O.J. Confesses. Really.
The ghostwriter of If I Did It calls Simpson "a murderer."
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."
What are these "hypothetical" and previously unrevealed eyewitness details? One is simply a matter of tone. The chapter about how the murder happened, Miller writes, contains
the classic language of a wife abuser. In his crude, expletive-laced account, Simpson suggests Nicole all but drove him to kill her. She is taunting him with her sexual dalliances, he says, and carrying on inappropriately in front of their two children.
Now tell me something: Would a writer-for-hire take it upon himself to inject a hateful tone into a narrative about the author of record's murdered ex-wife? Or would that ghostwriter borrow much of the author of record's own language to make sure that nobody missed Simpson's pathological rage? When I asked Fenjves whether he'd picked up Simpson's own language to establish the book's tone, he answered, "That's my job."
Newsweek's Miller goes on to write that the chapter describes Simpson getting ticked off at Nicole at his daughter's dance recital, and driving over to her house in his famous white Bronco. He brings a knife that he keeps in the car to ward off "crazies," enters Nicole's yard through a broken gate, encounters Goldman, and flies into a jealous rage when the Akita trots up and greets Goldman with a friendly wag of the tail. "You've been here before," Simpson screams. Nicole lunges at Simpson, slips, and falls, cracking her head on the ground. This last detail strikes me as implausible, but only as a description of something that happened; it sounds exactly like what a known wife-abuser would tell himself and others—particularly his children—to avoid admitting that he struck first with a heavy blow.
Goldman assumed a karate stance, according to Miller's description. "Then," Simpson/Fenjves writes discreetly, "something went horribly wrong, and I know what happened, but I can't tell you exactly how." Note the absence of the subjunctive tense. An additional intriguing detail is that a friend of Simpson's, whom Simpson/Fenjves calls "Charlie," was with Simpson in Nicole's yard. After a passage about disposing the knife and his bloody clothes—Miller is vague here, presumably because the authors are, too—Simpson/Fenjves goes into defense-attorney mode and writes that he is "absolutely 100 percent not guilty."
That Simpson ever suggested this project—the idea was Simpson's, Fenjves says, not Regan's—makes me conclude that a killer is coming apart at the seams. Before he got involved, Fenjves told me, there "was talk he was going to do this as a straight confession." A working title for the book at one point was not If I Did It, but I Did It. The title was suggested not by Regan, but by Simpson. What do you have to do in this country to get yourself thrown in jail?
Timothy Noah is a former Slate staffer. His book about income inequality is The Great Divergence.
Photograph of O.J. Simpson by Pool Photo/Getty Images.