O.J. to play central role in civil trial Experts: Simpson's credibility is pivotal

  issue this time around

  Jonathan T. Lovitt


  USA Today


  Page 03A

  (Copyright 1996)


  SANTA MONICA, Calif. -- The last time O.J. Simpson went to trial, he sat

  mostly in silence and watched an epic battle over physical evidence, from bloody

  gloves and sidewalks to tedious DNA tests.


  But in his wrongful death civil suit, the key battle promises to be a different one

  -- and this time Simpson plays the central role. From the moment opening

  statements begin today, both sides will try to paint sharply contrasting images of

  Simpson the man.


  Physical evidence still matters in this case, which will determine whether

  Simpson was liable for the killings of ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her

  friend, Ron Goldman, in June 1994. Families of the victims are seeking

  unspecified monetary damages from Simpson.


  But because Simpson will testify later in the trial, virtually every expert agrees

  his credibility is the single most pivotal issue this time around.


  Analysts say the two sides will fret and fight over endless details of Simpson's

  personal life. ``It probably is everything,'' outside criminal defense lawyer Gigi

  Gordon says.


  A gag order prevents either side from discussing the case. But witness lists and

  depositions from witnesses offer a preview of their testimony in this trial and

  shed insight into the lawyers' strategies.


  Lawyers for the families are expected to characterize Simpson during the months

  and days before the murders as a desperate man in crisis.


  In depositions, their witnesses say Simpson stalked his ex-wife, at one point

  peeking in her front window as she had sex with someone else. They say

  Simpson threatened Nicole's lovers, even confronting one of her dates by ranting

  that she was ``still my wife.''


  Faye Resnick, Nicole's friend who wrote a best-seller about the slayings, says in

  her deposition that Simpson admitted in the weeks before the killings that he was

  ``obsessed'' with Nicole.


  And Simpson's ex-girlfriend, model Paula Barbieri, says in her deposition that

  she left an 8-minute message on his voice mail breaking up with him the

  morning before the murders. She then flew on to Las Vegas to meet singer

  Michael Bolton.


  Later that day, other witnesses say in their depositions, Simpson described

  himself as ``alone'' in the world. Former houseguest Brian Kato Kaelin says

  Simpson was extremely upset with Nicole for ``playing hardball'' with their



  The defense, meanwhile, is expected to paint Simpson as an innocent victim,

  acquitted after his criminal trial last year and now persecuted by the families out

  of vengeance and greed. His lawyers are likely to attack Nicole Brown Simpson.


  Simpson has contradicted all the most damaging charges against him in his

  deposition. For one thing, he says he never got Barbieri's breakup message



  And backed by the deposition of Nicole's close friend, Cora Fischman, Simpson

  says that Nicole was living a dangerous lifestyle that featured heavy drinking and

  cocaine use and wild sexual escapades. The point: She lived a lifestyle that may

  have led her into the path of a killer.


  Moreover, Simpson contends Nicole stalked him. He says she followed him to

  Mexico. She showed up at his golf club to take lessons. She baked him cookies

  and brought them by. She tearfully requested a reconciliation at one point, and

  ``I told her I wasn't interested,'' Simpson says in his deposition.


  Who will this jury of nine whites, one black, one Hispanic and one of mixed race

  believe? Some believe the predominantly white jury guarantees a Simpson loss.

  Others point out he needs just four people on his side. In civil cases, verdicts

  require a 9-3 majority

  PHOTO, B/W, Nick Ut, AP; Caption: Simpson: Defendant won't sit in silence in

  civil trial.