O.J. Drama Spawns Cottage Industry

LOS ANGELES -- Who says crime doesn't pay?


While O.J. Simpson may not be profiting from his notoriety, defense lawyers, movie producers, book publishers, supermarket tabloids, souvenir vendors and even key witnesses are cashing in.


Little more than three months after Simpson's ex-wife and a friend were found lying in a pool of blood, a cottage industry has sprung up to feed America's obsession with what has become one of the most sensational murder cases of the century.


Consider that 95 million viewers were glued to their TV sets June 17 as the football legend led police on a bizarre, slow-motion chase, and by some calculations, the market has barely been tapped.


"This is a soap opera and a celebrity murder mystery all wrapped together," said Leo Braudy, author of "The Frenzy of Renown," a study of fame in America. "It's pushed a button in the national psyche ... and that opens up all kinds of opportunities."


In the media frenzy surrounding the case, "checkbook journalism" is flourishing as supermarket scandal sheets and tabloid TV programs scramble for exclusives with anyone connected to the Hall of Famer or his alleged victims, Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman.


The National Enquirer offered $1 million to Simpson's friend Al Cowlings to tell his story, according to editor-in-chief Iain Calder. Cowlings, who accompanied Simpson on his televised flight from justice, turned the money down.


But several other key witnesses have sold out to the highest bidder, and some legal experts say that may have left their testimony irreparably tainted.


At a preliminary hearing in July, the first two prosecution witnesses dropped a bombshell, testifying that Simpson had purchased a knife at their cutlery store and that they had given their account to the Enquirer for $12,500.


California legislators were so outraged that they passed a bill last month barring prospective witnesses from selling their stories before testifying in criminal cases.


Now that jury selection is set to begin Sept. 26, both sides will be ready to weed out anyone who shows signs of wanting a seat on the panel for the financial rewards or TV guest spots that might later come their way.


Defending the tabloids' practices, Calder said: "These people ... told the truth for money. What's the big deal? I don't think we've perverted the process in the slightest."


Brian "Kato" Kaelin -- a struggling actor who had been living in Simpson's guest house -- is also capitalizing on his instant fame. His testimony at Simpson's nationally televised preliminary hearing led to a guest-host spot on the cable-TV show "Talk Soup," and movie offers are now rolling in.


About the only person connected to the case who is not making money is Simpson himself. In fact, his ballooning legal fees are expected to strain -- if not drain -- his considerable net worth, once estimated at $10 million.


Proclaiming his innocence, Simpson has hired the best defense money can buy -- a "dream team" of famed attorneys such as F. Lee Bailey and Alan Dershowitz, plus a supporting cast of investigators and experts. "The final bill is going to be astronomical," said Loyola Law School professor Laurie Levenson.


But Simpson's lawyers are not the only ones finding work. Dozens of criminal attorneys and legal scholars have been hired to provide play-by-play commentary for TV audiences.


Scandal is always good business for the tabloids, but during prime weeks of O.J. coverage, circulation jumped to levels not seen since Elvis Presley died. Conventional news outlets have also enjoyed what one TV executive called "the O.J. boost."


Three instant paperbacks about the Simpson, who played for the National Football League's Buffalo Bills, are already on store shelves. A Fox Television movie will air in November.


But it was left to a Los Angeles comedy writer to come up with a way to profit from the gallows humor spreading nationwide.


His creation: an O.J. joke hot-line. For 99 cents a minute, callers can hear such tasteless offerings as: "It couldn't have been O.J., The Buffalo Bills have a history of choking."


Thanks to Simpson's notoriety, prices for his football memorabilia are soaring. An O.J. doll that sold for $10 in 1975 is now reported selling for $300. T-shirts reading "Turn the Juice Loose" are going for $10 apiece, and tour guides are charging to take visitors to the murder scene.


And the Simpson saga has another bizarre claim to fame -- its own trading cards featuring the football great and his alleged victims.