Former WHIO-TV reporter recalls turn on witness stand in O.J. Simpson criminal trial

A former TV reporter who found herself as a defense witness in the criminal case of O.J. Simpson will forever be the Miami Valley’s connection to the infamous trial of the NFL star, actor and advertising pitchman who died Thursday.

>> RELATED: O.J. Simpson, dead at age 76

Tracie Savage, a former News Center 7 reporter longtime viewers might remember, was a defense witness in trial of Simpson, who was found not guilty of murder in the 1994 killing of his former wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman.

Savage, who worked at WHIO-TV from 1986 to early 1991 before taking a job in Los Angeles, covered the Simpson trial in its entirety.

She’s back in the news this week with the death of Simpson, who died Thursday of cancer. He was 76.

News Center 7 anchor Cheryl McHenry spoke with Savage on Thursday about her remembrances of the case, which attracted international attention when the former wife of the 1968 Heisman Trophy winner and veteran NFL running back and Goldman were found at her home. They had been stabbed to death.

The case was forever etched into the minds of people across the globe in part because of the slow-speed police chase of his white Ford Bronco on LA’s freeways, which interrupted the TV broadcast of the NBA Finals. The lore of the Simpson case grew even more as cameras in the courtroom put the trial on the global stage.

When Savage found out that she would put on that stage, the ordeal of her testifying was “terrifying, awful,” she said.

“I reported that the socks [O.J.’s] had been discovered at the defendant’s home and that there was blood on those socks [that was Nicole Brown Simpson’s],” Savage, who now is a professor, told McHenry.

“The defense team . . . wanted me to infer that my sources were police officers.”

But they didn’t want her to reveal her sources, Savage recalled, because they weren’t sure who the sources were. They knew her revelation may have hurt their theory of the case -- that police mishandled a key piece of evidence and had acted to cover up their mistakes.

“They knew I was never going to reveal my sources. Judge Lance Ito knew that. It was a game. The whole thing was a game.”

Savage invoked the shield law, a state statute that allows journalists to protect the anonymity of their sources. The key to having the shield law work for her was to say practically nothing at all that would give the prosecution a chance to force her identify her sources in court.

“I was up the whole night before, in tears, thinking my career was over. I was a nervous wreck,” she said. “I was scared to death my career was going to be destroyed” because journalists are taught to protect sources without question, even against the threat of being jailed for contempt of court.

Simpson would be found liable in a civil case, filed later by the victims’ families, and also was ordered to pay millions in damages.

More than a decade later, Simpson’s book, “If I Did It,” attracted headlines and reignited the controversy and debate about the whodunit criminal case.

>> RELATED: O.J. Simpson through the years

Simpson found himself in prison as the result of a 2007 robbery and kidnapping in Las Vegas over sports memorabilia. He was paroled in 2017.

Simpson’s family said he was surrounded by his children and grandchildren when he died Thursday. He had been suffering from prostate cancer.

About learning of his death, Savage said, “the whole thing is a tragedy. O.J. Simpson’s fall from grace is a tragedy. The criminal trial was a bit of a tragedy. Its impact on race relations, on culture, was a bit sad.”

Is that karma that he ended up in prison?

“I’ll leave that up to other people to decide,” she said.

Savage said she feels for Simpson’s family.

“It was such a huge, significant part of our history and our culture and Los Angeles history,” Savage said. “It will never go away. I will be probably connected to that trial forever whether I want to be or not.”

Comments on this article