Editor’s note: O.J. Simpson was granted parole Thursday. This story was originally published in June, 2016.
O.J. Simpson had two children with Nicole Brown Simpson, the ex-wife whose murder the Pro Football Hall of Famer was acquitted of on Oct. 3, 1995. Sydney and Justin Simpson were almost 9 and 6 years old, respectively, when their mother was brutally killed on June 13, 1994, along with Ronald Goldman, outside her condo in Brentwood, Calif.
The two children were sleeping upstairs at the time of the murders for which their father stood trial. Remarkably, Sydney and Justin have lived free from the spotlight after attending Boston University and Florida State University, respectively. But there was a time when they were both very much in the public eye at Miami’s Gulliver Preparatory School.
O.J. won custody of Sydney and Justin just over a year after the murder trial in December 1996. A few months later, a civil trial jury found him responsible for the murder of his ex-wife, and he owed his two children $12.5 million as a result. They moved as a family to Miami in 2000, presumably to live in a state that protected his home and NFL pension from bankruptcy, and O.J. soon enrolled Sydney and Justin — then 15 and 12 years old — at the pricey private school.
So, let’s travel back to that controversial time with four revealing snapshots of the Simpson kids’ days at Gulliver Prep.
October 2002: The Miami Herald profiled the two children as they embarked on their prep sports careers in Florida — Sydney a standout junior middle hitter on the varsity volleyball team and Justin a promising freshman running back on the junior varsity football team. O.J. was a fixture on the sidelines of his children’s sporting events at Gulliver Prep.
“Last year in a big basketball game, Justin had to go to the free-throw line with his team down one point and no time left,” O.J. told The Miami Herald at the time. “He missed the first one — and I tell you, I almost had a heart attack. Thankfully, he made the second shot and they won in overtime. But the point is, I think that may have been the single most nervous time in my life. More than anything — and I mean more than anything.”
O.J. Simpson was almost exactly seven years removed from awaiting the jury’s “not guilty” verdict at his murder trial.
“From time to time, I think about it,” Justin told the paper of his mother’s murder eight years after her death. “But I just have to get it through my system when it comes into my mind. Then I just move on.”
“I never got mad at my dad,” he added later in the article. “I’ve always been supportive. I never doubted him. I am proud of my dad. He’s made it through a lot of things.”
January 2003: In the months after leading Gulliver volleyball to the 2002 Class 3A regional semifinals — two wins from the state semifinals — a tearful Sydney dialed 911 from her home, per The Miami Herald.
In the brief and often unintelligible 911 call, Sydney, 17, an honor student at Gulliver Prep in Coral Gables, sobbed while describing her father as an unloving “a——“. She said she no longer wanted to live with him.
She later said her father told her “none of his kids make him miserable except for me.”
She asked the dispatcher if “that’s not, like, an abuse thing?”
Police responded to the house when the call ended abruptly and discovered an “upset” Sydney inside her bedroom, the incident report said. She told officers she argued with her father “over family issues.” No charges were filed.
“It was a typical teenage girl thing,” O.J. told People magazine, blaming the incident on his attempt to settle a dispute between Sydney and her 34-year-old half brother Jason. “The 911 call — if that’s the worst thing that happens between me and my kids this year, I am going to be one ecstatic man, one satisfied father.”
June 2004: On the 10th anniversary of the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman, O.J. sat down with NBC’s Katie Couric for his first primetime interview since the trial. The discussion began on the subject of his children.
Asked about Sydney, who had just graduated after leading Gulliver volleyball to a third straight Class 3A regional semifinal appearance, O.J. said, “She’s terrific. She gets somewhat emotional at times, but she’s bright as all get-out. She was accepted at virtually every school she applied to, and she picked a real fine northeastern university to attend.”
O.J. explained that Nicole’s parents did not attend their granddaughter’s graduation due to health concerns, although he often relied on their parenting advice, because “daughters are so emotional. Sons, they do dumb things. I’ve done enough dumb things in my life that I can deal with that. Daughters are emotional.” He then turned his attention to Justin:
Simpson: “He’ll be 16 this summer. He’s taller than I am. I’ve often said he’s the finest kid I’ve ever known. He really is. He is well-liked. He participates at his school in all sports: lacrosse, basketball, football.”
Couric: “I understand he is quite a football player.”
Simpson: “Yeah, yeah.”
Couric: “Is that true?”
Simpson: “Well, you know, football, because of the way he’s been growing, they’ve never been able to really find a position. One year he’s a running back. Next year he’s a linebacker. Then, see, I don’t think his heart is in the football that much. I wouldn’t be surprised if he decides in the near future that he wants to focus more in the summer going to lacrosse camp or basketball camp. Those two sports seem to be sports that he really loves. And he’s a terrific honors student. And he’s just– he’s a terrific kid.”
Couric’s next seven words were, “Their mother was murdered 10 years ago,” and O.J.’s response was simply: “Yes.” Simpson said his children lived a life “as normal as I’ve ever known a kid to have,” and this exchange soon followed:
Couric: “What do they believe happened to their mother?”
Simpson: “Something we’ve never really spoke about.”
Couric: “In 10 years, the subject of their mother’s death, her murder has never come up ever?”
Simpson: “Never, ever. And as I said, I think I’ve certainly spent enough money to get the advice of some of the best child psychologists and psychiatrists in the country. And they all say when the kids are ready to talk about it, they’ll talk about it.”
January 2005: Home on winter break from her freshman year at B.U., Sydney supported her younger brother — now a high school junior — at a varsity basketball game against Random Everglades School, according to the South Florida Sun Sentinel. After Gulliver lost to its rival, an argument between fans erupted outside the game.
At the center of the dispute was Sydney, who “sucker-punched” one girl and slapped another, parents of the alleged victims told the New York Daily News. What provoked her was not reported, although one can imagine what sort of trash talk between fans of rival schools might cause a 19-year-old whose mother was brutally murdered to lash out.
“From out of the blue, she sucker-punched my daughter and hit her below the left eye,” Erik Van Ginekl, whose daughter Karina was a Random Everglades junior, told the New York Daily News. When Karina asked her dad what they should do to retaliate, “We told her to forget it,” added Erik. “The girl’s got trouble enough. We feel she needs a little help.”
Still, Sydney was charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest following what police described as a “cat fight.”
“For her safety and the safety of all concerned, the officers decided to remover her from the situation,” Miami Police spokesman Lieutenant Bill Schwartz told the New York Daily News after Sydney’s late January 2005 arrest. “This upset her even more, and she slapped one of the cops in the hand. Not a good idea.”
In June 2006, 11 years removed from her father’s acquittal, Sydney was sentenced to 50 hours of community service. That was 50 more hours than anyone served for her mother’s murder. It was also 50 more hours than O.J. served for an alleged road rage incident in December 2000, an FBI search of his home during a federal drug investigation in December 2001, a failure to comply with proper boating regulations on July 4, 2002, and pirating DirecTV in March 2004.
On Dec. 5, 2008, Simpson was sentenced to 33 years in a Las Vegas prison — with the possibility of parole in 2017 — for criminal conspiracy, kidnapping, assault, robbery and the use of a deadly weapon during an incident in a hotel room in which he allegedly stole his own sports memorabilia at gunpoint from a group of people who had stolen it from him.
Sydney Simpson graduated from Boston University with a degree in sociology — in line with her desire in high school to become a child psychologist — and Justin Simpson became a real estate agent after attending Florida State University. They both live in St. Petersburg, Fla., according to the Tampa Bay Times. Sydney is 30 years old, and Justin is 27.