"A lying, perjuring, genocidal racist."
- Johnnie Cochran
"Is he a racist? Yes."
- Marcia Clark
Mark Fuhrman says it's OK to tape-record our hour-long interview. Then he smiles and asks, "This isn't for a screenplay, is it?" He lowers his mouth to inches above the recorder and mumbles, "OK and then I give the guy a ticket. . . ."
He is very relaxed for being Mark Fuhrman, the bad cop, the bad person, the bad memory. He is crisscrossing the country, apologizing and explaining over and over again for the racial slurs and threats he put on tape during a screenplay project.
He is feeling good because he is getting to tell his side after two years of self-imposed exile in Sandpoint, Idaho. Whether people listen, believe or care is up to them, he says. His account is a fascinating mix of confession, context, catharsis and counter-punch - some would say rationalization and revisionist history.
He is clear-spoken, tough-talking, a little cocky and sometimes fed-up angry. He has made the national broadcast circuit, contrite with Oprah, conspiratorial with "Dateline," combative with former O.J. Simpson lawyer Alan Dershowitz on CNN's "Crossfire," and charming while knocking Larry King's softballs out of the park.
People seem to be ready to hear him out. His recently released book, "Murder in Brentwood" (Regnery, $24.95), is No. 3 on the New York Times bestseller list, according to the publisher. Far too many trees have died already for the Simpson case, but Fuhrman's book seems justified. He fell from super cop to perjurer, racist and perhaps a reason for a verdict much of America believes was wrong. And he did it on national television.
His children, 5 and 3 years old, spent a year dodging media cameras. One day he will have to tell them why he is so famous. He says he has saved every article, book, magazine and 70 lengthy broadcast reports about him and the case. He has thousands of letters. Eventually, he will give them to his children.
"I don't just want them to know what happened, I want to give them a little education in life," he says. "I'll say, `Here's what happened. Here's the way the media spun it. Here's the way race was improperly used. Here's what we found out two years later. Here's what Dad wrote. And guess what, Dad was right. Race shouldn't have been in the case, and this guy murdered these people."
Fuhrman, born in Tacoma and raised by a single mother who moved to several small Washington and Nevada towns, says he is ashamed and sorry for those audiotapes. But he insists they were the words of a fictional character he was creating for a screenplay project and should have been irrelevant to both his character and Simpson's guilt.
It was trying to give Hollywood the gritty street-cop talk, he says.
Well, is this the way they talk? No, he says.
"When I first came on job and worked South Central L.A., I saw what it does when someone is called that and how a bad situation can get worse real quick. There are a whole bunch of names you can call people that are just as demeaning. You don't have to get into racial stuff."
He says he would have explained all this in court after the explosive tapes were discovered, but prosecutors refused to even talk to him and hear his explanation.
"I was forced to take the Fifth (Amendment, against self-incrimination) because prosecutors wouldn't assure me they would ask questions that I could answer in a narrative fashion. I wasn't going to just let the defense ask their yes or no questions to help them mislead the jury."
He also refused to answer whether he planted the bloody glove, which he now says is a ridiculous accusation.
Simpson was acquitted of murder charges in the deaths of ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman, but was found liable by a civil jury this year and ordered to pay $33.5 million in damages.
Fuhrman says he waited this long to write his book because he didn't want to interfere with the civil trial against Simpson, but also because he didn't think anyone would listen.
"I had bought a farm, was trying to rebuild my life and just looking to be left alone," he says. "Then I get charged with perjury strictly for political purposes. They knew what I was accused of lying about wasn't material to the case. They knew I didn't have the money to fight it. Then they immediately offer me the most ridiculously light sentence.
"Well, if they insist on raining on my parade more and more and never let it go, then unfortunately I'm going to tell people what I know."
What he says he knows comes out like a series of haymakers against virtually everyone but Judge Lance Ito's bailiff:
-- Lead detectives Tom Lange and Philip Vannatter were sloppy and inattentive, missing a partial bloody fingerprint clearly documented in Fuhrman's notes and blowing an interview with Simpson before he assembled his defense team.
-- Prosecutors Marcia Clark and Chris Darden were media-struck, disorganized, conflicted, overmatched and ultimately quit.
-- Judge Ito should have reccused himself for being married to a police captain who had supervised and hated Fuhrman.
-- Simpson's "Scheme Team" ruined Fuhrman's life to let a murderer go free. "Once I found the key evidence, it was clear they were going to try to ruin me any way they could."
His harshest criticism is of Vannatter and Lange, senior detectives he never met before that night at the crime scene.
Fuhrman arrived first and gave his notes about the scene to Vannatter, the lead detective. The notes listed a partial bloody fingerprint on a rear gate knob, also seen by Fuhrman's partner, Brad Roberts. It was likely the killer's calling card.
Vannatter and Lange admit they never read the notes and the potentially crucial evidence was never collected. Roberts corroborates Fuhrman's account but was never called to testify.
Vannatter and Lange, who have also written a book, say Fuhrman should have told them about the print and that he is flailing at anyone to rehabilitate himself.
Fuhrman says Clark downplayed the print at trial because she feared it would make the detectives look even more incompetent.
Fuhrman also argues that his notation about the fingerprint shows he didn't plant evidence. Why would he plant a glove at Simpson's house after pointing out a bloody fingerprint that for all he knew could have belonged to someone else?
Maybe it is fitting that Fuhrman, 45, is not just saying he is sorry, but defending himself and lashing out at the same time. Whether a symbol of police racism or a decent cop caught by a public obsession, he is not a simple guy.
He was a highly commended detective who often angered supervisors with his big mouth. Despite the evils Fuhrman boasted about on the tapes, the Los Angeles County Public Defender's Office investigated his 35 most serious cases and could find no impropriety of any kind.
Several people of color, including his former partner, still stand behind Fuhrman, although the chief calls him a disgrace. He is saying trust me, but was convicted of lying in court.
He not only defends his police work in the Simpson case, but he is very proud of it.
Fuhrman says he doesn't expect to change many minds, that many of his defenses against racism sound like white-guy cliches: that some of his best partners and friends are minorities, he protected minority communities for 20 years without complaint, etc. But, he insists, it's true.
"I don't think many people understand what racism is," he says. "The intellectuals use it like toilet paper; it's something they can use. It's not something they live.
"Johnnie Cochran hasn't spent 20 years serving people in low-income, minority neighborhoods, ridding them of gangs and narcotics. I have. He hasn't been shot at and punched. I have. I've paid my dues to be able to say I'm not a racist."