but litigation is underway to recover these funds, and the payment question was always separate from the issue of suppressing Simpson's potential confession.) Fenjves discussed the Simpson book with me on Jan. 15, the day a paraphrase-heavy description of the chapter detailing the murder, "The Night in Question," surfaced in Newsweek. The reporter, Mark Miller, calls the chapter "surprisingly revealing" and "a seeming confession in Simpson's own voice," and if anything, I think Miller's being too tentative.
Here is how Fenjves described his meetings with Simpson to me: "I was sitting in a room with a man I knew to be a murderer, and I let him hang himself."
This statement is decidedly off-message. "I would never suggest to you or to anyone else that the book is a confession," Fenjves recited carefully in our interview, like a prisoner of war blinking a distress signal in Morse code. He would never do that because "Mr. Simpson insisted on calling that particular chapter hypothetical." Obviously Fenjves is under some contractual obligation not to call this book a real murder confession. But Fenjves is plainly a little ticked off at Simpson, who, responding to the Newsweek story, characterized "The Night in Question" as a "created half-chapter" and proceeded to take a couple of swipes at Fenjves:
The ghostwriter of If I Did It knew nothing about the case when he came into the project and had to do a lot of research, Simpson said. The writer was not a witness at the criminal trial, as has been reported, Simpson said.
Simpson said he saw a number of factual flaws while proofreading the chapter but did not correct them because he thought that would prove that he did not write it, he said.
It's a matter of public record that Fenjves was a witness at Simpson's murder trial. Fenjves lives about 60 yards from the scene of the crime, and heard the frantic barking of Nicole's Akita as she was being murdered. (The book's publisher, Judith Regan, recruited Fenjves because he's done a lot of ghosting for her before.) It's entirely possible, but immaterial, that Simpson let the odd factual error slip by; there's no such thing as a nonfiction book that's entirely free of errors. The two crucial questions are whether the book's most significant "hypothetical" and previously unrevealed eyewitness details about the murder, as related in Newsweek, were supplied by Simpson, and whether Fenjves really thinks these details are hypothetical. Fenjves declined to give me a direct "yes" or "no" answer to these questions, but he did say, variously:
"I'm not in the habit of making things up in my books."
"What do you expect him [O.J.] to say?"
"The book has his name on it."
"I ask [the people I ghostwrite for] questions. They answer them."