O.J. Simpson parole decision evokes chilling moment for former CASA staffer

Rumors swirl about a possible move for the parolee to the Bay area.

click to enlarge O.J. Simpson parole decision evokes chilling moment for former CASA staffer
Screen grab, WFLA.com

Coverage of O.J. Simpson's parole hearing Thursday was something of an echo of his 1995 not guilty verdict — even if months of buildup over a dramatic and at-times comical trial were lacking.

He was older. The crime for which he was locked up, armed robbery, wasn't as severe as the double murder for which he was tried two decades earlier. And much of the fervor with which the public watched the trial unfold two decades ago had long faded.

But for veteran domestic violence survivor advocate Renee McInnis, news of Simpson's pending freedom shook her in a way she wasn't expecting.

“I just got so fired up. It caught me by surprise, how physical my reaction was to him getting out,” she said in a phone interview.

In the wee hours of Friday morning, she took to social media to recount how it brought back the memory her experience watching the 1995 verdict and its aftermath, when she was development director for Community Action Stops Abuse (CASA), a St. Petersburg nonprofit that helps domestic abuse survivors escape their circumstances. McInnis said staff and volunteers sat around a television "on pins and needles" waiting for the verdict.

They weren't entirely sure what to expect, but they were petrified over the message a not-guilty verdict for Simpson, who apparently had a history of battering the woman whose murder he was on trial for, would send about domestic violence and consequences for those who engage in it.

Then the news came.

“We all just looked at each other with stunned silence," McInnis, who spent decades advocating for abused women and is now retired, said. "There was a collective gasp from everybody and [we were] looking at each other with tears in our eyes and shaking our heads because we knew that this was sending a message to battered women everywhere that it's not safe to tell your story and the powers that be could not protect you.”

There'd been a survivor support group planned that night, she said, but it was postponed because too many survivors were afraid to leave their homes.

Then came the silver lining: public awareness of domestic violence skyrocketed.

“After the O.J. verdict came in, in the following year, I would say we easily quadrupled the number of speaking engagements that we had, because everybody really wanted to hear our take on it. It put domestic violence into the public consciousness as it had never been before,” McInnis said.

Fast-forward a couple of decades. A notorious misogynist has been propelled into the highest office with help from other misogynists who want to limit women's access to health care and cut funding for agencies that help domestic violence and sexual assault victims.

And now, rumors swirl that St. Pete is among possible places Simpson may resettle since two of his children live in the city. McInnis said she was alarmed about how some of Simpson's daughters reacted to speculation that he may live there.

“I'm thinking what is wrong here? What is wrong?” she said “That saddened me like the people that think, excuse my French here, that it's OK to have a pussy-grabber-in-chief at the White House. It's maddening."