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The Goldmans on their pursuit of OJ Simpson: We were called racist for not agreeing with the verdict

Nearly 25 years after his murder alongside Nicole Brown Simpson, Ron Goldman remains one of the worlds most famous innocent bystanders. As the man they call the killer is granted parole, Goldmans father and sister explain why they are ready to start fighting all over again

Ron Goldman put up a fight before he was murdered on that much everyone agrees. On 13 June 1994, the young waiter was found slumped against a gate, a few feet away from the body of OJ Simpsons ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson. Now, 23 years on, he remains one of the most famous innocent bystanders of all time. Goldman had gone to Brown Simpsons house to drop off a pair of sunglasses her mother had left at the restaurant where he worked; he arrived either during the murder of Brown Simpson or immediately after. Instead of fleeing, he went towards her.

That is when the killer attacked him. Goldman, 25, had always looked after himself worked out, ate right but the body of which he had been proud was so brutalised during his killing he was stabbed more than two dozen times that when photos of it were shown in court jurors cried, gagged and fled the courtroom; Judge Lance Ito had to call a recess. The Simpson trial remains one of the most divisive cases in US history, but on two matters the defence and the prosecution agreed: Goldman fought desperately for his life and his death was terrifying, protracted and brutal.

If his killer was surprised by how much of a fight Goldman put up, then Simpson has been similarly taken aback by the tenacity of the Goldman family. Rons father, Fred, and his younger sister, Kim, attended almost every day of the murder trial in 1995 and their devastated expressions were a constant reminder of the human cost of a case that quickly became about everything race, celebrity, the Los Angeles police department, the US but the murders themselves. When the jury declared Simpson not guilty, prompting a wail of despair from Kim audible to the 150 million Americans (57% of the population) watching on TV, she and Fred set out to find justice. They filed a wrongful-death civil suit against Simpson; he was found responsible for the murders of Ron and Brown Simpson and ordered to pay their families $33.5m. Simpson claimed he was bankrupt, so the Goldmans have been pursuing him indefatigably for his assets ever since.

Ronald
He was happy-go-lucky, the clown in the room … Fred Goldman on Ron Goldman in 1991. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

They have seized, among other things, the rights to Simpsons notorious book, If I Did It, in which he describes hypothetically how he would have killed Ron and Brown Simpson. Simpsons original publishers dropped it after a public backlash, but the Goldmans decided to publish it themselves, considering it Simpsons long-overdue confession. They have said repeatedly that they do not care about the money and that they have recouped less than 1% of it. But they want to ensure that the man they insist killed Ron will be looking over his shoulder for the rest of his life. (The Brown family has been much less aggressive with Simpson, at least partly for the sake of the two children Brown Simpson had with him.)

Simpson used state and federal laws to evade his financial obligations to the Goldmans, moving to Florida, where state laws prevented the Goldmans from taking his home. But even legendary athletes can run only for so long. In 2008, he was convicted of multiple felonies after he stole sports memorabilia from a collector in a Las Vegas hotel room. In recordings made before the robbery, Simpson referred to the Goldmans as the gold-diggers and said he did not want to commit the crime in California, because state laws meant the Goldmans would be able to seize the mementos. On 3 October 2008, 13 years to the day after he was acquitted of double murder, he was found guilty and sentenced to 33 years incarceration.

We feel very strongly that, because of our pursuit of him for all these years, it did drive him to this, Kim told reporters after the sentencing. When asked how she would feel when Simpson came up for parole in nine years, she replied: Well be there, waiting and watching.

***

It is 20 July 2017 and Fred is in a hotel room in midtown Manhattan, New York. The TV is tuned to a 24-hour news channel. Suddenly, an egg-timer appears on screen, counting down the hours to Simpsons parole hearing, which will, of course, be televised. Coming soon: OJs hearing, where well hear from OJ himself! says the presenter. Fred turns off the TV. The moustache, curled at the ends, that became a familiar sight during the murder trial in 1995 is a little sparser these days. Dressed in a Hawaiian shirt and jeans, a Star of David necklace resting against his broad chest and hearing aids hooked over his ears, Fred, 76, looks like a typical Jewish-American grandfather. He has the warm demeanour to match, but today his face is furrowed with anxiety. He did not sleep well last night of course. When I ask how he is feeling, he considers the question carefully. Im gonna say apprehensive, he replies.

Fred
Nothing ever takes away from the grief … the Goldmans today. Photograph: Tim Knox for the Guardian

His daughter, Kim, 45, comes in from her room across the hall. Where her father is solemn, she is edgy. Im preparing myself for what I believe is going to be a release, Kim says. Her voice is calm, but her hands are tightly wrung together. She looks a little like Celine Dion, but, with her long face, deep-set eyes and narrow nose, the person she really resembles is her brother. It is a sunny day outside, but the mood in the room is claustrophobic and gloomy. How will they feel if the man they are certain killed Ron is on the streets again?

They are silent for a few seconds.

Were gonna go after him the way we did in the preceding years, before he went to jail. Unless we honour the judgment, hes never gonna be punished, says Fred.

Do they really feel that way?

Oh, absolutely, he says, his voice getting stronger. Thats the punishment. So were gonna try to make sure the killer is punished. The Goldmans never utter Simpsons name. He is always the killer.

Americans feelings about Simpson during and immediately after the murder trial were divided notoriously along race lines: most African Americans thought he was innocent; most Caucasians thought otherwise. Today, the vast majority of people, whatever their race, take his guilt as a given. The loss of the publics love must be crushing for the deeply narcissistic and needy Simpson. Do the Goldmans find some vindication in that?

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There will still be people who will seek him out for pictures … a man celebrates Simpsons acquittal in 1995. Photograph: Eric Draper/AP

There will still be people who will seek him out for pictures. He wasnt as ostracised from society [after the murder trial] as I thought he would be, says Kim.

There was always someone who would play golf with him and there still will be, agrees Fred.

Despite the change in attitude about Simpson, both Goldmans Kim especially have been harassed and abused, online and offline.

I get called all sorts of names antisemitic, racist, sexual things. I ignore most of it, Kim says.

Report it all, her father says, anxiously.

This abuse gets worse when Simpson is back in the spotlight, as with todays parole hearing and last years high-profile re-examinations of the case, the schlockily compulsive TV series The People v OJ Simpson: American Crime Story and the majestic documentary film OJ: Made in America. Although he appears in the latter, Fred avoided watching both: neither said anything he did not already know and both reduced his son to a bit part. Kim watched some of The People v OJ Simpson, which she thought was gross.

I ask if it helps that Rons murder remains infamous. Look, I feel very … fortunate isnt the right word, but honoured that people know who my brother is. But you dont ever get a moments break from it and it is always so weird to see Rons picture on TV and to think: Oh, this is us. This is actually us, you know? You never get used to it, Kim says.

***

Fred raised Ron and Kim on his own in Illinois, after his divorce from their mother. The three musketeers, Fred says, an old family joke. Kim was always the studious one, whereas Ron was more of a free spirit, Kim says. He was happy-go-lucky, the clown in the room.

He didnt fit into a mould, they say, in near-perfect synchronicity.

They were the kind of family who shared everything. Ron would talk about his girlfriends with his father and sister; when he was planning to open his own bar, he asked his father for help with a new business. Fred agreed instantaneously without even asking what the business was, but Ron died before he could show his father the plans. There has long been a tabloid insinuation that Ron and Brown Simpson were sleeping together, although there has never been any evidence of this. Ron was always pretty open about who he was dating. Im sure he would have said something if they were, says Fred.

Today, Fred lives in Arizona and works in real estate, while Kim, who has a 13-year-old son, lives in California and runs a non-profit organisation that provides counselling for teenagers. The closeness that people saw between them during the murder trial is still there: Fred rubs Kims shoulders when she talks about difficult subjects; she swats his knee fondly when he gets dates mixed up.

I ask what they find harder: Rons absence from their tight-knit family or the brutal way in which he died.

I know how Ron died, but Ive never seen the pictures, says Kim.

Was she not in court when the photos were shown?

I was, but the photos were facing the jurors, so I just watched their reactions to them, which was surreal. I know how vicious it was and I know he died with his eyes open, she says, looking down.

I constantly think how I didnt get to share all the things I wanted to with Ron, like him getting married, having kids, says Fred. These thoughts, theyre always there. Always, always, always. He starts to cry.

Judge
There were all these things going on in the courtroom that he allowed to happen … Judge Lance Ito, whom the Goldmans hold partly responsible for the not guilty verdict in the murder trial. Photograph: Lee Celano/WireImage

The Goldmans barely knew who Simpson was when they learned he was accused of killing Ron. Fred vaguely recognised his name (I was never a sports fan), Kim not even that. What they saw of him in court repulsed them: his cocky jokes with his lawyers, his arrogant expressions. He used to stare at Kim and, during the civil trial, eye her up and down. At other points, Fred says, he would make hand gestures at young women in court, like he was grabbing their backsides.

That is who he is. He is a pig who belittles women, says Fred, full of disgust.

After an 11-month-long trial, the mostly African American jury spent fewer than four hours deliberating before declaring Simpson not guilty. In OJ: Made in America, one of the jurors, Carrie Bess, said that probably 90% of [the jury], including herself, saw this as payback for the Rodney King case in 1992, when four white LAPD officers were found not guilty of using excessive force on King, who was African American, despite video evidence. How does hearing such things make the Goldmans feel?

The same way I felt [in 1995]. My dad and I were called racist for not agreeing with the verdict. But we disagreed with the verdict not because the jury was black, but because they didnt do what they were ordered to by the judge, which was to look at the evidence. They told us they stopped listening at some point during the prosecutors case. I didnt think theyd fall for all the race stuff, says Kim.

But the Goldmans hold the judge more responsible for the verdict than the jury.

Johnnie Cochran [Simpsons lawyer] wore an African motif tie and pocket square every day a very subtle message. But we werent allowed to wear pins with Rons face on them. So there were all these things going on in the courtroom that he allowed to happen, says Fred.

Do they think Simpson got such a long sentence for the robbery as payback for being found not guilty for the murders? Deep down, maybe, and thats fine, says Kim. In other cases, my dad and I are able to see the inequities in the system. But here I reserve the right to be hypocritical in my thinking.

Its personal here, adds Fred.

There is an appealing straight-talking candour to the Goldmans; they are smart, self-aware and open. But I wonder if they are hurting or helping themselves by making Simpson such a focus in their lives; their relentless pursuit of him is a kind of life sentence for them. They have always given short shrift to the idea of forgiveness Kims memoir is called Cant Forgive but could they contemplate cutting him out of their lives?

We dont get that choice. The way social media is, the 24-hour news cycle, the pop culture there isnt a way to opt out, says Kim.

The late-night comics will make a zinger about him. Its out there all the time, adds Fred.

Look, its not like I walk around with anger in my life. I live my life in a way that works for me, that doesnt make me abusive to myself or addicted to drugs. I have an amount of anger that I think is appropriate and Ive learned how to manage it, Kim adds.

Perhaps the most unavoidable and unlikely legacy of the murder trial is the Kardashian family. The late Robert Kardashian, the father of Kourtney, Kim and Khloe, was Simpsons best friend and a public supporter. It must be weird for Fred and Kim to see that name on every newsstand now, I say, and to think how few of the Kardashians fans know about their connection to Ron.

I dont make that connection. Kim Kardashian is famous because of a sex tape, says Kim.

But she got a boost because of her name, Fred replies, making a nothing-surprises-me-any-more shrug.

***

OJ
He is a pig who belittles women … Ron Goldman on OJ Simpson, who was granted parole last week after serving nine years of a 33-year sentence for armed robbery and kidnapping. Photograph: Jason Bean/Getty Images

It is almost time for the hearing. The Goldmans want to see on their own, so I go around the corner to watch it in a bar. As the news presenter promised, Simpson does indeed speak. It is remarkable how little he has changed over years. He is 70 now; if he is still almost as handsome as he was, he is also just as shifty. If I Did It is an astonishing insight into the mind of a man who has never taken responsibility for his actions. When writing about the time in 1989 when he beat Brown Simpson so badly that she required hospitalisation, Simpson says: Its possible she hurt herself. On what he calls the night in question, Simpson claims that a person called Charlie, who had never been mentioned anywhere before, persuaded him to go to Brown Simpsons house and then handed him the knife. Today, at the parole hearing, he insists other people got him into trouble during the burglary and that he led a conflict-free life. As predicted, he is granted parole. I head back to the Goldmans hotel.

The atmosphere in the room is completely different now. The gloom from earlier is cut through with white-hot anger. It feels, to be honest, like a relief or at least a release.

Fred is taking apart Simpsons testimony line by line. On one of the tapes, the killer said was he was getting back his stuff to keep it away from the Goldmans, which is totally different from: I was just getting my stuff, which is what he told the parole board, he says, his voice firmer than before, as though he is taking strength from having a focus.

I ask if the anger is a distraction from the sadness. Fred and Kim shake their heads firmly.

Nothing ever takes away from the grief. You have a situation like this and it just adds to the feelings, Fred says.

How did it feel to see Simpson again?

The same. When I look at him, I think: That was my brothers last view, Kim says.

She had planned to visit Simpson in prison at one point, but decided against it when his lawyer imposed various restrictions on her, including that she would have to deny it had happened.

It was important for me to see him in jail, to see him small. He had taken up so much space in my life; I just wanted to shrink him, Kim says.

I couldnt grasp why she wanted to be near him. Nothing he could say to me would ever matter, says Fred.

I ask him if he ever has fantasies about confronting Simpson.

No. You can have all these thoughts about wanting to blow his brains out, but thats just a moment of fantasy. The reality is youd never do it, because thats not who we are, he says.

I tell them I think the way they went after him was more effective after all, their pursuit of Simpson arguably drove him to commit the robbery that sent him to prison.

Fred shrugs.

Well, hell be out again, he says with a heavy sigh, and well start the process all over again.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jul/24/ron-goldman-pursuit-oj-simpson

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