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Morning news brief

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

It feels like the passing of O.J. Simpson closed a chapter in Los Angeles history, one, though, that still leaves a sense that there is still a lot that will never be resolved.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

His family announced yesterday that he died of cancer. Last century, he was a famous and infamous figure as an athlete, an actor and murder suspect.

MARTÍNEZ: Here to look back at his cultural legacy is NPR's Mandalit del Barco, who reported on the Simpson saga in the 1990s. Mandalit, before the freeway chase, before the so-called trial of the century, O.J. was already famous in so many ways.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: That's right, A. You know, O.J. Simpson started off as a star football player at USC, earning a Heisman Trophy. Then he went on to be a running back in the NFL and a sports commentator. You know, he was handsome and with a famously great smile. And after his football career, Hollywood ate him up. He starred in commercials, sprinting through airports. He was in the TV series "Roots," and he had parts in movies like "The Towering Inferno" and "The Naked Gun" comedies.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE NAKED GUN: FROM THE FILES OF POLICE SQUAD!")

OJ SIMPSON: (As Detective Nordberg) Police. Throw down your guns.

DEL BARCO: Audiences loved him, and that's why it was so shocking what came next.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah, he seemed like someone that would be everyone's friend. Now, that next is becoming the No. 1 suspect in the murders of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ronald Goldman. That was 1994. Mandalit, you covered that story for NPR. I mean, it was just a huge deal.

DEL BARCO: It was. It was huge. And listeners may remember - you probably remember - after Simpson became a wanted man, he went missing. And then he emerged as a passenger in a white Ford Bronco on the freeways of Los Angeles, getting chased by police. Ninety-five million people were transfixed by the slow car chase that was broadcast live on national television. Here's a clip from the CNN special with Eric Spillman from KTLA.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ERIC SPILLMAN: People have pulled over, many of them carrying signs reading things like save the juice, go O.J. People are literally cheering him on.

DEL BARCO: You know, some people saw Simpson as a sort of folk hero on the run. And as a reporter, I don't think I had a cellphone then. But I followed the helicopters to his mansion, where a crowd of people had gathered, some with kids on their shoulders, to see what would happen next. Simpson sat in his car in the driveway pointing a gun to his head, and he eventually surrendered.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah, O.J.'s friend Al Cowlings was driving the white Ford Bronco. O.J. was in the back the whole time.

DEL BARCO: Right.

MARTÍNEZ: And then there was his murder trial the following year, which was another huge media moment.

DEL BARCO: Yeah, it was called the trial of the century. And it felt like the whole country was glued to the TV to watch it unfold live. Everyone involved became a pop culture icon - the judge, the prosecutors and Simpson's lawyers, including Robert Kardashian, father to the now famous Kardashian family, also his showy attorney Johnnie Cochran. He famously asked Simpson to try wearing once bloody gloves found at the crime scene. Here's Cochran in his closing argument.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOHNNIE COCHRAN: It makes no sense. It doesn't fit. If it doesn't fit, you must acquit.

MARTÍNEZ: And they did acquit. Mandalit, the reaction to that moment was very telling.

DEL BARCO: It was huge all over the country and it was somewhat divided along racial lines. I interviewed some liberal white Angelenos who were outraged. Here's a retired Hollywood accountant named Al (ph). NPR agreed at the time not to use his last name.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

AL: His trial was a big fraud, as far as I'm concerned. The guy is as guilty as sin.

DEL BARCO: You know, but reaction was more complicated for Black Angelenos I spoke to. Some told me that whether or not Simpson killed his ex-wife, they felt that for once, justice was on the side of an African American man. Here's a clip from Al Humphries (ph), a former sheriff's deputy.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

AL HUMPHRIES: We said, wow, at least a Black guy got away sometimes because there's a lot of people, a lot of dead Black folks that nobody ever went to jail for.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, Mandalit, O.J. lived nearly 30 more years after all that. How relevant was he the rest of his life?

DEL BARCO: Well, you know, after his civil trial, he sort of faded away from the public for a while. He served nine years in a Las Vegas prison for an armed robbery and kidnapping at a hotel. And, A, the last time I saw O.J. Simpson in person, he was signing autographs at a horror film convention at a suburban strip mall. And I thought that might be the last we heard from him. But in 2016, there was a highly acclaimed TV miniseries about his trial and a documentary about him that won an Oscar. O.J. Simpson remained a fascinating and a complicated figure.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah, quite the sad saga all around. That's NPR's Mandalit del Barco in Los Angeles. Mandalit, thanks.

DEL BARCO: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTÍNEZ: Russia's war of attrition in Ukraine appears to be succeeding in ways its military superiority has not.

FADEL: More than two years into its full-scale invasion, Russian troops are now on the offensive and Ukrainian soldiers are exhausted. So after months of deliberation, Ukraine's parliament has adopted a law to mobilize hundreds of thousands of new soldiers.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Ukraine correspondent Joanna Kakissis joins us now. Joanna, it can't be good for a country trying to win a war that they would need more troops as soon as possible.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Yes, that's right, tens of thousands of Ukrainian soldiers have been killed in this war. Tens of thousands more have been injured. Russia has more resources, four times the population. And it's trying to win by wearing down the Ukrainian military. You know, some Ukrainian troops have been on the front line for months, up to two years. And to make matters worse, the Ukrainians don't have enough artillery shells to fight back or air defense missiles to protect themselves. The Russians are also dropping these guided bombs from fighter jets that are just destroying Ukrainian defenses.

MARTÍNEZ: And Ukrainian leaders think that this new conscription law will help turn that around. How would it do that?

KAKISSIS: So, A, the law lays the groundwork to draft more military-aged men. They would be required at all times to carry draft registration documents so conscripts would be easier to find. If they don't, they could lose privileges, like they would be banned from driving. And lawmakers are also considering imposing fines for draft dodgers in a separate bill.

MARTÍNEZ: All right, so those are the sticks. Any carrots here?

KAKISSIS: Yeah, the law also offers incentives to men who volunteer for service. For example, they can get certificates to buy a car or put down mortgage payments on a house. And in one controversial move, the bill also would allow convicts to serve in return for a suspended sentence. Previously, convicts were banned from military service.

MARTÍNEZ: Wow. Now, you've mentioned how exhausted Ukrainian troops are from their very long deployments. Does this law address that issue?

KAKISSIS: No. Though, lawmakers are considering a separate law about that. And, you know, long deployments with no end, that is what people seem to be most upset about when we speak with them. Families of soldiers are concerned that they're fighting for so long - and like I said, for two years without a real break - that some of these soldiers are forced to fight with injuries.

MARTÍNEZ: What are those families saying?

KAKISSIS: Our producer Polina Lytvynova spoke to Kateryna Ampilohohva (ph). She's a college student. Kateryna talked about her godfather, who's been stationed near the Russian border. He was hospitalized after getting hurt in action and told he can't convalesce for more than two months.

KATERYNA AMPILOHOHVA: (Speaking Ukrainian).

KAKISSIS: She's saying he's expected to return to where he was stationed at the border, even if he doesn't entirely recover from his wounds. It does not matter if he's healed because they need him on the front line.

MARTÍNEZ: So those are the families. What about the young men who could maybe be drafted?

KAKISSIS: Yeah, we also spoke with Denys Monastyrnyi (ph), who will turn 25 in four months.

DENYS MONASTYRNYI: (Speaking Ukrainian).

KAKISSIS: And Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy recently signed another law that lowered the conscription age from 27 to 25. Denys told us that he's ready to serve but that he, too, worries about whether he will ever get a break. He said there seems to be no end to this war and it's incredibly hard to be on the front line all the time, for months at a time with no end.

MARTÍNEZ: Joanna, quickly, the draft age in Ukraine is 25. Why are younger men in Ukraine exempted?

KAKISSIS: Ukraine doesn't have many of them. You know, Ukraine has a very low birth rate, drastic declines in birth rates since the USSR's collapse. And if Ukraine recruits a lot of young men, it risks decimating an entire generation.

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR's Joanna Kakissis. Thanks.

KAKISSIS: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTÍNEZ: Los Angeles Dodgers star Shohei Ohtani's former interpreter and close friend is due in court today after being charged with bank fraud.

FADEL: Federal prosecutors say Ippei Mizuhara stole more than $16 million from Ohtani's bank account, all because he had run up massive gambling debt.

MARTÍNEZ: LAist reporter Yusra Farzan was at the news conference in downtown Los Angeles where prosecutors announced the charges yesterday. So tell us more about these charges. I mean, bank fraud is pretty serious stuff.

YUSRA FARZAN, BYLINE: Right, bank fraud is a felony offense that can carry a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison. Federal prosecutors say Mizuhara illegally transferred money from Ohtani's bank account to bookies. They say he began gambling back in 2021, placing bets on sports, though not on baseball.

MARTÍNEZ: Right, but then he began losing all that money.

FARZAN: Yes. And according to the complaint, they say to pay off his debt, Mizuhara siphoned off more than $16 million from Ohtani's account. They also believe he spent about $325,000 of Ohtani's money on baseball cards purchased through websites like eBay and Whatnot.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, Ohtani and Mizuhara were friends, but how did Mizuhara get access to his account? Because I'm not sharing my account with my friends.

FARZAN: So when Ohtani moved to America from Japan to play professional baseball, he could not speak English. And prosecutors say that Mizuhara acted as his translator, but also his de facto manager. They say that Mizuhara helped Ohtani set up a bank account and that he later used that information to change the phone number and email address associated with the account. That's how, they say, he gained access to it. Here's one of the prosecutors, U.S. attorney Martin Estrada.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARTIN ESTRADA: We've obtained recordings of telephone calls in which Mizuhara spoke with bank employees, lied to them about being Mr. Ohtani, gave personal biographical information for Mr. Ohtani in order to impersonate him and thereby convince the bank to approve large wire transfers of large amounts of money to the bookmakers.

FARZAN: Estrada also said that Mizuhara blocked Ohtani's professional advisers - including his agent, accountant and financial adviser - from getting access to the account. None of them speak Japanese. We did reach out to Mizuhara's attorney for comment and he declined.

MARTÍNEZ: All right, so now for a big, key part in this. What did Ohtani know or didn't know about all this?

FARZAN: Well, Ohtani has said publicly he was shocked by Mizuhara's actions and had nothing to do with them. And U.S. attorney Estrada said yesterday that Ohtani is a victim in this case.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ESTRADA: I want to be clear that Mr. Ohtani has cooperated fully and completely in this investigation. He's not only spoken to investigators, he's provided access to his digital devices, to his personal information, to ensure that justice was done in this case.

FARZAN: Estrada says that they've gone through years of communication between Ohtani and Mizuhara, and that they haven't found any evidence that he knew about or was involved in Mizuhara's gambling. Major League Baseball had initially said they'd launch a probe into the gambling incident, but after Thursday's announcement, they said they'd wait until the criminal case is complete.

MARTÍNEZ: OK. And Mizuhara is supposed to surrender at the courthouse later today, right?

FARZAN: Yes, it's supposed to be a brief hearing. The U.S. attorney's office says he won't be asked to enter a plea to the bank fraud charge. Then they anticipate he'd be released on bond.

MARTÍNEZ: That's LAist reporter Yusra Farzan. Thank you very much.

FARZAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.