O.J. Simpson booking photo/LAPD 1994

Erik and Lyle Menendez were arrested in March 1990, seven months after they killed their parents.

By June of 1994, the Beverly Hills brothers had been in custody for over four years. During that time, they shared the slammer with many notorious prisoners, including their Brentwood neighbor Orenthal James Simpson, arrested 25 years ago today.

Now that O.J. is back in the news — planning to “set the record straight” on Twitter — let’s take a look back to 1994.

From the book, here’s the night Erik Menendez met O.J. Simpson, June 17, 1994:

In the fickle world of the media, there was soon a new crime saga that would eclipse all others. “We’re going to find O.J. Simpson and bring him to justice!” D.A. Gil Garcetti declared at a late-afternoon news conference five months after the end of the first Menendez trial. Charged in the slayings of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman, the once beloved NFL athlete known as “The Juice” had vanished after failing to surrender to the LAPD a few hours earlier.“Don’t blame anyone,” said Garcetti. “How many members of the media have been surrounding Mr. Simpson’s house, and he was able to get away somehow.”

“How exotic: a top criminal justice official accusing the media of letting a fugitive slip through their fingers” wrote Los Angeles Times TV critic Howard Rosenberg.

A few hours later, on June 17, 1994, the capper of all heretofore grand tabloid stories climaxed with the bizarre “chase” through Southern California’s freeways of O.J. Simpson by a phalanx of police cars as spectators cheered. At 10:20 that Friday evening, Simpson arrived at the L.A. County Men’s Central Jail. Within a few hours after being booked, O.J. Simpson, prisoner #4013970, met his new neighbor, prisoner #1878449.

Erik Menendez knew something was up.

Erik Menendez in prison jump suit 1994
Erik Menendez, 1994, in prison jump suit

On Friday afternoon, sheriff’s deputies ordered him to scrub the floors and walls of the entire seven-cell pod. Erik had been preoccupied for weeks writing a science-fiction novel. As he scoured the floor on his hands and knees, he watched the O.J. Simpson Bronco chase on TV. “It was very depressing, very sad,” said Erik. “I almost cried when his suicide letter was read on TV.” Just before 10:30 pm, a group of deputies escorted the former football hero to the empty cell next to Erik Menendez.The first night was rough. “I didn’t see him cry, but I believe he was,” Erik told me from jail. “I could hear him moaning.”

Shortly after his arrival, Erik overheard Simpson talking about his case with one of the deputies. A deputy and a sergeant were stationed on suicide watch on chairs directly outside O.J.’s cell. A few minutes later, Simpson called out to his neighbor.

“Hey, Erik, It’s O.J.!”

“Okay, O.J., let me explain a few things about jail to you,” Erik whispered back.

“I told him not to talk to the deputies or inmates about his case. I told him not to worry — just calm down and relax. After that long chase, you can imagine what shape he was in.”

By Saturday morning, the impact of his ex-wife’s death was consuming the despondent Simpson. “He wasn’t happy to be in jail like anyone else,” said Erik. “He wasn’t any worse than I was or Lyle was. He was real delusional, thinking that he was going to get out in three weeks.”

Erik still occasionally heard moaning. Simpson spent hours making calls on a portable phone that was brought to his cell.

At one point, Erik told O.J. that he and Lyle had met the football star when their father was a Hertz executive in the late 1970s. Later that day, the two neighbors spoke again through the flaps in their doors. O.J. told Erik he was worried about the loss of his prestige.

“I guess I won’t be working for NBC anymore,” said Simpson.

On Father’s Day, Erik heard O.J. speaking “baby talk” to his young children. The football star was improving but still morose after little sleep. Old football injuries made it difficult to relax without an orthopedic pillow.

Deputies constantly stopped by to ask for the football star’s autograph. “I had to continually tell him, don’t talk about your case,” said Erik. “The sergeant actually had to tell him too.” O.J. repeatedly proclaimed his innocence. Although they’d been talking for five days, the only time Erik actually saw O.J. was on the way to the shower. “It was sad to see O.J. Simpson on the other side of that wall. I told him to be courageous.

Every time he walked by my cell, he smiled and gave me a wink.”

As the nationwide debate over Simpson’s case continued, Leslie Abramson weighed in. “I don’t want the district attorney’s office to ask for the death penalty against O.J. Simpson—I am personally very sympathetic to him,” she said. “But if they don’t, I will make them come into court and explain why they are trying to kill the abused Menendez boys.”

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Six Degrees of Incarceration: When Erik Menendez Met O.J. Simpson
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