O.J.'S TIME TO TESTIFY Plaintiffs hope questioning will dismantle his
Jonathan T. Lovitt ; Richard Price
SANTA MONICA, Calif. -- If he's nervous, it doesn't show. He ambles
comfortably through the courthouse wearing an easy grin. He flirts with the
women and talks sports with the guys. He tells jokes and slaps backs. When
reporters pump him about the murders, he laughs. ``But I'll talk about golf,'' O.J.
Simpson says. ``Anyone want to know what I shot over the weekend?''
It's hard to believe this is the man scheduled to take the stand this morning for
what many believe will be one of the toughest examinations in courtroom
Simpson knows he'll face all the questions critics have been aching to ask since
he was first accused of knifing to death his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and
her friend Ronald Goldman the night of June 12, 1994.
He also knows that the man asking the questions will be Daniel Petrocelli,
lawyer for Simpson's arch-enemy, Fred Goldman. There will be no mercy, for
Ronald Goldman's father has but one goal: to destroy Simpson and his story and
prove that he's a killer.
Simpson knows, too, just how much rides on his performance. ``The case will
come down to how O.J. Simpson does on the stand,'' says Robert Shapiro, a
Simpson lawyer during the criminal trial.
Simpson, 49, was found innocent in that trial in October last year, but he never
testified. For the civil trial, he must take the stand or forfeit the case.
That could cost him millions in damages sought by families of the victims, who
are seeking to prove Simpson was liable for the deaths.
Simpson's testimony could determine whether he gains custody of his children,
whether he ever regains a semblance of a normal existence.
For all that, Simpson rarely shows signs of strain. Supporters say his relaxed
manner is what you'd expect from an innocent man. Promises civil rights lawyer
Leo Terrell, ``O.J. Simpson will be the best witness you've ever seen.''
In the courtroom, Simpson sometimes seems more bored than worried. He
walked out one day during testimony and spent the afternoon on the golf course.
Half the time, he doesn't show up at all.
When he does, he's still the star exuding confidence, comfortable in the
limelight, waving to fans who shout support from the street or stare at him
awestruck in the hall. He signs autographs. He shakes hands. At moments, it's as
though he were here for a playoff game or a movie premiere.
``This is the way I've always been,'' he says, shrugging. ``If you see me in public,
this is what I do. I've always talked to people.''
The record bears him out. As legends went, Simpson ranked among the most
charming. Across three decades beginning with his football exploits for the
University of Southern Calfornia in the 1960s, he established a nice-guy
reputation. Always with the dazzling smile, ever ready to sign an autograph.
But can he maintain his charisma on the stand?
Simpson has spent a lifetime in the spotlight, so he's an expert on working public
opinion. The murder allegations certainly are nothing new, and he knows the
questions going in.
He has spent two and a half years with lawyers and is in no way awed by them,
having been very much the boss for his own defense during the criminal trial.
Plus, he's had a long time to think about what he'll say.
for direct attack
The key for Petrocelli will be to take a hard line, yet not offend the jury.
``Jurors don't like to see massive unpleasantness,'' criminal defense lawyer Gigi
Gordon says. ``They don't like to see a lawyer get nasty and abusive. If that's
what (Petrocelli) does and Simpson survives, the plaintiffs' case could be dead.''
But the families have been gearing their case for a full-scale attack from the start.
In opening statements, they spent far more time bombarding Simpson's
credibility than they did citing DNA evidence. They called Simpson's pre-trial
deposition a ``web of lies.''
And while speeding through their witnesses, keeping testimony lean and pointed,
the families have hit hard on issues meant to dismantle Simpson's story when he
takes the stand.
He'll probably be up there a while. Judge Hiroshi Fujisaki has set aside three full
days for his testimony -- today, Monday and Tuesday.
That's a lifetime by Fujisaki's hurry-up standards. But that still may not be
enough. Petrocelli spent 10 days grilling Simpson during the pre-trial deposition.
``I would keep him there till hell freezes over because I think this is a person
who's charming in small doses,'' Gordon says. ``The longer a person is on the
stand, the more transparent.''
Also, Petrocelli may have more than one shot at Simpson. Defense lawyers are
expected to call him, too. If they do, Petrocelli can cross-examine Simpson.
Jury consultant Robert Hirschhorn says Simpson must present a perfect
demeanor, which he defines as ``respectful, quiet and confident.'' Simpson can't
lose his temper with Petrocelli, Hirschhorn adds. ``He has to focus on the jury.''
Hirschhorn believes the main threat to Simpson is the same phenomenon that
accounts for how relaxed he is.
``O.J.'s problem is that he's too cocky,'' Hirschhorn says. Simpson also lost his
temper more than once during the criminal trial. ``If he starts playing that game
this time, he's going to go down,'' he says.
could hurt Simpson
Despite his self-assurance, Simpson has habits that might hurt him. He almost
never makes eye contact when he's speaking, and analysts say eye contact with
jurors will be essential.
Also, Simpson occasionally overstates his case. He vehemently denied harassing
and asking out an 18-year-old court intern assigned to the civil case. But in the
next breath, Simpson boasted that he has been ``flirting with women for 49
years, and this is the first time someone complained.''
The statement outraged some women.
And Simpson may be affected by one major distraction -- his on-going trial in
Orange County to regain custody of his two children. Sydney, 11, and Justin, 8,
have been living with Nicole's parents since the murders. The grandparents want
to keep the kids.
Simpson is taking a break from the custody fight for his appearance here. But
Simpson lawyer Robert Baker suggested Thursday that the custody case is
weighing heavily on Simpson's mind.
Baker asked Fujisaki to delay Simpson's testimony until Monday so his client
could ``get his head on straight.'' The custody case was ``relatively traumatic,''
Baker said. The judge denied the request.
This trial around, most of Simpson's old friends are gone, and he's shunned by
the rich and famous. ``Those people would get up and leave if he walked into
Drai's (a trendy Hollywood night spot). I know I would,'' says author Dominque
Dunne, who covered the criminal trial for Vanity Fair. ``He's flunked getting
back into the life that he murdered his way out of.''
Even Robert Kardashian, who stood by Simpson through the criminal trial, has
turned on him. In Lawrence Schiller's book, American Tragedy: The Uncensored
Story of the Simpson Defense, Kardashian says he doubts Simpson's innocence.
But Simpson gathers new supporters all the time, and they don't sound worried.
Last weekend, Simpson was guest of honor and beneficiary at a fund-raiser
tossed by the Christian Women for Justice. Guests chastised the world for
harassing Simpson and held hands, singing, ``That's what friends are for.''
Simpson has new friends in court, too, though not as high-profile as the old
crowd. They share one feature; they all believe in him.
One is Irma Reed, a registered nurse who initially called herself Simpson's
That proved untrue, but she defends Simpson with the passion of a relative.
``That Mark Fuhrman. He had himself a good time planting all that evidence,''
Reed says. Fuhrman is the former detective who discovered the bloody glove at
Another new friend is Ron Bregman, who describes himself as a magician and an
actor. He's a middle-age man with a slight mustache, thick glasses and a mild
manner, except when it comes to defending Simpson.
Working the media appears to be part of his mission; he routinely brings cigars
for reporters. Simpson also seems bent on winning over the media. Whatever his
purpose, he's always chatting it up with them.
It's small talk, and the usual topic is sports. When Simpson successfully
predicted the New York Yankees would win the World Series in six games, he
``Hey, man, I told you about those Yankees in six,'' he told USA TODAY .
``Are you going to put that in your paper?''
Analysts generally regard his overtures to the media as a bad idea, and his family
apparently agrees. As Simpson chatted with reporters during one break, his
sister, Shirley Baker, shooed them away.
``No, no, no, O.J.,'' she reprimanded him. ``Don't talk to them. You know they
never write anything favorable about you.''
Ultimately, his family may be Simpson's greatest source of strength through the
task that lies ahead. They are a no-nonsense group whose testimony in the
criminal trial proved powerful. If the past is any guide, they'll be in court this
time nodding heads and smiling approval.
But if Simpson is smart, analysts say, he won't notice. He'll be looking
elsewhere. ``There's only one group of people who matter now, and that's the
jury,'' Hirschhorn says. ``They'll be the only people there who can empty out his
Contributing: Elizabeth Snead
PHOTO,color,Michael Caulfield,AP; PHOTOS,color,Eric Draper,AP(12);
PHOTOS,b/w,AP(2); Caption: O.J. Simpson (13 photo montage) Simpson: Her
family seeks custody of kids Goldman: HIs father is Simpson's archenemy