Police are checking knife for link to Simpson case

(L-r) John Travolta as Robert Shapiro, David Schwimmer as Robert Kardashian and Cuba Gooding Jr. as O.J. Simpson in "The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story." CREDIT: Ray Mickshaw, FX

The Los Angeles Police Department confirmed the existence of a knife found years ago on the Brentwood property that once belonged to former NFL star O.J. Simpson, who in 1995 was acquitted in the stabbing death of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman. The announcement sparked a fresh wave of interest in the case, but the discovery likely will have little legal ramification.

Capt. Andrew Neiman, an LAPD media relations officer, said during a news conference that investigators became aware of the knife in February after a retired officer brought it to their attention. Neiman would not describe the knife or where it was found on the property, citing an investigation by the department’s open-case team.

“We need to determine if it’s evidence,” he said. “If it’s not, how do we prove one way or another that it’s not?”

TMZ, which first reported the knife’s existence Friday morning, said it was discovered by a construction worker at the former Simpson property at some point in the past, anywhere from several years ago to 1998, when the house was demolished by its next owner. The construction worker gave the knife to an off-duty LAPD officer who was working security in the vicinity of the house. The officer, whom Neiman said worked in the LAPD Traffic Division and retired in the late 1990s, kept it until last month, when he turned it over to LAPD investigators.

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Neiman confirmed that the department has begun testing the knife for hair, fingerprints, DNA and other biological evidence. Neiman said it’s possible for investigators to find DNA evidence years after a crime. “We’re hopeful,” he said.

Early on the morning of June 13, 1994, Nicole Simpson and Goldman were found dead from multiple stab wounds outside O.J. Simpson’s condo in Brentwood. Nicole Simpson was nearly decapitated and had defensive wounds on her hands. Quickly identified as a suspect, O.J. Simpson surrendered to police four days later at his Brentwood mansion after a slow-speed highway chase that was televised to millions on television.

A jury found Simpson not guilty in 1995 in what was dubbed the “Trial of the Century,” during which no weapon was introduced as evidence.

Even if the newly discovered knife ends up being relevant, legal experts said there are practically no criminal consequences for Simpson. The LAPD will investigate it, however, because it considers the Simpson-Goldman slayings an open case.

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“Because of double jeopardy, even if O.J. Simpson and the victims’ DNA was found on this knife, he can’t be charged” in the murders, Peter Arenella, a UCLA law professor, said.

After he was acquitted, Simpson was found liable for Goldman’s death in a 1997 civil suit and was ordered to pay Goldman’s family $33.5 million in damages.

In 2008, Simpson was found guilty of kidnapping and armed robbery charges in Nevada in an incident involving sports memorabilia. He is serving a 33-year prison sentence and is eligible for parole next year.

Simpson never testified during his murder trial, so a perjury charge wouldn’t be an option, nor does he face any tort liability, since a civil jury has already found him financially responsible, Arnella said.

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Assuming prosecutors could prove that the knife was the murder weapon and then establish “a chain of custody” to trace the knife’s history from beginning to end, it couldn’t be used against Simpson in court, said Roger Cossack, professor at Pepperdine University School of Law.

“There will be no new prosecution for O.J.,” Cossack said. “Double jeopardy applies for the crime of murder and will always apply, even if they were able to determine the knife was the murder weapon.”

Frank Zimring, a professor at the University of California at Berkeley, said the only criminal option left for prosecutors would be federal charges, which can be brought against someone who was acquitted in a state trial.

But legal experts struggled to identify what – if any – federal statutes could be applied to Simpson.

Arenella said, “This is really a matter of state law, not federal law.”

Neiman revealed few details about the knife or the investigation during his news conference. He would not reveal the name of the former officer who turned over the knife, nor would he say whether that person would face charges for withholding evidence, although he did express surprise that a former LAPD officer would do such a thing.

Neiman also asked the person who discovered the knife at the Brentwood property to come forward in order to aid the investigation.