Extraordinary Simpson trial to open

January 23, 1995|By Roger Simon | Roger Simon,Sun Columnist

LOS ANGELES -- He is taken from a windowless cell in Men's Central Jail to a windowless holding room on the ninth floor of the Criminal Courts building on the gritty, northern edge of downtown L.A.

There, the deputies, who laugh and joke with him (O. J. Simpson is a model prisoner, after all) unlock his shackles, and he changes out of his blue jail jumpsuit.

He must wear the jumpsuit a week before it is washed, though he is allowed to change his underwear twice each week.

In the holding room, one of his lawyers hands him a suit from the extensive wardrobe Simpson keeps at his home on North Rockingham Avenue.

The suits are both conservative and beautiful, and as he changes clothes, his mood visibly improves.

With a suit on his back, a belt around his waist, a tie at his throat, he enters the world of normal people, the world of people not accused of homicide.

He follows his attorneys through the unmarked, wood-paneled door into Courtroom 9-307. He has done this many times over the past several months, but today, with opening statements scheduled, his trial really begins.

His chief lawyers -- Johnnie Cochran, Robert Shapiro, and F. Lee Bailey -- are all short men, and Simpson towers over them. At the defense table, the chairs have been adjusted to equalize things a bit.

Until Friday, the courtroom looked much like any other. But now, two giant projection TV screens set up to show the jury a high-tech display of evidence make it look a bit like a sports bar.

Judge Lance Ito, his judicial bench crowded with knickknacks and mementos, is always the last to enter. He checks the courtroom temperature on a thermostat behind him -- he complains when anyone touches it -- and takes his seat.

Before court begins, the opposing lawyers act in a collegial manner, greeting each other by first name and shaking hands.

But on Friday, the prosecution introduced a new chill into the proceedings. Deputy District Attorney Christopher Darden announced that a new witness for the prosecution had come forward.

She is a woman who once baby-sat for Nicole Simpson's two children and who will reportedly testify that Nicole carried Mace to protect herself from O. J.

When the name of the woman was announced, Simpson shook his head sadly and laughed. But his mood changed swiftly when Darden made his next statement.

"The witness has a fear for her physical safety, should the defense learn of her address and phone number," Darden told Judge Ito.

Simpson looked shocked. His lawyers exchanged outraged glances. Carl Douglas, one of Simpson's secondary lawyers, leapt to his feet.

"I take umbrage that O. J. Simpson poses a threat to her or any witness!" he said.

No, not O. J. Not the Juice. How could anyone accuse this man of posing a threat to anyone?

The murders of Nicole and Ron Goldman?

That wasn't O. J., the defense will tell the jury. First of all, it had to take more than one person to commit those crimes, and second of all, neither one of them was Orenthal James Simpson.

Couldn't have been. He was at home, waiting for a ride to the airport. Just ask his lawyers.

From her seat in the front row of the spectators' area, Denise Brown, Nicole's elder sister, allowed a grim smile to play across her lips as Simpson's lawyers expounded upon his peaceful nature.

She is waiting for the day when she will stop being an observer and will take the witness stand. And, when one sits and watches her watching Simpson with her jaw locked and her eyes unswerving, one gets the impression she can't wait to stick a knife in him as she believes he stuck one in her sister.


Killing a person with a knife is a rare form of homicide in Los Angeles County.

In 1993, the last year for which statistics have been assembled, only 9 percent of the 2,065 homicides were accomplished by stabbing, cutting or hacking.

It is a particularly intimate crime.

Unlike shooting, which can be accomplished quickly, impersonally and from a distance, a stabbing literally links the killer and victim.

And according to experts, excessive slashing and puncture wounds far in excess of what it takes to kill are commonplace in such crimes.

Nicole Brown Simpson's neck was slashed to the spinal column, the knife going one-quarter inch into the vertebrae. The knife severed both her carotid arteries and one jugular vein.

Ron Goldman was cut more times than Nicole and exhibited four wounds to his neck, head, chest and side, any one of which would have been sufficient to end his life. One wound was more than 5 inches deep.

Both bodies also exhibited classic "defense" wounds, which are wounds to the fingers, palms and forearms as the victim attempts to ward off the blows.

"If you've got a gun, it's real easy and clean -- you don't have to get yourself dirty," said Kris Mohandie, a Los Angeles Police Department psychologist. "Using a knife entails a lot of something else -- a lot more work, a lot more involvement, a lot more investment, both physically and emotionally."


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