By the time O.J. Simpson stood up in court late Friday to hear the spray of guilty verdicts on robbery and kidnapping charges that may send him to prison for the rest of his life, he was already so far removed from the heights of his fame and popularity that an entire generation of young Americans was barely aware that he had ever been a football star.
One measure of his downfall: Few cared.
Gone were the fans who lined the streets of Los Angeles more than 14 years ago as Simpson, a Heisman Trophy winner and NFL Hall of Fame inductee, led police officers on a slow-speed chase in a white Ford Bronco after they went to arrest him in the murders of his former wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ron Goldman.
Instead of millions of Americans obsessively stewing over the daily details in the case against him, a city block set aside for media tents was largely empty for the four-week trial. Simpson's comings and goings were barely noticed.
Acquitted in 1995 of murder, Simpson was convicted Friday of rounding up five men, most with lengthy criminal records, and bursting into a $35-a-night Las Vegas hotel room to steal a trove of sports memorabilia from two collectibles dealers.
Simpson, 61, stood up older and noticeably less confident as guilty verdicts were read on all 12 charges than he did when he emphatically declared himself “absolutely, positively, 100 percent not guilty” in the 1994 slayings.
This time, he sighed heavily as his sister, Carmelita Durio, sobbed and fainted. He appeared resigned to the idea that the jury of nine women and three men had not believed his argument that he was trying to retrieve personal keepsakes that had been stolen from his home or that he was unaware that two of the five men had carried or displayed weapons.
Judge Jackie Glass ordered Simpson remanded into custody until Dec. 5, when she is scheduled to sentence him. The most serious charges, two counts of kidnapping with a deadly weapon, carry a minimum sentence of 15 years to life with parole possible after five years. The dozen charges, which include robbery, burglary, conspiracy, assault and coercion, could carry a total minimum sentence of more than 50 years in prison if sentenced consecutively.
“This was just payback,” Simpson attorney Yale Galanter said Saturday. “They were on an agenda.” Galanter said he plans to appeal.
Jurors, none of whom agreed to speak after the verdict, heard from several witnesses who contradicted themselves, including four of Simpson's five accomplices who had accepted plea deals in exchange for their testimony. Still, they decided after 13 hours of deliberation that Simpson's explanation was less credible and that Simpson and the fifth accomplice, Clarence Stewart, were guilty. Stewart, 54, faces the same sentences as Simpson.
The fact that the key evidence against the pair was hours of surreptitious audio recordings of the planning and execution of the event by Thomas Riccio, a memorabilia auctioneer who arranged the hotel-room confrontation, reflected a peculiar reality of Simpson's post-acquittal life.
“Many people carry recorders around him to see if they can catch him slipping to make money,” said Debbie Alexander, the former wife of Walter Alexander, 46, one of the four men who accompanied Simpson on the raid.
In 1995, Simpson was a cause celebre for many blacks who viewed him as suffering a raw deal from a racist judicial system. This time, not a single black activist in Las Vegas picketed, protested or even commented on the case. The Associated Press contributed.