Is O. J. Simpson Confessing?

Is O. J. Simpson confessing? That's what powerhouse publisher Judith Regan teasingly promises from a new book and television extravaganza called "If I Did It." In them, Simpson describes how he would have murdered his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and waiter Ronald Goldman—if he'd actually done it. Regan herself is coy about whether Simpson goes so far as to confess to the 1994 murders, but she did say Tuesday that "this is an historic case, and I consider this his confession." Huh?

It's unclear whether all of this is clever marketing on the part of Regan, whose roster of celebrity author clients includes Michael Moore, Eminem and porn star Jenna Jameson. But the announcement by Fox TV that it will air a "wide-ranging no holds barred" interview with O. J. (by Regan) rekindled the hysteria of what was called "The Trial of the Century." Fred Goldman, who has long believed the acquitted Simpson killed his son, says the TV show and book are "even for [Simpson], about as low as you possibly can go." Goldman is calling for a boycott of bookstores, which will begin selling "If I Did It" on Nov. 30, and of Fox, which will air a two-part special on Nov. 27 and 29. Says Goldman: "It's morally reprehensible to me … to think you are willing to give somebody airtime about how they would murder two people."

Without having seen the TV show or the book, many people close to the case were left to speculate on what "no holds barred" items O. J. might have divulged. Lawyer F. Lee Bailey, part of the "Dream Team" that represented Simpson at the 1995 murder trial, says he isn't so sure that his former client actually confesses to the two killings, even hypothetically. Bailey tells NEWSWEEK that he spoke to Simpson about the project earlier this year, before the news broke, and that Simpson had been "under some severe restrictions about what he could say" to him. "In essence, people pushed him for a book that did not say he was innocent—no one wants to read that," Bailey says. "So supposedly they came up with a book that says, 'I'm innocent because if I had done it, I would have done it this way'." After talking with Simpson, Bailey says he's convinced "It does not say he did it."

Simpson himself has remained quiet. His attorney, Yale Galanter, could not be reached for comment. Regan, publisher of ReganBooks—which reportedly paid Simpson an advance of $3.5 million—told the Associated Press that Simpson came to her with the idea. She also did not respond to a request for comment.

Even if he had confessed, Simpson appears to face no potential criminal charges—though he could be ordered by the court to hand over the money he receives. That's because while Simpson was acquitted of murder, another jury in the subsequent civil trial found him liable for the killings and he was ordered to pay $33 million to the families of his ex-wife and Goldman. To date, Simpson has never paid up. From a criminal-law point of view, "he can do this with impunity," says Laurie Levenson, a criminal-law specialist at Loyola Law School, pointing out that Simpson can't be tried twice for the same crime. Nor can Simpson be charged under federal law, because he didn't violate any of the special-circumstances statutes that would allow someone to be tried a second time in a new venue (racially motivated murders are often prosecuted in this way). And although Simpson testified at the civil trial, he can't be brought up on perjury charges because his description of the murders in the book is presumably hypothetical, says Levenson. A Los Angeles District Attorney's spokeswoman confirms that there will be "no investigation" of any kind.

Juror Anise Aschenbach believes Simpson was driven to participate in this quasi-confessional book and TV special by "guilt." Aschenbach, 72, of Norwalk, Calif., was one of the 12 jurors who voted to acquit because she believed prosecutors failed to prove Simpson's guilt, thanks to missteps and police errors. "It's not that I thought he didn't do it. [The prosecutors] just didn't prove their case," she says. "[Simpson is] trying to confess without confessing. He's probably thinking it will ease his conscience. It's the guilt."

In a statement, Nicole Simpson's sister Denise Brown said that with the project, O. J. "has decided to 'awaken a nightmare' that we have painfully endured and worked so hard to move beyond." She added: "We hope Ms. Regan takes full accountability for promoting the wrongdoing of criminals." Fred Goldman—who earlier this year lost a court bid to gain possession of Simpson's "right of publicity" to help pay the civil judgment—marvels in disgust that Simpson is going to tell "how he would have murdered his children's mother and an innocent person." We'll see if the public has the same reaction.