`Kato': Coming soon to the stand

  Gale Holland; Jonathan Lovitt


  USA Today


  Page 03A

  (Copyright 1995)


  LOS ANGELES - When Brian "Kato" Kaelin takes the stand in the O.J. Simpson

  double-murder trial, he won't be the same unknown who amused the nation by

  exposing Hollywood's "guesthouse" lifestyle.


  Since his testimony at the preliminary hearing in July, the 32-year-old actor has

  been mobbed by fans, has appeared on TV and in a movie, has talked deals with

  Hollywood executives and has received hundreds of letters calling him a "hero"

  and "the key to the Simpson mystery," his agent says.


  In addition to an agent, Kaelin now boasts an entertainment lawyer and publicist

  as well as a lawyer to help him through the trial.


  His testimony, expected as early as today, could be a star turn. "There's going to

  be some surprises if the right questions are asked," says agent Raphael Berko of

  Media Artists Group.


  It's all been a bit much for a Midwestern boy who labored in the trenches of

  Hollywood for 10 years. He had befriended O.J. and Nicole Brown Simpson and

  was offered a place to live in their guesthouse - where he was the night Nicole

  Simpson and Ronald Goldman were killed.


  He longed for fame - but not this way, associates say.


  "This has been a very painful thing for him," Berko said. "He loved both of them

  (O.J. and Nicole Brown Simpson) and he loved the children."


  Kaelin has turned down thousands of dollars to talk to the tabloids and donated

  acting proceeds to charity, entertainment lawyer Michael Plotkin says.


  For a time after the killings, he lived at Charlie Sheen's home, publicist David

  Crowley says.


  "It's been real difficult, because if he doesn't work, they say he's a freeloader and

  ne'er-do-well, and if he does work, they think he's exploiting his celebrity,"

  Plotkin says.


  Kaelin runs 15 to 20 miles each morning, plays baseball and basketball and met

  many of his friends through the Hollywood sports scene, Crowley says.


  He sometimes dines in the posh bistros of Sunset Plaza, where his orders run to

  healthy fare such as Chinese chicken salad and herb tea. One waitress says he's a

  big tipper.


  Just Friday, Kaelin talked about a movie deal with a producer in the lobby of

  Chateau Marmont, the Sunset Strip hotel where John Belushi met his end.


  "He's an extraordinary fellow," says casting director Jerry Marshall. "The trial

  may open a door for him, but he has to have the stuff for it, and I think he does.

  Kato's got more than 15 minutes" of fame.


  He's been holed up several days preparing to take the witness stand, his

  representatives say. Kaelin's testimony is expected to be far more extensive than

  last summer, but his credibility should not be a big issue, his lawyer says.


  "Both sides are very, very comfortable he's telling the absolute truth," says

  William Genego, his trial counsel.


  Kaelin will repeat his story of hearing three thumps outside the Simpson

  guesthouse where police say they later found a bloody glove.


  He is in a unique position to testify about the Simpsons' tumultuous relationship.

  Kaelin walked in on the tail end of Nicole Simpson's anguished 911 call when

  she said O.J. Simpson had broken down her door and raved through her house.


  The New York Daily News reported Grant Cramer, a former lover of Nicole

  Simpson, told police Kaelin changed his story about Simpson acting normally the

  night of the murders. Cramer suggested Simpson asked Kaelin to provide him an

  alibi, the Daily News said.


  Genego said both stories are inaccurate. "I've heard the source of the story is

  someone who is being paid."

  PHOTO,b/w,John McCoy