Thirteen years after O.J. Simpson’s murder trial riveted viewers, his latest tango with the criminal justice system is a yawn, says CNN legal ace Jeffrey Toobin.
Toobin, who candidly acknowledges he owes his TV career to Simpson, has no plans to cover the ex-NFL star’s armed robbery-and-kidnapping trial in Las Vegas. It began last Monday and is expected to last five weeks.
Funny part is, Toobin feels a tad guilty, despite how much he enjoys being part of The Best Political Team on Television.
“Considering how much O.J. has meant to my career, part of me wants to see the next stage of the story,” says Toobin, 48, a Harvard Trifecta — graduate of the college, the law school and editor of Law Review.
“O.J. was the story that made my TV career, no doubt about it. It was my first best-selling book [The Run of His Life: The People v. O.J. Simpson]. I devoted more than two years of my life to it.”
On the other hand, “I recognize that compared to other stories I’m covering, O.J. is not exactly the most important story of the day.”
It doesn’t help that Simpson’s alleged crime this time makes the trial less sexy to the public, according to Toobin.
The first trial “was about the cold-blooded murder of two people,” he says. “This crime, if it was a crime, was a bunch of creeps screaming at each other in a hotel room about a bunch of junk that’s probably not worth much, anyway.
“Talk about history repeating itself first as tragedy, then as farce.”
Then there’s Simpson himself. When the murders were committed in ’94, “he was a true and widely admired celebrity,” says Toobin. Today, “he’s a totally discredited, widely despised fringe factor.”
Simpson and a co-defendant face 12 charges stemming from a heated confrontation in a Las Vegas hotel room in September ’07. He and five cohorts, two of them armed, allegedly robbed a pair of sports memorabilia collectors of hundreds of items.
Simpson says he was just trying to recover personal property stolen from him years earlier, and that he had no idea anyone in his posse was packing.
The prosecution’s case is weaker than in ’95, says Toobin, a former assistant U.S. Attorney in Brooklyn. For starters, the alleged victims “are such sleazeballs, it’s hard to view them as victims in the normal sense.”
Should O.J. be convicted of the most serious crime, kidnapping, he could face life in prison. Call it karmic payback, with a heavy dollop of irony.
“He would be acquitted of a crime he was guilty of and convicted of a crime of which he was innocent,” Toobin says.
“He clearly got away with murder in the first case. This bizarre, questionable case is the one that could get him thrown in jail.”