Has star power and really needs it now INSIDE THE SIMPSON COURTROOM

O. J.

October 14, 1994|By Roger Simon | Roger Simon,Sun Columnist

LOS ANGELES -- Denise Brown enters the courtroom, her shoes clicking on the blonde marble tiles. She walks down a long wooden pew and takes a seat.

Perhaps it is just an accident that the seat she takes is as far away from O. J. Simpson as she can get.

Denise is the elder sister of Nicole Brown Simpson, who was murdered on June 12 along with one of her friends, Ron Goldman. Simpson is charged with both murders.

Denise, 37, looks like a raven-haired version of Nicole. She is tall and pretty. She is wearing a black blazer and green slacks. And when she sits down, she runs her left hand through her dark, shiny hair. On her left wrist is a Swiss Army watch and a man's ID bracelet with large silver links.

In her right hand she carries a black volume that is zippered shut and has a tassel hanging from it. In Los Angeles this could either be the Holy Bible or her address book.

She looks straight ahead until O. J. Simpson enters the courtroom, and then she turns her head toward him.

Simpson is wearing a dark suit, white shirt and patterned tie. He carries a clear plastic bag containing his writing material -- he writes constantly during each court session -- and what looks like mail.

He gets about 3,500 fan letters a day.

He sits down at the end of the defense table in a swivel chair.

Then he slowly swivels until he is looking directly at Denise. And then he . . . smiles.

It is not a huge smile, not even a grin. It is sort of a half-smile that ends in a grimace. It is a hey-I-know-I'm-accused-of- murdering-your-sister-but-can't-we-still-be-friends kind of smile.

Since I am sitting directly behind Denise, I cannot tell if she smiles back.

But I doubt it. She and Simpson have a difficult relationship now.

Denise lives at her parents' home, where Simpson's two children are in the custody of her parents. Simpson calls the children from jail all the time (though he tells them he is away on a business trip).

Denise sometimes answers the phone, and she must talk to Simpson. For a long time, she would not let herself think about whether he was guilty or innocent of murdering her sister.

"You don't want to think about it," Denise told ABC's Diane Sawyer, "because if he's innocent, then you think, 'Oh my God, this poor man had to go through all this,' and you feel so bad. And then, on the other hand, if he's proven guilty, you think, you know, why?"

But that was before Denise began going to court and hearing Simpson's lawyers fight tooth and nail to get evidence against Simpson thrown out. To Denise this was not fair.

She got so angry, in fact, that she took an elevator from the ninth-floor courtroom of the Criminal Courts Building to the 18th-floor pressroom, where she burst in and asked reporters: "If O. J. is so innocent, why are they trying to suppress all the evidence? I've never seen this before."

Her anger was understandable. But it had to be explained to her that a trial is a great game, a great contest, and that actual guilt or innocence does not count.

What counts is only what the state can prove beyond a reasonable doubt, and it is the duty of Simpson's attorneys to make this as difficult as possible.

But while Denise seems to grow angrier and angrier with each passing day in court, Simpson is unchanged. When he does not seem downright cheerful, he remains blandly unthreatening. He is not your usual accused murderer.

He smiles at everybody, including each and every reporter and the sheriff's deputies who guard him. These deputies carry huge sidearms and are authorized to use them should a defendant try to make a break for it or try to jump the judge.

And being law enforcement officers, their attitude toward prisoners usually ranges from professional indifference to icy disdain. But with Simpson it is different. They smile and joke and laugh with him.

It seems that nobody doesn't like O. J.

Marcia Skolnik, the highly respected director of the public affairs office for the courts, has also noted the effect Simpson has on the public, who come to the court each day for the few seats that are available.

"When he stands up at the end of court, people in the public seats will start shouting: 'Hey, O. J., we're for you!' and the bailiffs will have to stop them," she said. "And when the actual trial starts, then we are going to have his mother here and his sisters and probably his celebrity friends, too."

It ought to be quite a show. But it will be one in which Simpson ought to do very well. Because if he knows anything, he knows how to use his star power.

And these days, these critical days, he is using it on his jury.

As each prospective juror filed into the courtroom this week, Simpson stood and looked each in the eye. Sometimes he would stick his hands in his pockets, looking relaxed, at ease, not a care in the world. Because innocent men don't have any cares, do they?

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