1994 : O.J. Simpson's slow-speed chase
LOS ANGELES, June 17, 1994 — The police today charged O. J. Simpson with murdering his former wife and a friend of hers, then pursued him for about 50 miles along Southern California highways this evening before he finally surrendered outside his home here, ending a long day on the run.
The extraordinary pursuit, broadcast to the nation by the television networks, developed about six hours after Mr. Simpson suddenly vanished instead of surrendering to the authorities at midday as his lawyer had arranged.
The police undertook a vast manhunt and, by tracking calls placed from a cellular telephone inside a van, found him this evening in the vehicle, a white Ford Bronco, as it traveled up an Interstate highway in Orange County south of Los Angeles.
The van was apparently being driven by Al Cowlings, a longtime friend and former football teammate who had been at Mr. Simpson's side for much of the week. As the van made its way up the Interstate toward Los Angeles, Mr. Simpson held a gun to his own head, a spokesman for the California Highway Patrol said.
A phalanx of police cars, their lights flashing, fell in behind his vehicle, traveling about 35 miles an hour.
The highway was closed to traffic, and other vehicles were pulled over to the side of the road. As the van carrying Mr. Simpson passed them, motorists on the roadside and others on overpasses waved to him.
The van finally arrived at Mr. Simpson's home about 8 P.M. Less than an hour later, after some negotiating between Mr. Cowlings and the police, and only a few minutes after the arrival of Mr. Simpson's lawyer, Robert Shapiro, the suspect surrendered.
He was immediately taken to Police Headquarters, and Mr. Cowlings was arrested on a charge of aiding and abetting a fugitive. The police later said they had recovered a gun from the van.
The 46-year-old Mr. Simpson faces the possibility of the death penalty if convicted of the two murders, which District Attorney Gil Garcetti said had been committed with "a knife, a substantial knife," which the police have not recovered. The authorities did not address the issue of motive.
Mr. Simpson, who won fame and riches on the football field, in the movies and on television, is charged with killing Nicole Brown Simpson, 35, who divorced him two years ago, and her friend, Ronald L. Goldman, a 25-year-old waiter, outside her home in the Brentwood section here late Sunday night. His disappearance today came only 24 hours after he attended her funeral, walking hand in hand with their two children.
At a news conference early this evening, Mr. Simpson's lawyer, Mr. Shapiro, who was with him at a house in the San Fernando Valley this morning before the suspect slipped away, described him as severely depressed, even suicidal, and urged him to surrender.
Mr. Shapiro was joined at the news conference by an associate of Mr. Simpson, Robert Kardashian, who read a handwritten letter from him that he left behind when he fled the house, in the town of Encino.
"I think of my life and feel I've done most of the right things," Mr. Simpson wrote. "So why do I end up like this? I can't go on. No matter what the outcome, people will look and point. I can't take that. I can't subject my children to that."
Making what he described as a final wish, Mr. Simpson asked news organizations to let his children alone. He also maintained that he was innocent. "I have nothing to do with her murder," the letter said of his former wife. "I love her."
Mr. Simpson concluded the letter by telling the public: "Don't feel sorry for me. I've had a great life. Please think of the real O. J. and not this lost person. Thanks for making my life special. I hope I helped yours. Peace and love, O. J."
Like many of the day's other developments in the Simpson case, Mr. Kardahsian's reading of the letter was nationally televised. One viewer was Mr. Simpson's 72-year-old mother, Eunice Simpson, a resident of the San Francisco area who was reported by the CBS affiliate there to have collapsed in distress as she watched. Sam Singer, a spokesman at California Pacific Medical Center, confirmed tonight that Mrs. Simpson was admitted late this afternoon. He said her condition was stable.
Mr. Shapiro said that after attending Nicole Simpson's funeral on Thursday, Mr. Simpson never returned to his own home but instead spent the night at the Encino house, the home of friends, "under sedation in an emotional state."
Mr. Shapiro said he and Mr. Simpson had been under the impression that any arrest would not occur for several days. But the police telephoned the lawyer at 8:30 this morning, asking him to bring Mr. Simpson in to surrender. When Mr. Shapiro arrived at the house at 9:30, he said, Mr. Simpson was just waking up.
"I told him I'd been informed by the Los Angeles Police Department that he was being charged with first-degree murder in the two deaths" and that "he would have to surrender by 11 o'clock," Mr. Shapiro said.
An internist and a psychiatrist who had been treating Mr. Simpson in recent days were called to the house, Mr. Shapiro said, and the internist spent about an hour analyzing a swollen lymph node he had discovered. Two forensic specialists who had been hired by Mr. Shapiro to help in defense efforts also arrived at the house, as did two friends of Mr. Simpson.
As time passed, Mr. Shapiro said, he was in repeated contact by telephone with both the police and the District Attorney's office.
"I told O. J. that we had to really get moving," the lawyer said. "He said he needed some time to talk to his family. He called his children and talked to them. He called his mother and talked to her. He called his personal lawyer and orally dictated and later signed a codicil to his will."
While Mr. Simpson was doing all this, Mr. Shapiro said, a police commander telephoned and said: "We must now announce that O.J. Simpson is a fugitive. Where is he?"
The police were given the address, Mr. Shapiro said, and dispatched a police cruiser.
"I did not -- nor did anyone else with my knowledge -- tell O. J. that the police were coming," the lawyer said.
"The police came 15 minutes later," he said. "They came in. We greeted them. Everyone was polite and courteous. They told us that they would follow normal procedure, handcuff O. J. and take him to the police station, and they agreed that we would be able to accompany them."
The psychiatrist went into Mr. Simpson's room to tell him that the police had arrived, Mr. Shapiro said. "We discovered for the first time that O. J. was not present," he said. Also gone was one of Mr. Simpson's friends, Mr. Cowlings.
Mr. Cowlings, a football teammate of Mr. Simpson at the University of Southern California in the late 1960's and later with the Buffalo Bills, had been at his side in recent days and acted as an informal usher at Mrs. Simpson's funeral.
Shortly before the pursuit of Mr. Simpson's van began on the Orange County highway this evening, he called members of his former wife's family from the cellular telephone, reaching them at her home, the police said.
Sgt. Doug Abney said the family then telephoned the police and reported that Mr. Simpson had sounded suicidal and had said he was heading for the house. He did not appear there, however.
At a news conference earlier in the afternoon, a clearly angered police spokesman, Comdr. David Gascon, said Mr. Simpson had broken the agreement arranged by Mr. Shapiro to turn himself in and was now "a wanted murder suspect."
Speaking to reporters in midafternoon, District Attorney Garcetti said that the case had been treated like any other murder investigation and that Mr. Simpson's arrest had not been delayed because of his celebrity or any other reason. He said investigators had not concluded their tests on blood found at the crime scene until Thursday night.
"It finally gave us sufficient criminal evidence to go forward and issue an arrest warrant," he said. The authorities declined to discuss this evidence in detail.
Mr. Garcetti said his office would decide at a later date whether to seek the death penalty upon Mr. Simpson's conviction. "We will not make a decision," he said, "until after we have had an opportunity to review the actual court testimony of our witnesses, so that we can make a more informed decision as to what evidence we actually have."
Mike Botula, a spokesman for Mr. Garcetti, said that if the death penalty was not sought, conviction of Mr. Simpson could mean a prison sentence of 27 years to life. The charges of murder carry a sentence of 25 years to life, and two years could be added because he is alleged to have used a knife in each killing.
Mr. Botula said that the charges amounted to a "no-bail matter" and that Mr. Simpson would likely be remanded to the Los Angeles County Men's Central Jail once he is arraigned.
The visible anger of both the police and the District Attorney today were tinged with chagrin, after one of the most famous suspects they have ever investigated slipped away.
Standing in front of Nicole Simpson's home this afternoon, where police officers rushed after her family received the phone call from Mr. Simpson there, Sergeant Abney said: "I'm amazed that anyone in the department could have let it come to this. I'm discouraged and embarrassed for the Police Department."
"We were told not to keep close tabs on him," the sergeant said. "We were assured he would turn himself in, so we did not keep close tabs. We were not asked to keep track of his movements whatsoever."
Copyright The New York Times