By Neely Tucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 13, 2007
PHOENIX -- Fred Goldman is 66 years old now. He lives in the Arizona desert a good five miles of barbed wire and cactus from the nearest sunblasted shopping center. His son, Ron, is buried back in California, but do not think that this geographical distance means that he has put his son's slaying behind him.
Goldman has never let the most notorious murder case in modern American history, the O.J. Simpson trial, move "more than a centimeter from the surface of the brain," and today he launches a bizarre offensive against Simpson, the man whom a civil court -- and many Americans -- consider to be someone who got away with murder.
"I made a promise to Ron," Goldman says in a long, late-afternoon interview in his modest home, "that I would pursue this bastard. That we would never let this go."
That pursuit escalates to heights not seen in a decade, when Goldman is scheduled to go on the "Oprah" show today to tout the macabre book he took away from Simpson, "If I Did It."
The book -- in which Simpson wrote of how he might have killed Nicole Brown, his ex-wife, and Ron Goldman the night of June 12, 1994 -- prompted so much negative reaction that the original publisher, Judith Regan, was fired and hundreds of thousands of copies pulped.
Goldman then gained rights to the book under terms of the 1997 civil court judgment that held Simpson responsible for the murders, and arranged for it to be published again.
He hasn't changed a word of the text or the title. But, in a stinging bit of irony, he has reduced the size of the word "If" to the level of the microscopic. With the subtitle, the cover now appears to read: "I Did It: Confessions of the Killer." Goldman also added an introduction, prologue and afterword, by himself and others, that recasts Simpson's book as both an indictment and a confession by the man himself. The book will be in stores by this weekend, and more than 100,000 copies have already been ordered, according to Goldman's literary agent. The profits will go toward settling a minuscule fraction of the $38 million Simpson owes both Goldman's family and Nicole Brown's estate, which is devoted entirely to the two children she had with Simpson.
But Goldman's decision to publish the book has enraged Brown's family. Denise Brown, her sister, refused to be onstage with Goldman on Oprah Winfrey's show, instead taping her segment separately. She vows she will never speak to him again.
"This is evil, this is blood money," she says in a telephone interview. "It's written by a man who is evil. And now [Goldman] is writing in the same book by the man who murdered his son? This is disgusting to me."
It is one thing, of course, to lose your child to a crime of violence. It is another to see the accused murderer parading around South Florida at one golf course or another, doing everything possible to avoid paying court-ordered judgments against him.
Then again, it is also true that bitterness and obsession eat at the heart. They are acidic. They destroy what they touch.
* * *
Goldman moved to the Phoenix area with his second wife, Patti, a decade ago. (He was divorced from Ron's mother in the 1970s and raised Ron and his sister, Kim, almost entirely by himself.) About a year ago, the Goldmans moved into a brand new "adult community" with a guarded gate set in the middle of rocks and gravel and desert. There are one-story strip malls and power lines and construction sites and hard-put-looking horses and the blazing sky overhead.
Inside the gates, the land turns to an oasis of irrigated green lawns and golf courses, a spa and little circling streets with nearly identical one-story brown houses with tile roofs. The only sound outside his home on a recent afternoon is the whir of air-conditioning units.
Inside, there is modern art and tiled floors and a curved sectional sofa and floor-to-ceiling windows that give onto a tiny rock garden and a brown fence.
It is from here that Goldman has settled into his pursuit of Simpson. His anger is not foaming or hysterical, but cold, methodical and relentless. He sits on the sofa, in shorts and an open shirt, the handlebar mustache still in place, his gray hair swept back from his forehead, and talks in a house that is completely silent save for his voice.
He is talking of his loss, as an explanation for the thing people are so amazed by: That a book that O.J. Simpson wrote describing the murder of Ron and Nicole is now listed on Amazon as being authored by the "Goldman family."
"The reality of the past 13 years is that it's always a part of daily life. It never, ever goes away. I don't think it should. . . . You remember part of it every day in some form. The days you'd think are positives -- holidays, anniversary, birthdays, someone talking about the achievements of their 30-year-old son -- it only reminds you of what is not there, what was not accomplished.
"That's there all the time. That's part of what continues to motivate me to pursue this monster. To let it go would be tantamount to saying, 'It doesn't matter anymore.' "
Still, it has to be said that Simpson has run circles around Goldman's attempts to hold him responsible for his son's slaying in much the same way he once eluded tacklers on the football field.
First, Simpson was found not guilty of the murders in the racially polarizing criminal trial. (In 2001, a Zogby poll found that 80 percent of whites thought Simpson was guilty, vs. 26 percent of blacks.) True, Simpson was found responsible for the murders in the subsequent civil trial, and ordered to pay $33 million (the amount has since ballooned with interest to nearly $40 million), but that has largely proved to be symbolic.
Quick, how much do you think Goldman has taken away from Simpson?
"Less than $10,000, all told," he says.
Ten years of work. It adds up to about a grand a year.
Lawyers he's hired simply cannot find Simpson's money -- though tax returns they obtained in 2002 and 2003 show he was making nearly $400,000 per year. His pro football and acting pensions are protected from seizure. He lives on a nice street in Miami, he takes his children on vacations to the Bahamas, in large part, Goldman's attorneys say, by a complicated scheme of refinancing loans on his home, using that money for living expenses, while having the payments back to the mortgage company protected by law.
Simpson pocketed roughly $680,000 from "If I Did It," Goldman attorney David J. Cook says, by setting up a shell company for the initial payment from publishers, then immediately channeling it into debts he owed to the Internal Revenue Service, his mortgage company and other bills -- all of which were protected from seizure by the Goldmans.
(Calls placed late yesterday to Simpson's attorneys in Los Angeles and Miami were not returned.)
Given these years of fury and frustration, when a judge ruled that Goldman could seize the rights to the book, no matter its notoriety, things changed, Goldman said.
First, he learned after reading it that it was not, as he feared, a gory, book-length exposition on how to murder two people.
"We view the book, without question, as an admission of guilt," he says. "It's mostly about his relationship with Nicole, with one chapter devoted to the killings. And the fact is, there is more gruesome material about the case on the Internet every day of the week."
The opportunity to turn the point of the book on its head became clear to him: Simpson, confessing in his own words. His plan to enrich himself would instead go primarily to Goldman. And Goldman would, at last, finally stick it to Simpson.
"To be able to occasionally say, 'Damn it, we nailed the SOB' is a very positive experience. I wish we could do it more often."
Sharlene Martin, the literary agent who helped Goldman reshape the book, said Simpson implicated himself in the writing process. She says he wrote (with the help of a ghostwriter) with perfect accuracy about most facts in the case, then begins the chapter on the murders with the phrase, "Now this is hypothetical."
"It sticks out like a sore thumb," Martin says. "It becomes clear to any reader with a modicum of intelligence that it is very clear that this is not hypothetical."
(Simpson has consistently said the ghostwriter penned that chapter, and that it is entirely fictitious.)
For Denise Brown, this is pointless. The book gave Simpson the "sickening" opportunity to trash Nicole's name and reputation, then taunt the families with details of the murders. Goldman had already stopped publication of the book, she says, and there is no motive left in publication but to make money.
"The money from this is just going to pay off his lawyers, his creditors," she says. "He has so much debt he has to be able to pay back something. . . . We were on the same page until he wanted to sell this book for his own financial gain."
Under terms of an agreement worked out between the attorneys, Brown's estate will get roughly 10 percent off the top of sales, and Goldman the rest. In Goldman's case, a large chunk of what's remaining will go first to Cook, the collection attorney.
And none of it, of course, will come from Simpson himself, but rather from the book-buying public.
Goldman, for his part, is sympathetic but not persuaded by Brown's lacerating criticism. The families have never been close.
"I don't criticize them," he says. "I don't envy their position."
But he says that has no bearing on his pursuit of Simpson, which will last for the ages.
"It's not all-encompassing, though. I seem to function as a reasonably normal human being. It's just a piece of my life that needs to constantly be pursued. I need to continue to pursue the killer. My daughter feels the same way. My family feels the same way. I can't imagine stepping back and saying, 'Okay, I'm done.' "
* * *
The next morning, in the pre-dawn glow, Venus is brilliant in the sky. There are no clouds. The mountains are not the graceless brown of midday, when the heat and the dust are choking. At this hour, the hills are a sawtooth ridge against the blackness. Fingers of sunlight filter across the sky. It is peaceful -- not the fried-into-torpor reality of early afternoon -- but something soft, cool and mystic, calm and beautiful.
Fred Goldman awakes and leaves at this time of day, flying east, away from his son's grave, to the television klieg lights and the radio microphones and the shouts and the controversy, an aging man seeking justice or peace or vengeance, or maybe some nameless thing that might be found in between.