If trial reveals the truth, it will be an accident

January 13, 1995|By ROGER SIMON

Convinced that O. J. Simpson is an unspeakable beast? A wife abuser? A brute who beat Nicole over a 17-year-period, stalked her, threw her against walls, hit her with a wine bottle and beat her during sex?

Well, why wouldn't you be convinced?

The prosecutors in the Simpson murder trial spent hours outlining in gruesome detail some 59 incidents of spousal abuse on Wednesday, and even though they withdrew some of the allegations yesterday, the picture they painted of O. J. Simpson was clear: The man is a monster.

"This murder took 17 years to commit," Deputy Los Angeles District Attorney Scott Gordon told Judge Lance Ito. "Those punches, slaps, these pushings are a prelude to a homicide."

And what did O. J. Simpson's crack legal team have to say in response?

Not much. Gerald Uelmen droned on and on in his academic monotone, managing to make statements that produced more outrage toward his client than sympathy.

"It is remarkable there are so few incidents [of alleged abuse] in a 17-year relationship," Uelmen said. "What we end up with is a bumpy marriage in which the partners argued a lot, probably no more than usual. All the good moments of that marriage were left out."

Yeah, like how Simpson told Nicole he loved her. Once she was in her coffin.

Uelmen said that just about all of what the prosecution presented was either irrelevant, inadmissible hearsay (i.e., statements by one person about what another person said) or lies and that none of it should be heard by the jury, which was sequestered before this hearing began.

And the single act of abuse that Uelmen did admit to -- the 1989 New Year's Day beating of Nicole by Simpson -- Simpson vociferously objected to while Uelmen was still talking.

As Uelmen said that Simpson had admitted that he "slapped and punched" Nicole on that evening, Simpson's brow knitted in anger and he turned to another one of his attorneys, Johnnie Cochran Jr., and said: "No, I did not!"

Cochran made a soothing gesture, but Simpson continued throughout the hearing to call attention to himself by displaying emotions ranging from head-shaking disgust to dismissive laughter.

Lucky for him the jury was not there. Juries like their defendants humble.

But in one day O. J. Simpson's image was changed for millions of people from that of affable superstar to that of ravening beast.

Judge Ito, however, may not allow many of these allegations -- and that is all they are -- to be presented to the jury. And even if he does, the jury still will have to decide if they are true.

Remember William Kennedy Smith? Sure, you do. In May 1991, he was charged with the rape of a Florida woman. And in July of that year, the New York Daily News and the New York Post ran the same huge headline on the same day: WILLIE RAPED BEFORE.

New York's third tabloid, Newsday, ran the headline in large type: "He's Raped Before."

But had he really? These headlines referred to the allegation of a woman who said Smith had raped her in 1988. Two other women said Smith sexually attacked them.

But none called police and none filed charges.

Before Smith's Florida rape trial began, the judge held a hearing very similar to the one now going on in California. And the question was the same: Were allegations of past misdeeds admissible in the current trial?

The Florida judge decided they were not. The jury never learned of them. And Smith was acquitted.

So it is not uncommon for the public outside the courtroom to know more about a case than the jury does. Or the public thinks it knows more, anyway.

Almost everything we "know" about what happened last June 12, when Nicole and Ronald Goldman were murdered, is an allegation by one side or the other.

Will we ever learn the truth? It would be nice to say that trials determine truth, but they do not.

The most a trial can do is produce what the jury believes is the truth, and often trials don't produce even that.

As for the absolute truth of whether O. J. Simpson killed two people that night, O. J. Simpson does know for sure.

But the law says he doesn't have to tell.

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