June 17, 1994: Following a Televised Low-Speed Highway Chase, O.J. Simpson is Arrested

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June 17, 1994: Following a televised low-speed highway chase, O.J. Simpson is arrested for the murders of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ronald Goldman.

The pursuit, arrest, and trial were among the most widely publicized events in American history.

Orenthal James “O. J.” Simpson, nicknamed “The Juice”, is a retired football player and actor. Simpson was the 1st professional football player to rush for more than 2,000 yards in a season, a mark he set in 1973. While six other players have passed the 2,000 rush yard mark, he stands alone as the only player to rush for more than 2,000 yards in a 14-game season (professional football changed to a 16-game season in 1978). He holds the record for the single season yards-per-game average, which stands at 143.1 ypg. Simpson was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1985.After retiring from professional football, Simpson had a successful career as a football broadcaster and actor.

In 1995, he was acquitted of the 1994 murder of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman after a lengthy and internationally publicized criminal trial, the People v. Simpson. In 1997, a civil court awarded a judgment against Simpson for their wrongful deaths; to date, he has paid little of the $33.5 million penalties.

In September 2007, Simpson was arrested in Las Vegas, Nevada, and charged with numerous felonies, including armed robbery and kidnapping.

In 2008, he was found guilty and sentenced to 33 years’ imprisonment, with a minimum of nine years without parole. He is serving his sentence at the Lovelock Correctional Center in Lovelock, Nevada.

June 12, 1994, Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman were found dead outside Brown’s condominium. O.J. Simpson was charged with their murders.

Lawyers convinced the LAPD to allow Simpson to turn himself in at 11 am on June 17, 1994, even though the double murder charge meant no bail and a possible death penalty verdict if convicted. Over 1,000 reporters waited for Simpson at the police station, but he failed to appear. At 2 pm, the Los Angeles Police Department issued an all-points bulletin. At 5 pm Robert Kardashian, a Simpson friend and one of his defense lawyers, read a rambling letter by Simpson to the media.

In the letter, Simpson sent greetings to 24 friends and wrote, “First everyone understand nothing to do with Nicole’s murder … Don’t feel sorry for me. I’ve had a great life.” To many, this sounded like a suicide note, and the reporters joined the search for Simpson. According to Simpson lawyer Robert Shapiro, also present at Kardashian’s press conference, Simpson’s psychiatrists agreed with the suicide note interpretation; on television, the attorney appealed to Simpson to surrender.

At around 6:20 pm, a motorist in Orange County saw Simpson riding in his white Bronco, driven by his friend, Al Cowlings, and notified police. The police then tracked calls placed from Simpson on his cellular telephone. At 6:45 pm, a police officer saw the Bronco, going north on Interstate 405. When the officer approached the Bronco with sirens blaring, Cowlings yelled that Simpson was in the back seat of the vehicle and had a gun to his own head. The officer backed off, but followed the vehicle at 35 miles per hour, with up to 20 police cars participating in the chase.

For some time a Los Angeles News Service helicopter piloted by Bob Tur and contracted by KCBS had exclusive coverage, but over 20 helicopters joined the chase; the high degree of media participation caused camera signals to appear on incorrect television channels. Radio station KNX also provided live coverage of the slow-speed pursuit. USC sports announcer Pete Arbogast and station producer Oran Sampson contacted former USC coach John McKay to go on the air and encourage Simpson to end the pursuit. McKay agreed and asked Simpson to pull over and turn himself in instead of committing suicide. He responded to the pleas from McKay and other friends by stating that he was “just gonna go with Nicole”. Simpson’s friend Al Michaels interpreted his actions as an admission of guilt.

All Big Three television networks and CNN as well as local news outlets interrupted regular programming, with 95 million viewers nationwide. While NBC continued coverage of Game 5 of the NBA Finals between the New York Knicks and the Houston Rockets at Madison Square Garden, the game appeared in a small box in the corner while Tom Brokaw as anchorman covered the chase. The chase was covered live by ABC News anchors Peter Jennings and Barbara Walters on behalf of ABC’s five news magazines, which achieved some of their highest-ever ratings that week. Domino’s Pizza later reported “record sales” of pizza delivery during the televised chase.

Thousands of spectators and on-lookers packed overpasses along the procession’s journey waiting for the white Bronco. In a festival-like atmosphere, some had signs urging Simpson to flee. They and the millions watching the chase on television felt part of a “common emotional experience”, as they wonder[ed] if O. J. Simpson would commit suicide, escape, be arrested, or engage in some kind of violent confrontation. Whatever might ensue, the shared adventure gave millions of viewers a vested interest, a sense of participation, a feeling of being on the inside of a national drama in the making.”

Simpson reportedly demanded that he be allowed to speak to his mother before he would surrender. The chase ended at 8:00 pm at his Brentwood home, 50 miles later, where his son Justin ran out of the house to greet him. After remaining in the Bronco for about 45 minutes, Simpson was allowed to go inside for about an hour; a police spokesman stated that he spoke to his mother and drank a glass of orange juice, resulting in laughter from the reporters.

Shapiro arrived and a few minutes later, Simpson surrendered to authorities. In the Bronco the police found “$8,000 in cash, a change of clothing, a loaded .357 Magnum, a passport, family pictures, and a fake goatee and mustache.”

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