• U.S.

BLAMING THE VICTIM

3 minute read
Richard Zoglin

That noise you heard across the country last week was the sound of Americans going about their usual business: doing their jobs, tending to their kids, following the World Series–instead of watching the O.J. Simpson trial. With cameras banned from the courtroom in the civil suit brought against Simpson following his acquittal on murder charges a year ago, the nation has been spared another all-consuming TV spectacle. But that didn’t make any less startling the defense’s opening gambit: the trashing of Nicole Brown Simpson.

Simpson’s murdered ex-wife had been largely spared during the criminal trial. But lead defense attorney Robert Baker attacked her in his opening statement as a promiscuous woman who abused alcohol and drugs, had an abortion to get rid of a baby fathered by one of her boyfriends and ran with an unsavory crowd. “She was bringing prostitutes and drug users into her house with [O.J.’s] children there, and he was very upset about it,” said Baker.

His goal was to counter the prosecution’s picture of Simpson as a jealous ex-husband by portraying him instead as a concerned friend and confidant to a troubled woman. In addition, Baker seemed to be laying groundwork for the theory that other people in Nicole’s life might have had reason to kill her. Many legal observers, however, called the tactic risky. “Unless showing her bad character points in some clear way to showing that somebody else committed the crime,” says Welsh White, a criminal-law professor at the University of Pittsburgh, “I think it’s going to be more harmful than helpful.”

Lawyers for the plaintiffs also forged into new territory in their opening statements. Daniel Petrocelli, representing Ron Goldman’s father, moved the estimated time of the murder to 20 minutes later, to coincide with the time a neighbor, Robert Heidstra, says he heard male voices shouting and saw a car similar to Simpson’s Bronco leaving the scene. Petrocelli also promised to show a photo of Simpson wearing Bruno Magli shoes, of the type that left prints at the murder scene and that Simpson has denied owning. TIME has learned that the plaintiffs also plan to present more evidence of domestic violence, beginning six weeks before the murders, when Nicole began giving back jewelry. “A pattern of real rejection began,” says a source close to the case. “You’ll see the real time line for these murders begin then.”

Simpson, seen coming and going from the courthouse, appears heavier and walks more stiffly. The attack on his ex-wife’s life-style, which parallels his contention that drug dealers had something to do with her murder, probably means that he is calling the shots in this trial even more than he did the last time around.

–Reported by Elaine Lafferty/Santa Monica and Andrea Sachs/New York

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