CRIME: O.J. Simpson: End of the Run

As America watched, O.J. Simpson was transformed from hero to suicidal fugitive to accused murderer

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The swat team weighed the standard choices. They could use tear gas. They could wait until O.J. fell asleep. They could divert him with flash grenades and then move in to grab him. Or they could try to talk him out. What they wanted to avoid at all costs was what they called "suicide by cop," when a cornered suspect comes out with a gun drawn and forces police to shoot him.

O.J. kept talking by phone to negotiator Pete Weireter about his successes and disappointments, about his demands. Your children need you, Weireter said, be cool, just relax. O.J. wanted to talk to his mother, who had been checked into a San Francisco hospital for stress. Pete said he could once he was inside. Call her; use the bathroom; get something to drink. O.J. wanted to be able to walk into his house. The cops promised not to tackle him. He wanted . . .

The phone battery went dead. Albanese yelled from the doorway that they would get another one; it would just take a few minutes. When they finally found one Cowling passed it along, and the talking began again -- about O.J.'s kids and how much he loved them, about his wife. Finally Simpson said he wanted to come in.

"You'll have to come to us," said Albanese. Simpson said he was carrying two family pictures. Albanese alerted the snipers that those were not weapons in his hands. Slowly O.J. extended one arm from the truck. He seemed to step out and then step back in. "You've got to come to us," Albanese called out. Finally O.J. emerged, clutching the pictures. When he reached the door of the house he collapsed into the arms of the officers, looking terribly sad and tired. They took him gently into the living room, gave him some orange juice and waited while he talked to his mother.

"O.K., are you ready? We need to take you out," they said after a few minutes. They put the handcuffs on him and led Simpson outside. "I'm sorry, you guys," O.J. kept saying. "I'm sorry."

It was terrible to watch and impossible not to. That was the nature of the entire week, as America stopped its traffic to watch each clue scrape away another layer of the mystery. Where the facts were missing, the suspicions sufficed to keep the audience fed. When there was nothing new to report, the reporters interviewed each other, covering the coverage and defending themselves against accusations that they had already put Simpson on trial for murdering his ex-wife Nicole and her friend Ron Goldman before he had even been charged.

Hearsay was not just admissible; it was broadcast live. Of course he did it -- he had beaten her before, he was high on coke, he had gone into a jealous rage; of course he didn't do it -- he loved her too much, he was incapable of such savagery, he had an airtight alibi. Maybe he could have done it, but surely he would have been smarter, hired someone else and not left a trail behind.

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