Last Updated Oct 1, 2017 12:48 AM EDT
O.J. Simpson was from a Nevada prison early Sunday after serving nine years on armed robbery charges. But his acquittal in a dramatic among Americans.
With the country once again divided over issues of race amid a national uproar over, patriotism and free speech, CBS News special correspondent James Brown and "48 Hours" retrace the events that led Simpson to this moment: from his landmark murder trial -- where he was found not guilty in the deaths of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman, to how that verdict continues to influence race relations. "O.J. Simpson: Endgame" also focuses on what role domestic violence played in the murder trial and how the case impacted the careers of those involved.
For 90 minutes on June 17, 1994, nearly 100 million people were transfixed bycruising down a Los Angeles Freeway.
Operator: 911. What are you reporting?
Al Cowlings: This is A.C. I have O.J. in the car.
F. LEE BAILEY | O.J. SIMPSON DEFENSE ATTORNEY: I watched the whole thing, helicopters, cameras on bridges.
Al Cowlings to 911: Right now we're all – we're OK, but you gotta tell the police to just back off. He's still alive, but he's got a gun to his head.
Orenthal James "O.J." Simpson, the football hero suspected of killing his ex-wife Nicole and her friend, Ron Goldman, was a fugitive with a death wish.
TOM LANGE | RETIRED LAPD DETECTIVE: I call. He picks up and I said, "O.J., this is Lange…"
Tom Lange call to Simpson in Bronco: Everybody loves you, don't do this.
O.J. Simpson: Ohhh…
TOM LANGE: My only concern is to get him to put the gun down.
O.J. Simpson: I'm the only one that deserves…
Lange: No you don't deserve that.
O.J. Simpson : …deserve to get hurt.
Tom Lange: You do not deserve to get hurt.
Simpson would lead police back to his Rockingham estate and give himself up.
SHEILA WELLER | AUTHOR, "RAGING HEART": And from that moment on, I think America was absolutely transfixed with this story.
Reporter: Prosecutors contend that Simpson butchered both his ex-wife and her friend Ronald Goldman.
It was a savage attack. Nicole Brown Simpson was nearly decapitated. Laying a few feet away was 25-year-old Ron Goldman, a waiter and aspiring actor, who was returning a pair of sunglasses to Nicole.
JAMES BROWN | CBS NEWS SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: How did you find out about the murders?
FRED GOLDMAN | RON GOLDMAN'S FATHER: My wife calling out, "Fred, Fred, the coroner is calling. … and she said, "Your son, (voice breaks) was murdered."
JAMES BROWN: What do you think happened?
FRED GOLDMAN: I think that Ron walked in on a murder in progress and paid the price for trying to help.
CARL DOUGLAS | SIMPSON DEFENSE ATTORNEY: There was a view of him … handcuffed. That was a view that shocked all of my people.
JAMES BROWN: Define the comment "my people."
CARL DOUGLAS: My people are people of … African American community in Los Angeles …And O.J. Simpson was an iconic figure… He was the Michael Jordan before Michael Jordan.
JOE BELL | O.J. SIMPSON CHILDHOOD FRIEND: …quickness, agility … He had this wiggle about him. You know when he carried the ball…
Joe Bell grew up with O.J. in the projects in one of the roughest neighborhoods in San Francisco and is writing a book about their friendship.
JOE BELL: It was like a cat. You know how you see a cat? And he jumps to side or he jumps up in the air. That's that kind of quickness.
Football was O.J.'s ticket out of the 'hood and into the limelight during a decade of tumultuous change. It was the 1960s; Black activism was at a fever pitch and some star track athletes were threatening to boycott the '68 Olympics.
O.J. Simpson [1968 interview]: What they think is right. I guess they must follow their beliefs. Well right now, I don't want to be involved in it because I am not in track. …I have no comment on the matter.
JOE BELL: …we knew that society as a whole would not accept you if you a member of the Black Panthers … if you were this social conscious person always spewing out black issues … and that meant that he was not socially conscious. He wanted to stay in that environment.
JAMES BROWN: Being embraced by?
JOE BELL: Whites.
HARRY EDWARDS | UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA BERKELEY PROFESSOR EMERITUS: O.J. was straightforward about it. He said, hey, I'm not black, I'm O.J. …I wanna be judged by the content of my character …Not by the color of my skin. I just want to be O.J.
HARRY EDWARDS: O.J. would run from racial issues faster than white folks would. … if you go back and look at the Hertz commercials that he did, O.J. was a safe Hertz endorsement personality… You saw elderly white women … but never so much … a black shoeshine boy saying, " Run, O.J., run." … Never.
SHEILA WELLER | AUTHOR: …self-made white guys around his age absolutely pinched themselves that O.J. wanted to be friends with -- with them. He was their hero.
Sheila Weller wrote the book "Raging Heart" about Nicole and O.J.'s relationship. They started dating when she was just 18; he was 29 years old and a married father of two.
SHEILA WELLER: He put her up in an apartment in the nice little area of Beverly Hills…
Eventually, O.J. divorced his first wife, Marguerite, and married Nicole. One-time friend and then- LAPD officer Ron Shipp was at their wedding.
RON SHIPP | FORMER LAPD OFFICER: At that time, I thought they had an ideal marriage.
JAMES BROWN: Loving couple?
RON SHIPP: Loving couple … She was a lot of fun.
TANYA BROWN | NICOLE BROWN SIMPSON'S SISTER: My sister was a hands-on mom.
Tanya Brown was Nicole's little sister. Nicole and O.J. would have two children together; daughter Sydney and son Justin.
TANYA BROWN: She would get the kids ready for school, she packed their lunch … I mean, I thought my sister had everything. She had a great husband.
But behind closed doors there were secrets…
SHEILA WELLER: …there was violence through the thread of their marriage. But it was hidden. She hid it. He hid it.
But it would all come to light New Year's Day 1989.
RON SHIPP: That night he had, you know, slapped her around.
Shipp, who has written "The Heart Behind the Badge," a book about his conversations with O.J. and Nicole, knew about domestic violence. He had taught other officers how to recognize the signs of abuse.
RON SHIPP: I'm not believing what I'm hearing. I mean, I believed 'cause she's got these bruises, but I'm like, "this can't be O.J."
JAMES BROWN: So Ron Shipp, what are you going through internally?
RON SHIPP: In my brain I'm like, he's a batterer.
Simpson pleaded no contest to misdemeanor battery. But he served no jail time. His punishment: two years probation, a fine and community service.
Three years later, he sat for an interview with ESPN host Roy Firestone to talk about the incident with his wife:
O.J. Simpson to Firestone: It really wasn't that big of a fight…
O.J. Simpson to Firestone: You know, the day after this was over you know, we looked at, say, you know, we had a fight, we were both guilty, No one was hurt, was no big deal and we got on with our life.
Several years after the incident, Nicole divorced Simpson, but the abuse didn't stop:
Dispatcher: 911 emergency…
Nicole Brown Simpson: Could you get someone over here now, to 325 Gretna Green. He's back. Please
Dispatcher: What does he look like?
Nicole Brown Simpson: He's O.J. Simpson. I think you know his record. Could you please send somebody over here?
Dispatcher: OK, just stay on the line.
Nicole Brown Simpson: I don't want to stay on the line. He's going to beat the s--- out of me.
SHEILA WELLER: She felt he was going to kill her. And she told people that and she wrote it in her diaries and she said it more than once.
Shipp says after Ron Goldman and Nicole were murdered, detectives asked O.J. to take a lie detector test. He refused.
RON SHIPP: I said, "Well why would you tell 'em no O.J.?" …and he goes, "Well, to be truthful Shipp," and he chuckled …"I've had dreams of killing her."
JAMES BROWN: Were you convinced in your mind then that he did it?
RON SHIPP: I was totally convinced.
O.J.'s dream would become Ron Shipp's nightmare. And soon, the stage was set for the trial everyone would be watching.
THE TRIAL OF THE CENTURY
Johnny Cochran | O.J. Simpson defense attorney [in court]: What they've done to our client is wrong! You cannot believe these people. You can't trust the message.
Marcia Clark: Prosecutor [in court]: There has never been a defendant in the history of this state … that has had everybody bend over backwards for him like this one has.
It's called the trial of the century. The jury judging O.J. Simpson would be sequestered for 9 months, with television cameras rolling on every moment of the legal drama.
Marcia Clark [in court]: Can you tell this jury where the defendant was between 9:35 and 11 pm, sir?
Kato Kaelin: No, I cannot.
Starring roles played by two prosecutors and a team of defense attorneys, some of the brightest and most expensive legal minds in the country, known as the "Dream Team."
F. LEE BAILEY |O.J. SIMPSON DEFENSE ATTORNEY: It was no dream at all …There was turmoil within the defense camp all the time and thank God Johnnie Cochran was very capable of keeping a lid on it.
CARL DOUGLAS: He was born to represent an O.J. Simpson because it brought in issues of police actions, issues of race.
Johnny Cochran knew that most of L.A.'s black community was still reeling from the horrific images of, a black man, beaten by white police officers.
JIM NEWTON | FORMER LOS ANGELES TIMES REPORTER: We had had the King beating. We had had a riot. The acquittal of the officers after the King beating …This notion … of a black person in conflict with the police department was so front [and] center … this clearly fit into that slot. That this was another black man bein' pursued by the LAPD.
And pursued with vigor because the victims were white.
SHAWN HOLLEY | SIMPSON DEFENSE ATTORNEY: I don't believe if this case had been about the murder of O.J .Simpson's first wife who was an African American woman … that it would have been covered on television. I think O.J. would have been out on bail and I think this would have been long ago forgotten.
SYLVESTER MONROE | WASHINGTON POST ASSISTANT FOREIGN EDITOR: He was accused of killing a white woman …In addition to his celebrity, that dynamic also elevated this trial … because here you have what was once the ultimate taboo in this country, a black man with a white woman.
SYLVESTER MONROE: At the time I was a correspondent for Time magazine in Los Angeles … We put O.J. Simpson on the cover … and the picture that they chose to put was his mug shot … and for "artistic" reasons somebody decided to darken O.J.
JAMES BROWN: What does that say about the mindset, the subconscious thinking on the part of those who opted to go with a darker image than his natural color?
SYLVESTER MONROE: You know, it's the pink elephant, the 800 pound gorilla, if you will, in the room, race is always there.
And it was in the courtroom where Fred Goldman had hoped to get justice for his son.
JAMES BROWN: Do you think that there was any chance that what got lost in that setting was the fact that there were two murders?
FRED GOLDMAN | RON GOLDMAN'S FATHER: The victims were lost. …It was more about race.
Goldman wasn't the only one worried; prosecutors noticed it too.
Prosecutor Marcia Clark [in court]: I can play the same game they're playing…
CARL DOUGLAS | SIMPSON DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Marcia Clark was a fighter … I certainly admired … her tenacity.
But notably, she wasn't prosecuting O.J. alone.
JAMES BROWN: Chris Darden?
CARL DOUGLAS: Chris was a fine lawyer, no doubt, but his first day in the courtroom was once we had a predominately African American jury that was seated there.
Both sides were keenly aware of how the jury would view the defendant O.J. Simpson.
JAMES BROWN: At a certain point, the defense team asked that the jury see O.J.'s Rockingham home. This has you all over it. [Douglas laughs] And the defense team did some, we'll say, redecorating of the Rockingham home before the jury got there.
CARL DOUGLAS: O.J. Simpson had a grand staircase going from the foyer up until the second floor … and there was a wall of pictures.
JAMES BROWN: That previously were?
CARL DOUGLAS: That previously were there of his Caucasian friends and colleagues. … if anyone was coming to your house … and you were on trial … you wanna make sure there's nothing there that might offend anyone in your case.
JAMES BROWN: Yeah, but Carl, but it wouldn't involve changing pictures of my white friends to put up black friends if that's contrary to who he was.
CARL DOUGLAS: Oh, JB, if you're on trial for murder and your lawyers want to do everything that they can to help you be found not guilty, I dare say your perspective would change, man… Marcia Clark looked at me and said, "Carl, you know damn well he didn't have all those black people on his wall" … and I said, "Marcia, how dare you accuse us of this." … And I dare say, it is something easy for people to look at in hindsight. Similar to playing the race card. …we played the evidence card, not the race card.
But it didn't feel that way to one-time O.J. friend Ron Shipp, who agreed to testify about their violent marriage after prosecutors showed him gruesome crime scene photos of Nicole.
Ron Shipp court testimony: I will not have the blood of Nicole on Ron Shipp.
Shipp was surprised when he looked at the jury.
RON SHIPP: …they looked like they hated me.
JAMES BROWN: Many in the black community considered you to be a traitor … How did that hit you?
RON SHIPP: It hit me really bad … I did hear a lot of different things as to why I shouldn't have done it.
JAMES BROWN: Such as?
RON SHIPP: One of the things I heard is all the-- going back to the slavery days, you know, all the things that we've gone through in this-- in this country that they felt that this O.J. Simpson thing should be a gift to us.
JAMES BROWN: Irrespective—
RON SHIPP: --meaning, give him a pass because of all the things we've gone through.
Former LAPD detective Tom Lange has written a book, "Evidence Dismissed," about all the evidence he says points to O.J.'s guilt.
TOM LANGE | LAPD DETECTIVE: O.J.'s blood is all over the Bundy, all over Rockingham, it's in the Bronco. And the only other type of blood we discover are of the two victims.
FRED GOLDMAN: My belief at the time was … that this is gonna be a slam dunk.
There would be more than 100 witnesses, but one would send shock waves across the nation.
Mark Furhman, the LAPD detective who went to O.J. Simpson's house after the murders and claimed to have found a bloody glove matching one found at the crime scene.
F. LEE BAILEY: I had one objective when I set out with Mark Fuhrman. I had to get him to lie… I knew that if I could get him to lie he was dead in the jury box.
F. Lee Bailey in court: And you say on your oath, that you have not addressed any black person as a n----- or spoken about black people as n----- in the past 10 years, Detective Fuhrman?
Mark Fuhrman: That's what I'm saying, sir.
The defense called witnesses who said just the opposite.
Second female witness: He said, the only good n----- is a dead n-----.
Mr. Hodge / Witness: Officer Fuhrman turned around, looked at me and told me, "I told you we'd get you, n-----.
Judge Lance Ito: Alright, Detective Fuhrman, would you resume the witness stand, please.
And with the LAPD's unsavory history with the black community, it wasn't too far of a leap for the defense to say that Fuhrman, the racist detective, had planted the bloody glove. When asked…
Mark Fuhrman: I assert my Fifth Amendment privilege.
And that bloody glove, and O.J. trying it on, was the defining moment of the trial.
FRED GOLDMAN: He was not trying to push his hand into it, he was doing this [gesturing] he never really made an effort to get that glove on … so the whole thing was a fiasco.
The botched demonstration would become the trial's made-for-TV moment. And Johnnie Cochran's closing argument would leave the jurors with seven memorable words: "If it doesn't fit you must acquit."
It took the jury less than four hours to reach a verdict:
"We the jury, in the above entitled action, find the defendant, Orenthal James Simpson not guilty of the crime of murder …"
SYLVESTER MONROE: What I saw was … White people on one side, black people on the other side. Elation on one side, anger and frustration and disappointment on the other side.
Every television station tuned in and the world watched it all happen live.and her audience were watching too. The reaction reflected the nation.
JIM NEWTON/FORMER LOS ANGELES TIMES REPORTER: I happened to be seated next to Fred Goldman and just … the sound of … crying still really rings in my ears.
TANYA BROWN | NICOLE BROWN SIMPSON'S SISTER: I looked at the deputy and I said, "Can I leave?" …I just wanted it to be over.
CARL DOUGLAS: People weren't cheering O.J. Simpson per se. But they were cheering that once, one time it seemed that the criminal justice system balanced in favor of a black person … tomorrow will be the same. Yesterday will be like it was. But one time, it seemed that the system balanced in favor of a black man, and still we Americans can't get past that.
Even O.J. understood just how important race was in his murder trial. Nine months after the verdict, he spoke to CBS News correspondent Bill Whitaker:
O.J. SIMPSON: I've accepted a long time ago that -- that a lot of the feeling that -- that we're getting right now has nothing to do with Ron, Nicole, or me. It has to do with things goin' on in people's own lives. And their animosities, their own prejudices have all come to the surface, you know durin' this case…
But the Goldman and Brown families were determined to make it about Ron and Nicole.
HAROLD DOW | "48 HOURS" CORRESPONDENT: What's it like to be O.J. Simpson today? Is it tough?
O.J. SIMPSON: It's the way it's always been, you know? I'm playin' better golf [laughs] ever played, I ain't got nothin' else to do. I know I'll never do commercials and stuff like that. All I'm trying to do is -- is be positive, be good to my friends … and be there for my kids.
Eight months after being acquitted of murder, the man once focused on sports and endorsements spoke with "48 Hours" correspondent Harold Dow about his new life and a new interest in a subject he previously avoided.
O.J. SIMPSON TO HAROLD DOW: People of color have been, in a sense, victimized for years with the legal system… And we were always told that that's the way it is … I do realize -- a lot of people look at me as some type of symbol now.
SYLVESTER MONROE | WASHINGTON POST ASSISTANT FOREIGN EDITOR: Here is this guy, wants nothing to do with race and after he was acquitted, he's walking around in Dashikis and -- all of the sudden O.J. is black again. But I think part of that was his need to have the spotlight.
RON SHIPP: The fact that he was …totally, "Brothers, I'm here. I'm with you," and -- and everybody fell for it, I couldn't believe it.
However, others in O.J.'s social circle were giving him the cold shoulder.
JIM NEWTON: It felt like a guy who'd built this -- a sort of beautiful life that people admired … it all kind of withered away.
The reality was O.J. had to make a living and try to repair his reputation. His ill-conceived solution: offer up his thoughts on the trial— for a price in a mail-order videotape: 1-800 O-J-TELLS :
O.J.Simpson on videotape walking up the stairs of his house]: As I come up my stairs, white carpeting all the way, banister, they checked everything and no blood."
O.J.Simpson on videotape: That's all I wanna do, provide for the -- my family, my kids, and give me the opportunity and a fair shake to say what I need to say.
The Goldman and Brown families also wanted their say and filed a civil suit against Simpson, charging that he was responsible for the murders.
FRED GOLDMAN: We had to find some way to get the justice that we felt Ron deserved.
O.J. SIMPSON TO CBS NEWS' BILL WHITAKER: The best part about the civil case is – in -- in many ways, I think I'll get vindicated.
The prospect of another trial didn't seem to faze Simpson.
O.J. SIMPSON: You're gonna see more truths come out in this case. I look forward to it.
BILL WHITAKER | CBS NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Are you ready to take the stand … this time?
O.J. SIMPSON: Oh -- yeah, I can't wait. …You can't keep me off that stand.
O.J. Simpson deposition: Can we take break -- Jesus Christ… [exasperated, takes off microphone]
JAMES BROWN: There were a number of days of depositions with O.J. Simpson. … What was hoping to be accomplished?
FRED GOLDMAN: The whole reason for the depositions was getting him to state one thing and then find that the evidence contradicted him.
Lawyer at deposition: You never struck her with your hands, correct?
O.J. Simpson: I never punched her, yes.
Lawyer: You ever strike her?
O.J. Simpson: No.
LAWYER: Did you ever hurt her?
O.J. Simpson: Yes.
While the civil trial was going on, Simpson fought for, and won, custody of Sydney and Justin, then 11 and 8 years old. They had been living with Nicole's family.
TANYA BROWN: The kids were taken away from us on Christmas Eve. …That was really awful.
Any good news for O.J. quickly faded when the civil verdict was announced, finding Simpson liable for the deaths.
CARL DOUGLAS: They had a predominantly white jury. … I have to believe that the energizer in that verdict was not only race, but the fact that O. J. Simpson had been found not guilty in the criminal case.
Fred Goldman to reporters: Our family is grateful for a verdict of responsibility.
JAMES BROWN: When the verdict did come down, what were you thinking then?
FRED GOLDMAN [Emotional]: Finally, Ron got some justice. Ron and Nicole got some justice.
TANYA BROWN: I remember taking a picture with the family. And somehow we were all kinda smiling … Like, OK, great, there's responsibility, there's a consequence." But it's, like, "OK, but still, we're a grieving family."
The verdict did come with an award for the Brown and Goldman families -- more than $33 million in damages, to be paid by Simpson.
JAMES BROWN: Did you think that O.J. would ever pay?
FRED GOLDMAN: Never thought twice about it … It was all about getting the court to hold him responsible.
JAMES BROWN: Has anything been paid to the Goldman's?
FRED GOLDMAN: He never paid one single penny, anything that we received we got by taking it away from him. …Every time we took something away from him, it was about getting a piece of justice.
For Simpson, it was back to playing golf and trying, to lead a normal life. He moved to Florida, but trouble still followed, including an arrest relating to road rage – a charge he would beat.
JAMES BROWN: You of the belief that O. J. would have laid low?
CARL DOUGLAS: The O.J. Simpson that I came to know would never lay low … He wasn't about to hide. He wasn't afraid.
That fearlessness included making a much ridiculed rap music video.
While O.J. was drawing attention for the wrong reasons, the supporting players from the murder trial were basking in the spotlight.
LILI ANOLIK | VANITY FAIR CONTRIBUTING EDITOR: The trial was a reality show. The first and the best. And I see the Bronco chase as, like, the pilot episode. It's what got everybody hooked. And a lot of them tried to actually parlay this into a reality TV show career. Kato Kaelin most notably -- that infamous houseguest of O.J.'s.
KATO KAELIN: Larry King had once said that, "Kato, you are the first reality star."
KATO KAELIN: Little did I know that I'd be discovered and famous in, like, the wrong way.
LILI ANOLIK: So if the O.J. Simpson case was the daddy of reality TV, it was also the baby daddy. …Most obviously the Kardashians, of course.
SYLVESTER MONROE: I do not believe that there would be a… there would be this phenomenon if their dad had not been a member of O.J. Simpson's dream team of - lawyers.
O.J.'s own entrepreneurial ventures continued to raise eyebrows -- especially writing a book titled, "If I Did It."
SYLVESTER MONROE: Why in the world if you are acquitted of a murder would you write a book, the title of which, "If I had done it, here's the way I would've done it?" That makes absolutely no sense.
FRED GOLDMAN: Ultimately we were awarded the rights to the book.
JAMES BROWN: By the court?
FRED GOLDMAN: By the court. … So our choice was to publish it ourselves. … It read more like a confession than a pretend book. He put himself at the scene. He put himself covered in blood.
RON SHIPP: I think O.J. got away with so much that he really actually thought he was a god, that he couldn't be touched. …And he went one step too far. He went to Las Vegas.
TROUBLE IN VEGAS
What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, unless, of course, you're O.J. Simpson -- in which case the world hears about it.
Jeff Glor | CBS News report:: Police say that O.J. Simpson, joined by armed men, stormed a room and stole sports collectibles…
This time around, September 2007, O.J. was dealt a different hand. Simpson had heard a dealer was hawking his memorabilia and family photos. Ironically, there was value in an O.J. that didn't exist anymore.
YALE GALANTER | SIMPSON DEFENSE ATTORNEY: And he went over there with the five or six guys that he went with.
O.J. would later say he "just wanted his stuff back," but soon things got hot. Hotel cameras caught images and one of Simpson's associates recorded a raging O.J. that would come back to haunt him.
O.J. SIMPSON RECORDING: Motherf---r, you think you can steal my s---? Look at this s---!
JAMES BROWN: So what did you think when you saw the … footage of him walking through … the casino?
FRED GOLDMAN: It's kinda like, "There he goes again."
JOE BELL: I was like oh, no. No, O.J. No!
TANYA BROWN: [Laughs] I was, like … "Are you stupid?"
F. LEE BAILEY: And then the hammers came down.
Came down hard, in part, because some in O.J.'s crew were packing pistols.
O.J. Simpson [audio]: Don't let nobody out of this room, mother-----s.
For the botched robbery Simpson was charged with 12 counts, from assault with a deadly weapon to kidnapping.
Then, 13 years to the day since O.J. Simpson was acquitted for the murders of Ron and Nicole, a very different courtroom heard a very different verdict: guilty.
Judge Jackie Glass sentenced Simpson to the max: nine to 33 years in prison.
Judge Glass: "I have to tell you, now, it was much more than stupidity…"
CARL DOUGLAS: Thirty-three years in jail. That echoed the $33.5 million verdict in the civil case.
JAMES BROWN: Was it symbolic?
CARL DOUGLAS: It was payback.
OZZIE FUMO: Payback is a bitch.
Judge Glass denies it was payback, and says the sentence was appropriate for the seriousness of the crimes. Top Las Vegas attorney Ozzie Fumo would handle the appeal in Nevada.
JAMES BROWN: So, what raised the case to the level that it did? Was it because of … the presence of a firearm?
OZZIE FUMO: Mr. Simpson told me he never saw a firearm. .. But let's be real, J.B. If you and I had gone … to collect my things and you were just with me, you and I would've gotten probation.
SYLVESTER MONROE: Thirty-three years? I've seen people kill people and not get 33 years.
In the isolated high desert of Nevada, "No. 32" got another number: inmate 1027820. By all accounts, O.J. was a model prisoner with no infractions. Yet, where some see a stone-cold killer finally paying a price …
FRED GOLDMAN: He's an abuser. He's a murderer. People like that belong in jail.
…others see a symbol of inequality.
JOE BELL: White justice.
JAMES BROWN: White justice meaning?
JOE BELL: Meaning that white people were gonna get him. If he ever put his self in a position for them to get back at him, they were gonna do it.
While Simpson was kept off the streets, for almost a decade, America witnessed tensions between police and the black community become painfully raw, spilling onto the streets again and again from the sidewalks of New York City to the streets of … from Saint Paul, Minnesota, to Ferguson and .
DR. HARRY EDWARDS: Officer Wilson, who killed Mike Brown, did no time. … You have the police officers who -- were responsible for the death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice. No time. …no conviction for murder.
It all seemed to validate a distrust of the system -- the same distrust that the O.J. Simpson jury showed decades ago in Los Angeles.
JAMES BROWN: Has there been any substantive progress?
SYLVESTER MONROE: An African American president of the United States. That is huge, huge progress that no one can deny … but … There is still this great suspicion and mistrust between the black community and police departments across this country.
JAMES BROWN: Any light at the end of the tunnel in your mind?
SYLVESTER MONROE: I can barely see the tunnel, let alone the light.
It's the feeling of frustration, at the heart of the NFL players' protest. Once again a nation is divided by issues that seem rooted in race.
After almost nine years locked up, a 70-year-old O.J. Simpson was eligible for parole.
O.J.Simpson [to parole board]: Trust me, I wish it would never have happened…
Even as he pleaded for his freedom, Simpson could not avoid controversy:
O.J. Simpson: I've always thought I --I've been pretty good with people, and ,uh I've -- basically it's been a conflict-free life.
FRED GOLDMAN: Outrageous. … he had beaten Nicole up. …What about those conflicts?
Then came the most basic of human emotions -- a child pleading for the father she still loves.
Arnelle Simpson [at parole hearing]: I am Arnelle Simpson, I am my dad's oldest child.
Arnelle Simpson [at parole hearing]: We want him to come home.
Tony Corda | Nevada Parole Board commissioner: My vote is toeffective when eligible.
Connie Bisbee | Nevada Parole Board chairman: Mr. Simpson, I do vote to grand parole when eligible. And that will conclude this hearing.
O.J. Simpson: Thank you. Thank you [crying].
WHEN O.J. WALKS FREE
Some half a million inmates will be released from our state prisons in 2017. None will be met by the spotlight, and curiosity that will greet O.J Simpson. Will the man so many still consider a killer slip into the shadows, and live out his days quietly? We know that the national conversation about race and the criminal justice system remains center stage. It is America's endless refrain, a nation's unfinished business. When will race no longer measure and divide us?
JAMES BROWN: So why is there still … a fascination associated with … O.J. at this point in 2017?
SYLVESTER MONROE: Because it reflects where we still are today on matters of race.
O.J. Simpson, soon to be a free man, hopes to return to Florida, where he was living before he was busted in Las Vegas.
OZZIE FUMO: The house in Florida is gone. …They lost that to foreclosure. … I'm sure Arnelle and the kids are gonna want him to be with them. But the parole officer is gonna have to authorize that and approve wherever he goes.
CARL DOUGLAS: He's gonna have a challenge. And I hope he understands and accepts it.
SYLVESTER MONROE: He'll be trying to cash in one way or another.
JOE BELL: He's got his NFL retirement. … So he's not a pauper. He's got money.
Legally, money the Goldman and Brown families can't touch.
FRED GOLDMAN: I think it's only a matter of time before he gets himself back in trouble.
JAMES BROWN: Do you hope you're done with all things O.J. Simpson?
FRED GOLDMAN: I would love to think I'm done, but … If he thinks he's getting out of jail and he's gonna walk free without us chasin' him around, he's wrong.
All things O.J. seem to go on and on. LAPD Detective Barry Telis is assigned to investigate the officially unsolved murder of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman.
BARRY TELIS: This case, the O.J. Simpson case … is considered open. … If information comes in that we need to investigate, we'll do that.
TANYA BROWN: Oh, I had no idea …I don't want it open again, it's like I don't wanna go through all that crap again if something new comes up. It's like let it rest. It's not gonna change anything. Nothing is gonna bring my sister back.
JOE BELL: Under no circumstances do I think he committed that murder.
The human tragedy continues. Sydney, now 31, and Justin, 29, were just children when their mother was murdered. The Brown family is still in touch with the kids.
TANYA BROWN: They're a sister and a brother. And they'll always have each other. And I'm very, very proud of them. I'm really proud of them. [cries] 'cause it couldn't have been easy. … She's left quite a legacy.
Including Tanya Brown's book, "The Seven Characters of Abuse: Domestic Violence: Where It Starts & Where It Can End," that put a spotlight on violence against women.
TANYA BROWN: But I'd much rather have my sister back than educate on domestic violence.
When Simpson walks free, America will once again tune in, feeding on what's become our national diet.
HARRY EDWARDS: Race, money, celebrity. …it's about us as a society and as a people and as a nation.
JAMES BROWN: How do you honor your son?
FRED GOLDMAN: I hope [very emotional] I honor my -- I hope I honor my son every day by trying to … make sure people remember who he was and try to live our lives as he would. …Those two people are what it was all about.
TANYA BROWN: I don't have my sister … but she's very much alive in my home, in my mom's home, in my heart. …And I think … Don't bury your loved one. Don't take 'em off the wall. Don't sell their clothes. Don't put pictures in the drawers. Keep 'em -- keep 'em alive.