'Obscene' contest for OJ interview divides media

After the verdict: TV chief attacks $20m auction as jurors open their hearts, defence lawyers bicker and Simpson phones in
TIM CORNWELL

Los Angeles

The head of the largest pay-TV distributor in the United States has refused even to consider screening an interview with OJ Simpson. Hugh Panero, president of Request TV, said "somebody has to draw the line", adding such a show would be cynical, "even obscene".

Since Mr Simpson's lawyers have publicly aired the idea, promoters have been itching to get on board. Television viewers would typically pay anything from $15 to $50 (pounds 10 to pounds 32) to receive such a programme on satellite or cable. One producer offered publicly to guarantee Simpson at least $20m (nearly pounds 13m). The mixed reaction in the entertainment industry to Mr Simpson's acquittal on charges of murdering his ex-wife, Nicole, and her friend Ronald Goldman was one measure of the public discomfort.

The decision by Mr Simpson's defence team not to put him on the stand prevented a damaging cross-examination in court. But a pay-per-view appearance would offer a sympathetic platform to face the outstanding questions. It could also more than pay off the reported $5m (pounds 3m) mortgage he took out to meet legal fees. It would avoid the need to court advertisers - the Hertz rental car company, for one, has said it will not use him again.

Though the trial of the century was over, the media circus continued relentlessly in a massive national talkathon. Gina Rhodes Rossborough, the latest juror to break her silence, opened her heart on Oprah Winfrey; schoolmates of the discredited police witness, Mark Fuhrman, revealed he spouted racial epithets as a boy.

CNN's Larry King Live matched the defence lawyer Johnnie Cochran with an alternate juror, Watson Calhoun, a retired bus driver. That brought a telephone call to the studio from Mr Simpson. Slipping past the reporters who surrounded his Brentwood estate, he had earlier been reunited privately with his children: Justin, seven, and Sydney, nine.

Mr Simpson began by paying public tribute to Mr Cochran. But he attacked the prosecutors Marcia Clark and Christopher Darden for their "distortions", and TV trial commentators for perpetuating them.

"My basic anger is these misconceptions," he said. "Fortunately for me, the jury listened to what the witnesses said and not Marcia Clark's or Darden's, or anyone else's, rendition of what was said." When the show's host pressed him with questions, he said he had to go.

So many times, Mr Simpson said, he went back to his cell and could not reconcile what he saw on television with the day's events in court.

He admitted being the "shadowy figure" seen outside his house by the chauffeur Allan Park on the night of the murders, but insisted he was simply dropping his bags by the door.

The rift within Mr Simpson's defence team grew more acrimonious yesterday when F Lee Bailey said that another defence lawyer, Robert Shapiro, had at one point discussed a manslaughter plea for Mr Simpson. Mr Bailey contends the plea also involved Robert Kardashian, Mr Simpson's friend and lawyer, who was seen carrying Mr Simpson's garment bag from his estate when he returned from Chicago the day after the murders.

Prosecutors have contended that evidence may have been in the bag. Mr Kardashian said he never looked inside it, and when he handed it over to police months later, it was empty. "He was negotiating with someone," Mr Bailey told a Boston televison station, as he criticised Mr Shapiro's abilities as a lawyer.

The proposal would have seen Mr Simpson pleading guilty to manslaughter and Mr Kardashian pleading guilty to other charges. "I sat there while he [Shapiro] tried to put together a manslaughter plea which would have gotten Kardashian a five-year sentence for something he never did," Mr Bailey said. That report was denied by Mr Cochran, who replaced Mr Shapiro as lead defence attorney. Mr Shapiro has accused Mr Cochran of dealing the "race card . . . from the bottom of the deck" in his closing arguments.

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