OJ faces the nation with plea of innocence

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Los Angeles

OJ Simpson finally went on television this week for the first time since being acquitted of double murder, insisting he was as innocent as any fellow American, and demanded that he be treated accordingly.

"If you don't like me, leave me alone," said Mr Simpson. "I'm not bothering you."

Since October he has been sued by the families of his ex-wife Nicole and Ronald Goldman, the murder victims, pilloried by radio talk-show hosts and cold-shouldered by advertisers and golf clubs alike.

Immediately after his trial he pulled out of a network television interview, citing the advice of his lawyers, when it threatened to turn into a full- scale inquisition into his version of events. He was paid a reported $3m (pounds 2m) for a mail-order video, OJ: The Interview, and his appearance on Wednesday night on the only black-owned cable channel in the US was partly aimed at promoting the video, which retails at $30.

The former sporting idol gave a polished, at times persuasive, performance in a sympathetic setting. He was not pressed on the evidence that persuaded most Americans watching his criminal trial that he was guilty, and which wrecked his career as a film actor and television personality.

Ducking questions about the night of the killings, he either cited the advice of his lawyers, or invited viewers to buy the video for the full answers. "I did not commit those murders," he said. "I could not kill anyone."

At times, however, the anger came through. Women's groups had made him a "whipping boy", and he was "pissed" at the families of his ex-wife and Ronald Goldman, now suing him for damages on the allegation that he stalked, stabbed and slashed them to death.

Mr Simpson portrayed himself as the victim of racism in the Los Angeles Police Department and in the US at large. "They want me to go to Africa? Go where?" he said, asked about people in his wealthy Los Angeles neighbourhood who put up signs calling him a killer. "I live in LA. If they don't want me in Brentwood, they should leave."

He angrily denied reports of parties and high living, saying he constantly mourned Nicole. "How much lower should I lay?" he asked. "What I would like to do is raise my kids, spend as much time as I can with my family, especially my mum, who is here tonight, and play golf." Initial reactions on the streets of Los Angeles appeared to show that his smooth performance had changed few minds either way.

Mr Simpson yesterday was questioned for the fourth day in a row by lawyers in the civil suit. Few details of this first grilling under oath have leaked out, though transcripts of the testimony will eventually be released. The case is scheduled for April. But lawyers for the Goldman and Brown families say they have zeroed in on "inconsistencies" in his alibis. Pressed to explain why he failed to answer when a chauffeur called at his gate on the night of the murders, the Simpson camp has suggested variously he was chipping golf balls, in the shower, or asleep.

In a replay of the convoy that followed him home from the trial, news helicopters trailed Mr Simpson's limousine to the Los Angeles studios of Black Entertainment Television. It was a major scoop for a station popular across urban America, but which is better known for music videos than heavyweight news coverage.

The interviewer, Ed Gordon, focused on what he said were issues of concern to black Americans, such as whether Mr Simpson had cashed in on the murder of his wife or turned his back on his black roots.

Mr Simpson cited scholarships he funded for students in his old neighbourhoods. He said he was struggling to recover financially from millions lost in the court case, and to support his two children by Nicole.