The detective in the O.J. Simpson case talks about the case, his experiences these past two years, and his life now in Sandpoint
By Chris Bessler
The man hardly needs introduction. Thanks to the unprecedented media coverage of the OJ Simpson trial, Mark Fuhrman is the most famous person ever to call Sandpoint home. But it has not been an easy fame.
Fuhrman was a detective for the Los Angeles Police Department in 1994 when he and his partner Brad Roberts handled the initial investigation into the murder of Simpson's ex-wife, Nicole Brown, and her companion Ron Goldman. But before the trial even started, Simpson's defense team began painting Fuhrman as a rogue cop who planted a bloody glove at the Simpson estate to frame the former football star. Then, during the trial, a writer named Laura Hart McKinney produced tapes she made eight years earlier, when the two were collaborating on a screenplay. In the tapes Fuhrman repeatedly uses racial slurs.
Fuhrman became a lightning rod for the media. And in the midst of it all, in early 1995, he retired from the LAPD and moved to Sandpoint.
The jury acquitted Simpson on October 2, 1995. A year later in a civil suit brought by the Goldman family, Simpson was found liable for the murders and fined $33 million.
But Simpson will face no criminal penalties. Fuhrman, however, pleaded no contest to charges of perjury, arising from his denial during the trial that he had ever used racial epithets. He's now a convicted felon on probation.
Throughout the trial, for more than two years and in the face of enormous media coverage that largely maligned him, Fuhrman maintained almost complete silence. That ended in an interview with Diane Sawyer on national television last October. Then in March, Fuhrman's book, "Murder in Brentwood," was released. The book is Fuhrman's narrative of the case, and provides a number of revelations about behind-the-scenes events and importance evidence that was lost or mishandled.
Fuhrman also takes pains in the book to explain the McKinney tapes were a work of fiction in which he was assuming a character for the screenplay. "She wanted gritty realism about life on the streets, so I told her some stories and did some play-acting," Fuhrman writes. Still, he says this: "I don't want to sound as if I'm trying to justify what I said on those tapes. I am ashamed of my words. Taken out of context, they are worse than horrible. And even in context they are ugly. There is no excuse, not even literary license, that can justify or condone the pain I caused people of all colors."
"Murder in Brentwood" jumped up the national bestseller list No. 1 bestseller and has brought Fuhrman a new round of national publicity -- this time, however, far more positive.
For this interview, conducted in April while he was still very busy with publicity for his book, Fuhrman came with a complaint. He did not like a story titled "Who We Are," which appeared in the Winter 1996 Sandpoint Magazine. That story discussed how Fuhrman's move here, along with coverage of white separatist Randy Weaver and avowed racist Richard Butler of Hayden Lake, was being sensationalized by the media to create an image of northern Idaho as a haven for racists. The story talked about the work of the Bonner County Human Rights Task Force in opposing the ideology espoused by Butler.
"I didn't care being aligned with Richard Butler in the same sentence. Or Randy Weaver," said Fuhrman. "(They're) two kooks overtly going against the government and everybody else." Given that he has seen no evidence of human rights abuse here, he asked why Sandpoint even needs a human rights task force.
"When was the last time human rights were stepped on in this town?" he asked. " Give me one one-on-one human rights issue in the last two years in this town."
So, I asked, how would he handle the media's persistent portrayal of Sandpoint as a haven for racists?
"Ignore it. Quit writing about how it isn't. Just say, Sandpoint is a beautiful community. We invite you to come see it for yourself," said Fuhrman.
"You almost create a negative image by trying to justify a positive image," he said.
With that prelude, we began the interview. The interview here is a longer version of the interview which appeared in the Summer 1997 edition of Sandpoint Magazine.
How did you choose Sandpoint as a place to live?
Well, we had some friends that lived next door to us in Redondo Beach, and they had a brother who lived here. They just said, you should go check out Sandpoint, because we were talking about going. I didn't want to go back to western Washington, where I grew up. We were thinking about Montana, and they said, you should check out Sandpoint. I remembered Sandpoint from when I was a teenager. I drove through a couple times. So I came up and checked it out. And I really liked the town. I just kind of fell in love with it when we got here, with the lake and the mountains and the skiing and the town And here you've got a lot going on. Every weekend you have something going on.
Did the hard winter shake you a little bit?
Did you grow up with snow when you were a kid?
Yeah, in western Washington right by Mount Rainier. You've got to have snow if it's going to be green. There's a downside to everything. If you live in the desert, yeah, there's no snow, but it gets hot and everything's dead. It was a bad winter though, I'll agree.
So, tell me about the process of writing your book. Did you write the book?
Yeah, I did. Before I even got a publisher I had, oh, about 100 pages written, which was predominantly written when I lived on Euclid. Of course, the media was outside and if I wasn't tiling bathrooms or painting the house, redoing the whole place, I was usually writing. So I had about 100 pages by the time I got a contract. And of course, a first-time author, the first thing a publisher will do, they'll get you a ghost writer. They don't know what abilities (you) have. And it's a big investment for them. So, I got a ghostwriter and we hooked up and he read what I had written and just flat-out said you don't need a ghostwriter. You write well. You're going to write this whole thing. But I will teach you how to organize it and edit.
And when he started showing me how he organizes a book, I said, this is exactly how you do a homicide case. You lay everything out and you analyze everything and every part of the case is actually in the book So, it was a fun process.
You maintained silence with the media up until your PrimeTime interview with Diane Sawyer last fall. Was that difficult?
Well sure. I knew so much of how this case was actually run, the investigation and the prosecution. And I knew how much evidence, and I know why something wasn't presented. I was watching TV constantly. Why wasn't the interrogation used? Why wasn't the Bronco chase used? Nobody questioned the fingerprint. And why didn't they?
It was very difficult. It was very difficult to sit in a group of guys at a barbecue, having a beer, them asking the very questions that investigative reporters should have asked but they don't. I know the answers and I trust these guys, but I've still got to keep my mouth shut. There was just nothing I could do.
In retrospect, it looks like you played the media barrage as well as you could under the circumstances.
But the media is a victim of circumstance. They're all playing the ratings game. They're all playing the rush, you've got to rush this story to beat the next guy that is standing right next to you at the pay phone, to the press or to the TV. So, what did they go with? They went with the most information that's available, which came from, gee, this is a shock, the defense. If it wasn't the defense it was people who worked for the defense or behind the scenes with the defense. So we were really up against enormous amount of anti-information. Now, if I would have gone out in October of '95 in front of my house on Euclid, do you think anybody would have listened to anything to do with the case? All they'd want to know is, what was your impression of the verdict? Do you feel responsible for the verdict? You know, all these other silly questions that people will ask over and over and over again and not realize it's been asked and answered 30 seconds before. So I knew that it would do no good for anybody.
There was no reason to say anything to the media that was self-serving for me. Because, after all, the only reason I would talk would be to defend myself. I knew I did nothing wrong in this case. So I could sit and wait. And not only that, I waited to see just exactly how these investigations on me were going. We have to understand the Department of Justice, the attorney general, the public defender's office, the district attorney's office and the LAPD investigated my whole career. They found nothing. I mean I don't even know how to say it. I'm not trying to tout myself off, but they found out I was a good cop and a good detective.
I went by your house on Euclid the day of the verdict and saw the TV trucks out front. You must have felt like a prisoner in your own house.
You want to know what I was doing right then? I made some eggs and some sausage from a pig we had just butchered. And I took the movie Tombstone into the other room and I sat down and watched Tombstone. It didn't bother me. It did but it didn't, you understand what I mean? There was nothing I could do about. I don't know what they expected me to do, run out and start yelling and screaming at the media or go out and say I'd like to do an interview now. This isn't the way you get something from me, by probing my family and my home. Bothering my family and my children. This is not how you get to me.
What was the impact on your wife and your kids?
Surprisingly, I think my kids were young enough, plus we sheltered them enough from that, that I don't think there was anything lasting. They don't say anything about it. They're happy kids It bothered my wife. After all, who wouldn't it bother? It's not something you expect or plan in your life. It's like you're out on a boat and somebody throws chum out. You're going to get sharks.
How is the media treating you now?
Totally respectfully. They would never dare come to my house or bother me on the phone or anything else. And why? They want something from me. And I'm producing something that they want. So, now they ask me if they can do something, and if I say no they respect that.
What's the No. 1 message you'd like people to get out of your book?
You should really see both sides of the coin before you make a judgment. Don't jump in. You know, I don't go to a crime scene after being there a day and just say, well this guy committed murder and that's my opinion and that's the way it is. I look at all the evidence and I challenge all my theories and everything the evidence says. If you try to disprove your own theories, you actually affirm them, really. Because if you're on the straight and narrow, and that's what the evidence shows, then your theories will be confirmed by your challenging them. That's really what you've got to do.
Do you feel there has been a big shift in opinion about you and your role in the trial since your book came out?
Oh, absolutely. Absolutely 100 percent, because people are given the evidence. They're not given my opinion. There's not one opinion in this book I can corroborate everything in this book from outside sources other than me, whether scientific or eye witness or testimonial. Everything is corroborated. I could have wrote another 200 pages about what I know in this case, but I can't absolutely corroborate it. So I didn't put it in. I wanted people to be able to read this book and say, "This isn't Fuhrman's opinion. This is what is proven. So, you can actually take me out of the picture. And then the polygraph I took nailed everything down.
The polygraph test was taken as part of a challenge from F. Lee Bailey, is that correct?
I was always going to do it. It just had to come at the right time. I even suggested it during the criminal trial, but Marcia Clark goes 'We're not taking any polygraphs.' I don't see the harm during the criminal trial if I just took one and they just leaked the information. After all, that's what the defense was doing, leaking it and saying, oh, we didn't leak it.
Plus, it would have been an interesting challenge for Marcia Clark to say, when they challenged this theory, to jump up and say, well, we're willing to use any agreed upon polygraph examiner.
It seems inexcusable that after the tapes from Laura McKinney came out the prosecutors would not meet with you before you got up to testify -- not just in order to give you a fair shake, but just to do their job and figure out a strategy for dealing with this new information. Have you spoken with Marcia Clark at all since that time?
No. Brad Roberts did right before my book came out. And, she made the statement to Brad that she was actually apologizing in her book for saying that she wished I was never born, or wished I was never on this planet. And she said that she still says I was the best detective she ever worked with and the best police work. So, I think Marcia Clark has softened, because she realized -- well, it also helps that your financial security is set. But I think that it helps that she is not in the emotional state that she was during the trial. She was tired, she was stressed out, she was overwhelmed. And then something about me destroyed her case. At least that's what she thought. You know, she also told Brad Roberts that she never knew anything about an open Swiss Army knife box at OJ Simpson's. She never knew that.
Have you had any dialog with Lange, Vannatter or any of the other major figures like Chris Darden or Johnny Cochrane, all of whom you're critical of in your book?
All they have to do is call me up.
Have they offered any public response to your book?
Chris Darden, he wouldn't go on with me. Lange and Vannatter wouldn't go on with me. Chris Darden makes the same silly, foolish statement that Lange and Vannatter do -- that was a rust spot on the lockset of the gate. Somebody should tell these guys brass doesn't rust
On TV (Lange and Vannatter) are trying to defend their book and denounce my book with all the facts I have in it, and what do they bring forward for evidence? Nothing. What did they bring forward for spoken fact? In fact, what did they say? I'm a coward and a liar trying to rehabilitate myself on their backs. I'm just telling people what happened in this case. They made a mistake. I expect them to admit it
Now, do you find it odd that the only mistake that I made in this case is I didn't say to F. Lee Bailey that I used a racial slur in the last 10 years? ... And yet, I'm the only person to apologize for anything. I'm the only person to take any responsibility for anything in this case, defense or prosecution or defendant. And yet, I'm the least culpable of anyone in this case. In fact, I'm probably the most responsible for bringing the evidence to the case. It was bungled once they got ahold of it. So, it's odd. All I'm asking of these two detectives is to be man enough to admit you made some mistakes. They can't even do that. That shows you just how guilty they feel about what they did there. And you know, I would have back off on it if they just would have shut up. But they keep going on shows, they keep saying things they can't prove. If you're going to do that, I'm not going to lay down for you guys..
Your book is the first time I saw a good explanation of the Laura McKinney tapes. The screenplay that you were working on with her was taking place over a period of years, right?
No, a period of months. What is going on in years was just luncheons we record, sitting down with a producer that was interested in buying that thing. The tapes, the crux of the tapes, to develop dialog and character, was done in five or six months.
So what was the format for those interviews -- was it just like this, us sitting here with a tape recorder going?
Yes, in her apartment.
So, the tape goes on and now we're talking for the screenplay?
Absolutely. Of course, Darden asked her when she was testifying, Laura McKinney: Does Mark Fuhrman talk like this when you're not working on the screenplay? No. How much more needs to be said?
Have you had any contact with her?
No. See, unlike these other people, I don't need to reaffirm that I'm right on certain issues. I already know it. And I don't need to beat them up over the phone. I'm not bitter. I'm not angry. I don't think about them all the time. I don't have this mentality I'm going to get even. I just think it's pathetic what a lot of these people did. I know what I did. I know I did nothing wrong in this case. When the pressure's on you see what people are made of. And I saw. And I hope people see what I'm made of when the pressure's on. You know, the likes of Johnny Cochrane and F. Lee Bailey will never beat somebody like me. They can't get to me. I mean, I come from a point they don't understand. F. Lee Bailey: There's a worldwide opinion of him. And isn't good. So, I'll take my reputation anytime to his.
According to your book there were a couple individuals involved that appeared to lie under oath, including Laura McKinney and also Margaret York. Is there any prospects that charges will be brought against them?
Well, gee willikers, I sure hope that if someone is going to investigate me for using a racial slur nine years before the trial, and it's not material, that somebody would surely investigate people that were giving material testimony, that would actually influence the outcome of the trial on material issues.
What about the prospects that you can be pardoned for the perjury charge?
I'm certainly going to pursue that, and I'm going to pursue it on a lot of avenues, and one of them is, if you have OJ Simpson in the civil trial on the material issues, that he clearly was caught lying -- this is not a big investigation, it's right there -- and that is perjury. That is a material issue. If they're not going to investigate and indict him, then why not pardon me?
Obviously the case was tragic. Two people were killed. But, given the tremendous amount of media coverage it generated, were there any real important legal precepts or precedents that were involved in this case?
There was as far as race. It should never have been brought into the case. The law is very clear. So is case law. You have to have a nexus. Even as a layman, everyone should be able to see this. Before something can influence the case, there has to be a connection. I'll give you a good example. Let's say I was a suspect in domestic violence, being the detective. Does that influence my ability to do this investigation? No. Should it come into the trial as a credibility issue? I don't think you're going to find anybody that's going to say yes. But racial issues came into this trial, and for what reason? Well, they needed something to connect the two up. So they claimed that I planted evidence, which they couldn't prove either. They tried to connect the two up and it was unsuccessful. There was no race involved in the case whatsoever. He was treated better than any man I've ever seen in 20 years. Completely devoid of color. He was treated with kid gloves. And there was no evidence or planting or tampering with evidence. So what happened is, the judge did not have the courage to make the proper ruling and stick with the law and common sense, and he caved in to the defense, which caved in the whole trial. The defense knew it. The defense also made Ito well aware that they had information that his wife and I had some major problems. Now, what is the inference there? If you screw up our case, Judge Ito, we're going to screw up your life. That's just the inference. I don't know if it was expressed, I don't know if it was thought that way. But I can see the inference there. There's so many things that were so much more of an impact on this case then me. What I brought to this case was predominantly positive. Almost entirely. Brad Roberts and I found all the evidence. Not some of it. All of it. The first day. So we brought forward in this case really what we had to work with.
I presume you have huge face recognition now. (Fuhrman laughs) Do people greet constantly on the street?
Oh yeah. Everywhere I go. Airports. Street. Taxicabs. Every place I go. I mean, every place I go.
How do they treat you?
It's always positive.
Was it positive before your book came out?
Yep. And you know, I'm not naive, either. It takes a lot more energy to make a negative contact than it does a positive one. It's easier to go up to someone and put your arm around them and say, 'Hey, glad to meet you,' then it is to go, 'Com'on, let's fight.' So I understand that. And there are people in this town that don't agree with anything about me. Of course, they don't know me. So that shows that they are somewhat shallow. I'd be willing to sit down and talk to anybody. I'm not a zoo animal; I'm not going to get in front of people and be poked and jabbed at. But if somebody wants a cup of coffee with me and truly wants to know something about me and sits down and wants to talk, that's fine. We live in a small enough community where that's possible. But people wanting to have a negative impression or whatever, that's fine too. There's nothing you can do about it.
How about people of color -- are they friendly to you? How about your reception at the talk shows you've been on, like the crowd at the Oprah Winfrey show?
They took the time to listen. They took the time to actually really listen to what's going on, what I feel, what I said and what I did. And when people do that, they start realizing that everything isn't the way it seemed. We never got a chance to hear from him. In fact, we never got a chance to hear the facts that were available to the media. They just didn't report them Conveniently. There's a lot of people out there pounding the drums for me.
Have your experiences these last couple of years altered your view of human nature for the better or for the worse?
Oh, I always knew it. I spent 20 years on the police force.
Yeah, but you see the worst as a policeman.
But I see the best, too. I see the worst and the best. I see people who are so strong and brave that I wonder if I can be that strong and brave. People that don't carry guns. People that say I don't care, I live in this community and I'm going to testify against him. He did it and that's all there is to it. These people go home and live two doors down from this guy's family, and they just put him away for murder. That's bravery. Some people would say it's stupidity, but I think it's incredibly brave. You see the good side of people.
And the bad people are what keep you going. It really does. I don't like to see anybody victimized. Most people in this country, black, white, brown, green, purple, what are they doing? Trying to work, raise their kids, get somewhere in life, dream about retiring, put their kids through college, spend 10 years and then die. I mean it sounds pretty boring when you put it in those words, but that's what we're all trying to do. And the people who rain on our parade are criminals. They come in and they ruin whole families. They kill one person and they ruin 20 people's lives. It's very rewarding to help those 20 people come to closure with it, and that closure is to catch the bad guy and put him away.
Would you still be a cop in LA right now if this case hadn't come up?
I was trying to move to Sandpoint, Idaho before Simpson ever murdered these two people, and I was planning on leaving in 20 years. All my partners said you'll never do it. You'll never do it, you love this too much. I said, I love being a detective and I can be a detective in a lot of places and do a lot of things.
Do you think you'll live in Sandpoint a long time?
Yeah, I think so. The only thing that would change is if the town gets too big and loses its charm. Sandpoint's no different than a lot of places in Montana. It even looks the same. It's just Montana's really expensive.
So, do you like your life in Sandpoint now?
What's the future hold for you?
I think I'll probably write another book about another real homicide. It's the only way I can be a detective, you know. I'm on probation. My publisher wants me to and I truly want to. A lot of people say I should write fiction. My comment to that is, with 50,000 murders, why do I need to write fiction? Just write fact.
Do you have a case you're interested in working on?
We're just kind of looking around. I'm doing some reading.
Who are your models as writers?
I love Joseph Wambaugh's books. It's a connection. The second division I went to is the last division he worked on. I knew his old partner. Joe's a good guy. I like him a lot. I like Tom Clancy. You've got to be ready to read a Tom Clancy book though. I got the latest one, "Executive Order." The print's about half the size, maybe a third the size of normal, it's 980 pages. It's like a major undertaking. It's not something you do between going to bed and going to sleep. But I like him.
One more question. I asked what the future holds for you. What do you think it holds for OJ Simpson?
Oh, that's easy. He can't have all the things he had before, beautiful women, country clubs, recognition, nights out to dinner where people don't call him a murderer. He can't even find a place that will serve him, half the places. He goes to sleep at night, he closes his eyes, and what do you think he thinks about? I know what he thinks about. He thinks about murdering two people and how he wishes he didn't do it. What do I think about when I close my eyes? Think about my kids. Living up here. How good it is and how rough it was going through this and how much it was worth it.. And so, I go to sleep. He doesn't.
Chris Bessler is the editor of Sandpoint Magazine.
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