OJ Simpson, former US football star acquitted of murder, dies aged 76

Simpson died this week after a battle with cancer, his family announced in a statement on social media.

OJ Simpson
Former NFL football star OJ Simpson appears via video for a parole hearing at the Lovelock Correctional Center in Lovelock, Nevada [File: Jason Bean/The Reno Gazette-Journal via AP Photo]

OJ Simpson, a former United States football star acquitted of murder in a widely watched trial in the 1990s, has died at age 76.

In a statement shared on social media on Thursday morning, Simpson’s family said he died on Wednesday after a battle with cancer.

“He was surrounded by his children and grandchildren. During this time of transition, his family asks that you please respect their wishes for privacy and grace,” the statement said.

US media outlets reported in February that Simpson was undergoing treatment for prostate cancer.

Known by the nickname “The Juice”, Simpson was a star running back at the University of Southern California.

He won the Heisman Trophy — the top honour in American college football — in 1968 before making the jump to the National Football League (NFL) a year later as the Buffalo Bills’ number-one draft pick.

He played 11 seasons of professional American football and racked up numerous accolades.

But Simpson became a controversial figure after he was charged with the stabbing deaths of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ronald Goldman, in 1994.

He was ordered to surrender to police, but five days after the killings, he fled in his white Ford Bronco with a former teammate and led police in a low-speed chase through Los Angeles.

Simpson’s months-long trial — dubbed the “trial of the century” — was televised and drew widespread media attention in the US and around the world.

OJ Simpson in court in the 1990s
OJ Simpson and defence lawyer F Lee Bailey, left, consult with each other during Simpson’s double-murder trial in Los Angeles, June 30, 1995 [File: Reed Saxon/Pool via AP Photo]

His acquittal in 1995 also divided the country: Some Americans viewed it as a miscarriage of justice, while others believed he was unfairly targeted by a racist police force.

“I don’t think most of America believes I did it,” Simpson told The New York Times in 1995, a week after a jury determined he did not kill Brown and Goldman. “I’ve gotten thousands of letters and telegrams from people supporting me.”

Even years later, the case continued to mesmerise the public, prompting debates on race, gender, domestic abuse, celebrity justice and police misconduct.

Figures like defence lawyer Johnnie Cochran would also become national celebrities.

When the prosecution asked Simpson to try on the blood-stained gloves found at the murder scene, Simpson struggled to slip them on over the latex gloves he was wearing to handle the evidence.

Simpson’s apparent difficulty with the gloves became a central part of Cochran’s defence arguments. “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit,” he famously said in closing arguments.

OJ Simpson holds up his hands in court, as he wears black, blood-stained gloves.
Defendant OJ Simpson presents the blood-stained gloves to the jury as defence lawyer Johnnie Cochran, right, looks on [File: Sam Mircovich/Reuters]

While a criminal court jury found him not guilty of murder in 1995, a jury in a separate civil trial in 1997 found him liable for the deaths and ordered him to pay $33.5m to the family members of Brown and Goldman.

“We finally have justice for Ron and Nicole,” Fred Goldman, Ron Goldman’s father, said after the civil verdict.

A decade later, still shadowed by the California wrongful death judgement, Simpson was involved in the robbery of two sports memorabilia dealers.

According to prosecutors, Simpson led five men into a cramped Las Vegas hotel room where the dealers had their merchandise on display. Two of the men with Simpson had firearms, and the prosecution alleged Simpson took the items while the memorabilia dealers were held at gunpoint.

Simpson, however, alleged that the memorabilia had first been stolen from him and that he was simply retrieving it. A jury ultimately convicted him of armed robbery and other felonies.

OJ Simpson
OJ Simpson, left, smiles next to San Francisco 49ers owner Edward DeBartolo Jr at a news conference in San Francisco, March 24, 1978 [File: Sal Veder/AP Photo]

Imprisoned at age 61, he served nine years in a remote northern Nevada prison.

“I didn’t want to hurt anybody,” Simpson, donning a blue prison jumpsuit with shackles on his legs and wrists, said at his sentencing. “I didn’t know I was doing anything wrong.”

Public fascination with Simpson never faded, and many debated if he had been punished in Las Vegas for his acquittal in Los Angeles.

His life saga was recounted in the Oscar-winning 2016 documentary O.J.: Made in America, as well as various TV dramatisations.

Simpson also briefly had a book deal, announced in 2006, for a manuscript called If I Did It. Public outrage, however, scuttled its publication, and the family of murder victim Ron Goldman ultimately acquired the rights.

In the wake of Simpson’s death, the Goldman family told NBC News that they would not mourn his passing.

“The only thing I have to say is it’s just further reminder of Ron being gone all these years,” Fred Goldman said. “It’s no great loss to the world. It’s a further reminder of Ron’s being gone.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies