I am innocent, OJ declares in interview

RUPERT CORNWELL

Washington

Hours after pulling out of a scheduled television interview, OJ Simpson called the New York Times to proclaim his innocence and give his first extensive comments on life after acquittal for double murder by a Los Angeles jury - though not by the majority of the American people.

In a 45-minute conversation, the former football star told the paper's media correspondent, Bill Carter, that he had not killed his former wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ronald Goldman and that, despite polls showing up to 70 per cent of Americans sure of his guilt, "I don't think most of America believes I did it.''

Explaining his decision to cancel the NBC interview, which would have been one of the most watched events in US television history, Simpson said he bowed to the unanimous advice of his lawyers, concerned that anything he said might be used in the civil suits against him brought by the Goldman and Brown families: "They told me I was being set up; they felt the interview would be tantamount to a grand jury hearing.''

But he insisted: "I am an innocent man." He declared himself willing to "sit and debate" the case at any time with Marcia Clark, the lead state prosecutor. Simpson denied he was about to marry his girlfriend, Paula Barbieri. Nor had his "Dream Team" of defence attorneys bled him dry: "I still have my Ferrari ... my Bentley ... my home in Brentwood ... my apartment in New York."

The saga of the interview denied and the interview granted marks another step in the passage of the Simpson affair from tragedy to surreal farce. Tom Brokaw - NBC's star anchorman, who was to have conducted the "no-holds- barred" encounter on Wednesday - interrupted programming to break the news of the cancellation with a gravity comparable to Franklin Roosevelt telling America about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

The non-event created a furore nearly as great as the real thing. Mr Brokaw's historic statement was replayed in news bulletins through the evening, while the media have had another field day talking about themselves - a subject dearer to their hearts than any, except OJ.

Elsewhere, the lunacy continues. Mark Fuhrman, the racist LAPD officer at the centre of the case, was reported to be in Bermuda - a titbit that sent film crews scurrying there.But he proved to be one Mark Furman (without the "h''), a bemused New Jersey lawyer.

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