O.J. Simpson's solitary ending

Dan Wetzel

On Friday O.J. Simpson will be sent to prison, perhaps for the rest of his life.

It's quite possible this is the first you've heard of it.

Not so much that Simpson had again gotten into trouble with the law. Most people knew that. Far fewer are aware the sentencing is this week.

The former football star, actor, commercial pitchman and defendant in the "Trial of the Century" that once defined media excess, is hardly newsworthy anymore.

It's a judge for the state of Nevada (not California) that will lay down the penalty for the crimes of armed robbery and kidnapping (not double murder). The sentence will be between six years to natural death (not two life terms).

Still, he is going away for a long time. Experts expect a minimum of 18 years for the 61-year-old. Outside of the extreme partisans on the ends of the Simpson spectrum, though, America no longer seems to care.

In 1995, the reading of the verdict of whether Simpson murdered his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman temporarily shut down America. The interest was so great that work places stopped, strangers crowded around public televisions and schools announced the news over the intercom.

Everyone of age remembers where they were when they heard the acquittal of O.J. Every one has seen the video of the decision.

There was the court clerk stumbling over Simpson's name before saying "not guilty of the crime of murder."

There was attorney Johnnie Cochran pumping his fists in celebration as he stood behind Simpson. There was O.J. breaking into a small smile before mouthing "thank you" to the jury as Cochran patted him on the back. There was fellow attorney Robert Kardashian looking so stunned that some took it as proof of Simpson's guilt.

And finally there were the sobbing sounds of the Goldman family as the camera made a slow pan across the courtroom.

It was one of the most dramatic and memorable moments of the 1990s. Simpson, depending on your point of view, could go down as the decade's most divisive, infamous, railroaded, evil or misunderstood figure.

Then there were the images of people reacting to the verdict – outside that Los Angeles courthouse, in restaurants, in Times Square. Whites were almost overwhelming disgusted at the acquittal; blacks were almost overwhelmingly celebratory.

It was a window into America and how race and class sharply influence a person's view of the justice system. It made many take a new look at everything. The impact of that moment would not subside for years.

The murders, the low-speed chase and the lengthy trial had consumed the country. It was the first reality TV show of the '90s, a perfect cocktail for the bottomless pit of cable news.

Its impact was vast. It spawned a series of supporting characters, brands and phrases. Judge Ito, Kato Kaelin and Mark Fuhrman; the white Bronco and Bruno Magli shoes; "absolutely, 100 percent not guilty" and "If it does not fit, you must acquit."

It was the first introduction to DNA evidence for many.

It bolstered the genre of modern crime reporting; saturation coverage for case after case after case from Laci Peterson to Natalee Holloway to Caylee Anthony.

With Simpson everyone had an opinion – many emotional, many firmly held to this day.

A civil trial found him responsible for the murders and forced him to turn over almost all his money to the Brown and Goldman families. There was a constant stream of new allegations, interviews and counterarguments.

Simpson went so far as to pen the book "If I Did It," which was so controversial the publisher was fired just for considering the project. (The Goldmans won access to the manuscript and published it as a confession.)

That happened June of 2007.

Yet just 18 months later, Simpson is headed to prison and suddenly most of America no longer cares.

His last trial was largely ignored. The cable shows drew low ratings and returned to something else. When he was found guilty two months ago, on the 13th anniversary of the Brown-Goldman case, people barely paused to acknowledge it. The passion (either pro or con) for O.J. appears to be gone forever.

Simpson's new lawyer blasted the verdict as "payback" for the previous acquittal. It failed to rally supporters. Conversely, many people who once angrily felt that Simpson had gotten away with murder only mildly celebrated the new verdict.

Perhaps it's Simpson fatigue. Perhaps it's a desire to avoid fighting the battles of the past. Perhaps it's because the new case was so dull, sad and bizarre – one of the items Simpson took was the suit he wore the day of the original verdict.

Perhaps it's the wars and the economy and uncertainty that makes caring so much about some sorry old felon seem a waste of time.

Perhaps it's that no matter where you stood on the original case, you'd have to agree that anyone who survives a double-homicide trial has to be a fool to get a parking ticket, let alone have anything to do with an armed robbery.

Whatever it is, it's a long way from that October day in 1995, when the People of California v. Orenthal James Simpson stopped the nation in its tracks and then nearly busted it apart. Back then you'd never have believed that he'd one day face a potential life sentence and most people would just shrug.

The one-time most famous defendant in the country, the center of a media storm like almost no other, the touchstone figure of a decade, will head off to a Nevada prison for perhaps the rest of his life.

Due to his celebrity, he'll spend it in solitary.