The time to question O.J. Simpson was not during a Fox TV interview to promote a book. Put aside that publisher Judith Regan has no experience interrogating murder suspects. She still missed by 12 years the perfect time when almost anyone could have gotten a confession from Simpson.
The time to question him was five days after the murders, when he stepped out of a white Bronco in possession of the gun he had been pointing at his head, a silly wig, nearly $10,000 in cash and his passport. He was distraught, fearful, looking for sympathy and a sitting duck for a questioner with any skill. A confession was waiting to burst out to a sympathetic listener.
But under Miranda rules invented by the Supreme Court in 1966, detectives were not permitted to ask Simpson a single question, not even, “How was the ride?”
Simpson, like every other criminal suspect since 1966, was handed a remote control with a mute button that put a permanent gag order on cops’ questions.
In the years shortly following Miranda, I was a homicide prosecutor and investigator, and taught and published about interrogation and cross-examination. I witnessed firsthand the lawlessness that the new rules encouraged. An appalling message was sent across the land when murderers accepted they no longer had to answer questions.
As Justice Byron White predicted in his 1966 dissent, Miranda’s “next victims are as yet unborn.”
Since 1966, the dramatic rise in the rate of unsolved murders in the United States became a trend. Who killed Robert Blake’s wife? Who tortured and killed little JonBenet Ramsey? Who killed Chandra Levy in a secluded park in Washington, D.C.?
When terrorist Timothy McVeigh was pulled over on a highway shortly after the Oklahoma City bombing, he was driving an old, unregistered car without a license plate. During that traffic stop, the cop saw a gun on the front seat. Who drives a car without tags and leaves a gun in plain sight? He was arrested on a gun and traffic charge.
A few hours later, police realized they might have the Oklahoma City bomber in custody. McVeigh was a self-righteous zealot, a fanatic with a message on the tip of his tongue. But no cop could ask McVeigh a single question to tap that emotional geyser. Inside McVeigh was a virulent confession waiting to burst out — including the identity of John Doe Number Two.
What impotence before our friends and enemies in the world. Not Canada, England, Israel nor any other nation has had rules that mute detectives.
When Yitzak Rabin was murdered by a gunman, Israeli investigators asked questions, got answers, and within a week had arrested all six in the gunman’s support system. All were convicted of murder.
Did the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassin, James Earl Ray, have supporters behind the scene? Where did a local burglar like Ray get the know-how to flee to Canada, London and Portugal?
Did Bobby Kennedy’s assassin, Sirhan Sirhan, have terrorist encouragement behind the scene? These were 1968 murders, two years too late for detectives to find out as they might have before Miranda.
While it was a good first step for Fox News to cancel its O.J. Simpson show, Fox should atone by making available online the book, and the writer’s interview notes and tapes, and the TV interview.
Miranda doesn’t apply to civil cases, where every defendant is forced to sit for a deposition and answer questions under oath. Fox’s raw material could be compared to Simpson’s deposition in the victims’ families’ civil case.
Although a long shot, a felony conviction for perjury committed during a civil deposition is a more satisfying vision than O.J. Simpson on a golf cart.
Charles Brandt, a former Delaware chief deputy attorney general, lives in Lewes and Sun Valley, Idaho.