If He Did It, What Are Legal Ramifications for O.J.?
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
We were a little stumped yesterday in our DAY TO DAY editorial meeting as to how to handle a tricky story. O.J. Simpson has written a book called If I Did It, out later this month. In it, he details how the murder of his ex-wife and her friend would have happened if he did it.
We didn't want to give this story more attention than it deserved, and yet it is something people are talking about. Anyway, we just hired this new reporter, Luke Burbank, and we figured this would be a good test for him.
LUKE BURBANK: There are a lot of things not to like about covering this story. First, there's the weird and gruesome premise of the book. Second, there's the fact that when ReganBooks paid Simpson $3.5 million for the rights and when Fox TV agreed to air two nights of interviews -Fox and ReganBooks are owned by the same company, by the way - they knew that they'd make their money back because of all the coverage we and the rest of the media would give them.
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Unidentified Man #1: O.J.'s killer confession.
Unidentified Woman: He wrote: I have never seen so much blood in my life.
Unidentified Man #1: Is he ready to say I did it? The chilling new interview sending shockwaves across America.
Unidentified Man #2: I don't think any two people could be murdered without every body being covered in blood.
BURBANK: The dilemma at hand for us here at DAY TO DAY is to cover or not cover this book and TV special. There's the tawdry element, a reason not to do it, but then there's the water-cooler factor, that many of you good listeners will be talking about the story at work as you stand around the water cooler.
To help with this dilemma, I needed someone who knows journalism, someone who maybe even teaches at a respected university like, say, the University of Southern California.
Judy Muller, you are a Emmy-winning journalist, you are a professor at USC's Annenberg School of Communications. Journalistically speaking, would you touch this latest development with a 10-foot pole?
Ms. JUDY MULLER (Professor, University of Southern California): I don't think - let me start that again. For any reputable news operation to touch this is just unthinkable to me, and the fact that Fox News is touching it, is really reprehensible.
BURBANK: What about us doing a story about the story?
Ms. MULLER: Luke, I can't speak for you. Do you feel salacious?
BURBANK: I feel a little salacious.
Ms. MULLER: This reminds me of Poe's The Tell-Tale Heart. I think O.J. Simpson is ripping up the floorboards and screaming I did it, I did it, I did it - not out of guilt, but out of a need to be back in the limelight, and I think it's a fascinating possibility that he might be that close to confessing to a crime, and that's a valid question.
BURBANK: Okay, let's run with that. If he is close to confessing, would he be in legal trouble? Luckily, I found another expert: Serena Strauss(ph), a former New York prosecutor.
What are the possible legal ramifications for O.J. Simpson if he sort of all but confesses to a crime?
Ms. SERENA STRAUSS (Former Prosecutor): Unfortunately and very frustratingly, extremely few.
BURBANK: That's because of something called double jeopardy, a legal right, which is actually spelled out in the Constitution.
Ms. STRAUSS: The quote is: nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb. So basically, what double jeopardy means is that you can't be prosecuted twice for the same offense.
BURBANK: And the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that double jeopardy applies even if new evidence comes to light, like for instance a book called If I Did It. As far as the money Simpson got for the book, well, it could be claimed by the family of Ron Goldman, who years ago won a civil case against Simpson, but that would mean a lot of legal wrangling.
Let's get back, though, to our initial question. Is this story even worth talking about? I asked woman on the street, Maria Lopez(ph).
Ms. MARIA LOPEZ: Why he want to write a book about how he's going to describe, how exactly the murder was. If he didn't do it, why even bother to go back again to the story? He's just trying to make money, in other words.
BURBANK: Lopez also said she thought it was a low move of Simpson's publisher and of Fox TV to make money off the event, but she also had a question for me.
Ms. LOPEZ: Are you going to do a story about it?
BURBANK: Maybe. Her advice for me?
Ms. LOPEZ: I think just leave it alone, you know.
BURBANK: Will do. Luke Burbank, NPR News, Los Angeles.
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