I was sitting with Howard Stern, of all people, when the verdict came down. Many of you probably remember where you were at that moment. It was a moment I, like so many others, was dreading.
Because, I knew that the “killer,” as Kim Goldman so eloquently named him, would be acquitted. I knew it from my own experience.
Conviction is what I wanted—and not just in the legal sense.
I wanted it because I had once been that young woman who loved with all of her heart and believed in the goodness of man, the trusting girl who fell for the guy, who believed in the beauty of romance, the power of love, the joy of family and the miracle of motherhood. Like Nicole Brown, I believed with all my heart . . . and then got punched in the face.
On that day, October 3, 1995, as Howard and I sat watching the television with a conference room full of people, I said, “He’ll be acquitted.” I said it out loud, and the others in the room looked at me in a way I’d been looked at before: “Oh, God. She’s crazy.”
But I knew it, because I’d been there. I’d listened to the lies (“She hit herself’), watched him charm the police (“Sir, I don’t know why she’s saying this”), endured the ignorance of one cop who looked at me with disdain and said “You must like it,” and couldn’t understand why they didn’t believe me.
That man was tall, dark, and handsome. A great athlete. A brilliant mind. He was even a doctor, with an M.D. after his name and a degree that came with an oath: “First, do no harm.” He was one of the brightest men I’d ever met. And he could charm anyone. He charmed me. We had a child. And then he knocked me out, with a blow to my head, and sent me to the hospital.
He manipulated, lied, and broke my heart.
And then, after all but leaving me for dead in a hospital, where his daughter died a few days later, he left for good.
So as I watched this new scene play itself out, I knew that this man—the killer, as Kim calls him—would be acquitted. I’d seen it before: The men in court, dressed in their designer suits, blaming the women they attacked. I’d seen, firsthand, the “criminal injustice system,” as I called it in my twenties—the system that let him go one night after assaulting me so he could come right back and do it again.
I had my witnesses, thank God, or no one would have believed me. But he, too, had his fans, the ones who could not believe that a man that smart, that good-looking, and that successful “would ever do anything like that.”
“Why,” one of my own family members said in one of the many denials I’d heard, “would someone like him do that to you? Why? And if he did, you must have done something to provoke him.” I’d heard it all.
So when the verdict came down, I watched the faces in the room freeze in shock.
“I told you,” I said, and left the room.
The Trial of the Century, as it was called, was not just a moment for me, it was a seminal moment in American history. The curtain was pulled back on the issues of domestic violence, police corruption, and racism—on both sides. And when the final curtain fell, it fell on the killer, as he is known, providing a protective shield from the consequences of his grievous act.
Conviction, or lack thereof, is the story of the trial of the century. Where was that sense of conviction when racist police officers abused and battered their victims? Where was that sense of conviction when Nicole Brown was being battered and people stood by and let him get away with it time and time again? Where was it when NBC kept him on the air when they were sure to know? Where was it when the Browns lost custody of the children, who were sent to be raised by the narcissist who killed their mother? Where was it when Fred Goldman, who lost his beautiful son, won a civil judgment, but was unable to collect it?
Where was it?
I never lost my desire for his conviction. And if Marcia Clark couldn’t do it. I sure wanted to try.
In the past few days, since the announcement of the forthcoming book and televised interview If I Did It, it has been strange watching the media spin the story. They have all but called for my death for publishing his book and for interviewing him. A death, I might add, not called for when Katie Couric interviewed him; not called for when Barbara Walters had an exclusive with the Menendez brothers, who killed their parents in cold blood, nor when she conducted her celebrated interviews with dictator Fidel Castro or Muammar al-Gaddafi; not called for when 60 Minutes interviewed Timothy McVeigh who murdered hundreds in Oklahoma City, not called for when the U.S. government released tapes of Osama bin Laden; not called for when Geraldo Rivera interviewed his dozens of murderers, miscreants, and deviants.
Nor should it be.
“To publish” does not mean “to endorse”; it means “to make public.” If you doubt that, ask the mainstream publishers who keep Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf in print to this day. They are likely to say that there is a historical value in publishing such material, so that the public can read, and judge for themselves, the thoughts and attempted defenses of an indefensible man. There is historical value in such work; there is value for law enforcement, for students of psychology, for anyone who wants to gain insight into the mind of a sociopath.
But that is not why I did it. That is not why I wanted to face the killer. That is not why I wanted to publish his story.
I didn’t know what to expect when I got the call that the killer wanted to confess. I didn’t know what would happen. But I knew one thing. I wanted the confession for my own selfish reasons and for the symbolism of that act.
For me, it was personal.
My son is now twenty-five years old, my daughter fifteen. I wanted them, and everyone else, to have a chance to see that there are consequences to grievous acts. That the consequences of pain and suffering will ultimately be brought upon its perpetrators. And I wanted, as so many victims do, to hear him say “I did it and I am sorry.”
I didn’t know if he would. But I wanted to try. I wanted his confession.
I wanted the acknowledgment, not for me but for my son, so I could turn to him and say, “I’m sorry that he was not a father to you. I’m sorry that he could not teach you what it means to be a man. And, finally, he’s sorry too.”
When I was a girl, a young, innocent, and believing girl, my parents made me go to confession. I didn’t always like to go. It was spooky going into the dark confessional booths, where I was told to say my penance for my sins and to recite The Act of Contrition.
Oh my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended thee. And I detest all my sins because I dread the loss of heaven and the pains of hell. But most of all because I offend thee my God, who art all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of thy grace, to confess my sins, to do penance and to amend my life, amen.
To confess my sins, to do penance and to amend my life, amen.
I was seven or eight years old at the time, and I had no idea what I was saying or doing. But I do now.
I made the decision to publish this book, and to sit face to face with the killer, because I wanted him, and the men who broke my heart and your hearts, to tell the truth, to confess their sins, to do penance and to amend their lives.
I have not spent a lifetime in the study of deception detection, but ex-CIA specialist Phil Houston has. “When killers confess,” he told me, “the way they often do it is by creating a hypothetical”—and then they spill their guts.
For many of them, it is the only way to tell the truth.
I thought of this and the many books I’ve published over the years on the subject of sociopaths and their lack of empathy (Without Conscience and Snakes in Suits). And I thought about The Mind & The Brain, a book about the power of the human will. Is such behavior the result of a genetic flaw? Could it be caused by a head injury? Is it the result of a weak and damaged human will? Was this man suffering from a sort of emotional autism?
How did it happen? How could a man with so much have so little? And how could we, as a society, continue to protect him and others from the consequences of his wrong-doing?
I don’t know why he did it—why he did the book, and sat for the interview. Was it his own disturbed need for attention? Did he have remorse? Was he ready to come clean and make amends and do his penance? I wouldn’t know until I sat down in a chair across from him.
What I do know is I didn’t pay him. I contracted through a third party who owns the rights, and I was told the money would go to his children. That much I could live with.
What I wanted was closure, not money.
I had never met him and never spoken with him until the day I interviewed him. And I was ready. Fifty-three years prepared me for this conversation.
The men who lied and cheated and beat me—they were all there in the room. And the people who denied it, they were there too. And though it might sound a little strange, Nicole and Ron were in my heart. And for them I wanted him to confess his sins, to do penance and to amend his life. Amen.
We live in a world right now where hatred and vengeance is a way of life.
And as the killer sat before me I was not filled with vengeance or hatred. I thought of the man who had beaten me so many years ago, who left me in a hospital, the man who broke my child’s heart. And I listened carefully.
And what went through my mind surprised me. Mental illness. Thought process disorder. No empathy. Malignant narcissism.
In the years to come, I hope we will have a better understanding of this type of disordered personality. Are certain people simply born that way? If not, what goes wrong that changes them? How does this happen? And why?
I took on this project with the belief that his life must be a constant torture, a kind of hell. And I wondered: In his confession, however he chose to state it, would he do his penance, could he amend his life? Could he say he was sorry?
I thought back to Christmas Eve, a few years ago. The man who broke my heart was now standing on my doorstep, shaking. He talked about my son, now in his twenties, and told me I’d done a great job raising him alone.
During the years that I was running from work to homework, from my office to every school play, assembly, swim meet or parent conference, he never showed up for a single thing. While I was raising my son, he had lived a high life and then lost everything. He ended up in prison, lost his medical license, lost many of his worldly possessions, lost his looks and now, most of the women who once cared had gone, too.
And he was losing his mind. His hand was shaking violently. He had Parkinson’s disease, and was a broken man. He looked at me. The girl he’d left in the gutter had raised two children alone, had built a successful company, and was now a happy woman.
“I guess you think I’m getting my comeuppance,” he said.
And strangely I didn’t. That a man who had so much could throw it all away and fall so low—it gave me no pleasure.
I was sad for my son, sad for the women he’d left behind, sad for the mother and siblings he’d disappointed and I was sad for him that he’d missed the opportunity to live a beautiful life.
When I sat face to face with the killer, I wanted him to confess, to release us all from the wound of the conviction that was lost on that fall day in October of 1995.
For the girl who was left in the gutter, I wanted to make it right.