OJ: Ten Years Later
The Observer, May 2004
Juice on the loose: It was the media trial of the decade, with all the ingredients of a blockbuster – money, murder, race, sex and celebrity. But then OJ Simpson was cleared. As the 10th anniversary of the slaughter of Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman approaches, Sanjiv Bhattacharya reveals why, for the victims’ families, this Hollywood story has yet to end.
Also at The Observer
Ten years after the murder of her sister Nicole, Denise Brown’s thoughts turn once again to OJ Simpson – celebrity pariah, golfer and father of four. For all she knows, he is probably teeing off right now, even as she plans a candlelight vigil for her sister and her friend Ron Goldman.
‘I believe it’s a hell on earth for him,’ she says, walking down to the beach where the vigil will be held. ‘I know there are restaurants in Florida that would throw him out and a lot of people that won’t have him around. But I tell you – the day he dies is the day I celebrate. And I’ll keep celebrating for the rest of my life.’
Though she wishes a man dead, she betrays little passion in saying so, as though repetition has drained her voice of venom. Instead, she sounds clipped and brisk, more inclined to chivy than to wallow; she has wanted him dead for so long now.
When the trials were over in 1997 – criminal, civil and child custody – the courts lifted a gag order on the Brown family, finally allowing Denise to declare OJ Simpson the killer of Nicole and the waiter Ron Goldman. And so she has, ever since, never missing a chance to remind the world of his guilt, most often by exploiting the platform of spousal abuse, and through the related Nicole Brown Charitable Foundation, which she chairs
But lately, the 10th anniversary of the 12 June murders has gifted her with a fresh flurry of opportunities to denounce the ex-football star. And she seems to relish giving the media-go-round another whirl.
‘Let’s see,’ she says. ‘I just did Dateline with Stone Philips, and next week I’ve got Larry King, then Good Morning America. Then there’s the Today Show, CNBC, A&E… Oh, just all of them. Everyone promised me that they weren’t going to give Simpson airtime, but I don’t know, maybe they’re lying.’
As she speaks, she poses for pictures where she grew up with Nicole, on Salt Creek Beach in Dana Point, Orange County. ‘Here is where we got suntanned, hung out and went boy crazy together,’ she says, adjusting her hands and tilting her chin. ‘Even though I’m two years older [she’s 46 now], Nicole was always the more mature one. Everyone thought she was older, actually. She didn’t like that.’
In front of the camera, Denise has all the poise you would expect of a former model, not to mention the public face of one of the most photographed grieving families in America – besides Nicole, hers is the face you see, and it is striking how similar they look. Handsome and chiselled, with a hint of Ali McGraw, Denise is the brunette to Nicole’s blonde.
‘So all these trees will be full of candles,’ she says, pointing at a picnic area facing the sea. ‘And the media will go here – we always have local media cover the vigils. The J Harris band will go here – they’re friends of ours, they do a song called “Heart And Soul”. We’ll have some upbeat music and some serene music. And we’ll open with a prayer and close with a prayer. Some people want to sell T-shirts, but I won’t allow that – this is about remembering. And it’s not just about Nicole and Ron, it’s for all victims of violence. So if you’ve been hurt or you’ve lost someone then we’ll pray for you too.’
Brown looks out at the Pacific, steeling her jaw against the breeze. ‘People think 10 years is easier, but it’s harder. I just don’t cry so often. It means that it’s 10 years since I gave Nicole a hug or talked to her on the phone. So when it’s all over, on 13 June, that’s when I have my little breakdown. Because I’ll never forget, for as long as I live when I heard my mum screaming at 6.15 in the morning. And I knew immediately. It was the first thing I thought. “It’s Simpson. He’s killed my sister.”‘
For Brown, the Simpson criminal trial is a bitter memory without respite, from the near beheading of her sister to the acquittal of her killer. For the viewing public, however, it remains as compelling a spectacle of fame, money, sex, race and murder as we’ve ever seen unfold on our screens.
Over nine months, the narrative built, beginning with a blood-drenched first act – the slaughter in Brentwood, an expensive LA neighbourhood near the sea. The Browns had attended a dance recital by Sydney, Nicole’s eight-year-old daughter. Denise, Nicole and their parents, Lou and Juditha, were there, seated separately from Simpson, Sydney’s father, who was by some accounts glowering, and by others quite amicable. Afterwards, the Browns went to a nearby Italian, where Ron Goldman worked as a waiter – Mezzaluna is the last place that Nicole and Ron were seen alive.
From the jugular splatter that greeted detectives on the day the bodies were found, the most plausible scenario was that the killer had been lying in wait at Nicole’s house on 875 South Bundy. As for Ron Goldman, he was only returning a pair of spectacles that Nicole’s mother had left at the restaurant. He was a friend of Nicole’s, aged 25, but nothing was ‘going on'; his girlfriend lived only a block away. He stumbled across the murder scene and became the second victim.
Five days later, the world watched rapt as police slow-chased for 90 minutes that famous white Bronco, with a suicidal Simpson in the passenger seat. He was holding a gun to his head and a phone to his ear, wailing to Detective Tom Lange that he didn’t do anything wrong. Through the windows, he could see the starstruck fans who lined the streets waving banners saying ‘Go Juice Go!’
But even then, the so-called Pro-J’s were a fast-dwindling faction. For many of the ‘breaking news’ anchors and assembled punditocracy, Simpson’s guilt was so transparent that his conviction was a matter of time – just long enough, in fact, for the American system of Truth and Justice to pass judgement, gather a crowd and hoist a blade. After all, prosecutor Marcia Clark later described a ‘mountain of evidence’ against him. ‘The most massive and compelling body of physical evidence ever assembled against a criminal defendant,’ she said.
The blood seemed to point arrows of blame in the running back’s direction – there was Goldman’s blood in his Bronco and Nicole’s blood on his socks, and bloody shoeprints from the bodies to the gate of Nicole’s condo made by Bruno Magli size 12s, as Simpson wore. Simpson’s hair was found on Goldman’s shirt and on a blue cap found at the scene. And Simpson had cut his left hand on the night of the murders, just as the killer had, and his only explanation was ‘I bleed all the time… I mean, I play golf and stuff, so there’s always something, nicks and stuff.’
Leaving aside the mystery of golfing nicks, what about the knife he recently bought and had sharpened especially? And wasn’t Simpson enraged with Nicole since she had recently returned a diamond bracelet and earrings he bought for her birthday? Later we would learn of the history of abuse that Nicole had suffered at Simpson’s hands, his bizarre stalking behaviour when they split and the false beard, the passport and the $9,000 cash he had brought with him on his suicide Bronco ride. And yet, later still, we would learn that no matter how incriminating this all looked, it was largely ‘circumstantial’, and as such most of it would not be presented to the jury.
The certainties began to unravel when the bloodied glove didn’t fit and the prosecution’s key witness, Mark Fuhrman, shape-shifted from a white knight to a gloating racist before the court. As his ‘N’ word tape was played to the predominantly black jury, and doubt became increasingly reasonable, a mist entered the court and a hysterical clamour filled the airwaves, the din of punditry in concert with the circus on the courthouse steps.
It was the verdict that defined the trial, the axe that fell and missed. The jury defied what Toni Morrison called: ‘A media pogrom, a lynching with its iconography intact: a chase, a cuffing, a mob, name calling, a white female victim, and most of all the heat, the panting, the flared nostrils of a pack already eager to convict.’
By refusing to deliver the head of the accused and by acquitting in accordance with Johnnie Cochran’s famous couplet – ‘If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit’ – the 12 peers reopened a gash still seeping from the Rodney King verdict of two years earlier.
President Clinton appealed for calm – Los Angeles had recently burned in the wake of the King cops’ acquittal – but his appeals were in vain, the damage had already been done. Only this time, the riots were quiet and the fires were internal. The trial had exposed a national ugliness – a perceptual split between two Americas, black and white, both of which watched the same trial on the same channels but came to two very different conclusions.
For white America, the ‘not guilty’ verdict alone was appalling. To see black America rejoice only salted the wound.
Kim Goldman, Ronald’s sister, sits on her couch at home in the scenic suburbs of Canyon Country, north of Los Angeles. She’s burping her baby boy Sammy on her knee and shaking her head. ‘I’m sure people are going to forget, and that’s the hardest thing for us. We need the public to remember that a guilty man is walking free. If he’s out in public, I want people to spit at him, and shun him and yell, “Murderer.” I want that. I want him to be ostracised completely.’
It has taken years for Kim to recover from the trial, or more specifically, its aftermath. At the end of the civil trial, when Simpson was declared responsible for the two deaths and ordered to pay $33.5m, the media moved on and Kim, then only 25 years old, found herself not a little abandoned. ‘For those first three years I knew what my job was – to go to court every day and fight for my brother, deal with the media. That was my life. Then everyone left and I was really lost. I didn’t know what to do.’
In the past two years, her life has come together – she married, had a baby, and now runs a company that helps the intellectually impaired. She no longer feels so bereft, though the anger remains. ‘I’m angry because good things are starting to come into my life and my brother isn’t here to share it with me,’ she says. ‘Like my wedding and my wonderful husband. I don’t break down all the time, but yes, I tried to call my brother from the hospital after I had Sammy. That stuff happens.’
Like Denise, she is angry that the system failed her family and that the trial became a referendum on racism in the LAPD rather than a murder trial. They both share the same suspicions about the jurors, who only deliberated for three hours after a nine-month trial. ‘Don’t you think it stinks when all the jurors, except one, go to the killer’s victory party afterwards and get pictures and autographs with him?’ But she stops short of personal attacks, making sure to keep an objective distance before casting judgement on the trial lawyers involved. She says with regret that Simpson’s defence ‘were just doing what they were paid to do. And the killer got his money’s worth.’
Denise, on the other hand, is more pointed. One afternoon, over French toast at a Dana Point cafe, for example, she tears into every cast member in the Simpson drama, beginning with the so-called Dream Team. ‘Johnnie Cochran I don’t like. He set us back 100 years by using the race card like that. And Robert Shapiro, I’ll never forgive. He came to Nicole’s house and she cooked for him and his wife, and then he represents the man that killed her? No. No. I was having lunch with Larry King once and Shapiro came up to shake hands with me. I just looked at him. He said, “I understand”, but what does he understand? Nothing.
Bob Kardashian [Simpson’s friend and lawyer] died recently and people say, “Oh don’t you feel sorry for him?” No I don’t. I’m still angry with him. He had a choice whether to represent Simpson.’
Her bitterest condemnation, however, she saves for the prosecution. ‘The first time I met Marcia Clark, I went up to her office and there was a huge poster board with pictures on it, all of Nicole’s throat cut. She knew we were coming. I just stared, I couldn’t even walk in the door. I’d never seen those pictures before. When she saw me looking at the pictures she said, “Oh my gosh, they’re just like furniture to me.” Those were her words. And I was like, “You insensitive bitch.”‘
When The Observer approached the surviving members of the prosecution, they all refused to comment, with the exception of Cochran’s office, which issued a brief statement expressing condolences to the Browns and the Goldmans and addressing the ‘race card’ allegation (which will be quoted in full later). No interviews were granted, no specific questions were answered. For the lawyers, it seems, the trial was only ignominy, predicated by Simpson’s perceived guilt – when the defence fought for a killer, and the prosecution failed to defeat them, neither side emerges untainted.
Certainly the Dream Team appears to have suffered its share of nightmares over the past decade. F Lee Bailey, once a renowned trial lawyer, has been disbarred, following charges of fraud amounting to several million dollars. Cochran was recently hospitalised with a neurological complaint. Only Barry Sheck has appeared to flourish since his cross-examination shot holes through the LAPD criminalist’s handling of the blood – his Innocence Project has so far used DNA evidence to free 143 prisoners waiting on Death Row.
As for the prosecution, Marcia Clark’s excuse for not speaking with The Observer is ‘her hectic Entertainment Tonight schedule’. The former prosecutor now works as a legal analyst for the most vapid, fluffy, gossip-and-hair half-hour on television. Denise Brown gives a mirthless laugh. ‘She fucked up the trial of the century, and she’s on television as an expert?’
The leap to television is common enough for those of fleeting notoriety – in the trial’s immediate aftermath, Cochran secured a show on Court TV, and Kato Kaelin (Simpson’s house guest on the fateful night) attempted a talk show (which bombed). Today, the chief detective on the case, Tom Lange, has retired to make crime documentaries; Denise Brown is plotting a series called Predator, which will employ hidden-cameras to expose real-life stalkers; and Kim Goldman is producing a series of her own about the unsung families whose experience of violent crime or loss has led to a change in the law, such as the families behind Megan’s Law (child abuse) and the Amber Alert (child abduction).
No doubt, of all the TV excursions undertaken by Simpson alumni, Clark’s is the most trivial, but then of all the reputations in the trial, few fell so far and so fast. The consensus on Clark’s performance rivals that on Simpson’s guilt. Every post-trial tell-all – except her own and that of her co-prosecutor, Christopher Darden – heaps the blame for the perceived miscarriage largely at her door.
Only Goldman is forgiving – she sees Clark as a capable prosecutor, a victim of Judge Ito’s handling of the court. ‘There’s no more room in my life to be angry at two people who did the best they could for my brother, and gave up their lives and careers. I was in their office when Marcia and Chris were hysterically crying after the case.’
Nevertheless, Clark gave up practising law once she secured a $4m advance for a book, Without A Doubt, which scarcely sold. Now she is in Colorado serving up Kobe Bryant rape snippets. Simpson trial news veterans laugh as they see her touching up her make-up for her daily feed. Bill Whitaker from CBS chuckles: ‘It’s not journalism as I learnt it.’
Whitaker describes the Kobe trial as ‘OJ Lite’. There are many parallels between the cases – a black celebrity athlete beloved of white America is accused of a crime against a woman, and already fiery debates are underway about the white Colorado jury and the questionable morality of the fans who applaud the accused as he comes out to play.
But it is a far cry from the mayhem of Simpson, as Whitaker recalls. ‘One day, some guy flew over with a sky-writer and wrote, “Marcia will you marry me?” A stretch limousine showed up with a hot tub in the back with lookalikes of Lance Ito and Marcia Clark snuggling. A marching band performed outside the courtroom one day… It was outrageous. Now courts are a lot more savvy, it’s a lot more controlled.’
Fred Graham, a long-serving anchor at Court TV, describes the Simpson legacy on high-profile trials as ‘Ito-phobia – judges are afraid of looking as incompetent as Lance Ito did.’ Certainly, Ito drew considerable fire for losing control of the courtroom, not least from Kim Goldman. She points to his weak discipline in allowing Simpson to make a self-serving speech, and letting Cochran shift the focus of the trial – but with typical measure, she adds: ‘I don’t know that anything would have changed the verdict. And I know he felt bad – you should have seen his face when the verdict was read.’
Part of Ito’s problem was symptomatic of the nation as a whole – he was too dazzled by celebrity, even his own. When Jay Leno’s Tonight Show ran the ‘Dancing Itos’ sketch, the judge invited the case lawyers back into his chambers to show them the clip. He entertained celebrities in his chambers, often holding up the afternoon sessions. He even told Simpson jokes, one of which was reported in the New York Times: Ito tells Cochran that he has good news and bad news. The bad news is that analysts have found Simpson’s blood all over the murder scene. The good news is that Simpson’s cholesterol is low. Judge Ito now refuses all interviews.
‘It was a perfect storm of judicial disasters,’ says Graham. ‘Everything that could go wrong did go wrong. And because it was televised, a lot of the public, judges and lawyers said that the problem was the courtroom camera.’ Such was the backlash against the courtroom camera that even Court TV’s ratings dropped in the wake of Simpson. It was a brief trend that has since reversed – a temporary hurdle in the progress of cameras into courtrooms – but nevertheless, indicative of the extent to which the whirring eye in the corner of the room became a scapegoat for a travesty of justice. With hindsight, however, for all its corruptive contribution, it wasn’t the camera that set Simpson free. In fact, it may have been the camera that hanged him.
‘No one would have believed that Simpson was guilty unless they saw his guilty face for themselves,’ says Kim Goldman. Denise Brown echoes her sentiment: ‘I only wish they had cameras at the civil trial,’ she says. ‘If only people could have seen him squirm up on the stand.’
The civil trial was a brief vindication for the grieving families – Simpson was found responsible for the deaths at Bundy, and was ordered to pay $33.5m to Ron Goldman’s parents and the parents of Nicole Brown. It was also an example of the way in which the Simpson trial raised the bar for the so-called ‘armchair attorney’ that the general public had become – until Simpson, few understood that a criminal trial required a verdict that was ‘beyond reasonable doubt’, while a civil trial conviction was possible with a lower standard of proof.
At the trial, Simpson was forced to undergo cross-examination, and as Daniel Petrocelli, the Goldmans’ lawyer said in his summing up: ‘He lied and lied and lied, and he has been caught and caught and caught.’ The most telling lie, in which Simpson was caught, concerned his famous Bruno Magli size 12s – he claimed to have never even seen them and that he didn’t like the style and would never have bought them anyway. Then Petrocelli showed the jury 30 pictures of him wearing the very size and brand that the murderer wore on 12 June 1994. The civil jury that convicted him were white. The criminal jury that didn’t were mostly black. Whether or not justice was finally done, the undercurrent of racial payback that defines the Simpson case remained intact. ‘Don’t tell me that a white Santa Monica jury is not a jury of his peers,’ says Brown. ‘The African Americans that were in downtown Los Angeles [for the criminal trial] were not his peers because he didn’t live that way. Simpson was so white, he was whiter than I am.’
There are myriad racial twists to the Simpson tale, but they all begin with his whiteness. He was white America’s favourite un-negro, as raceless a black man as you could find. He led a white life, with a white wife, in an expensive white neighbourhood; he had escaped his blackness as effectively as he’d slipped tackles in his football prime.
The joke at the time was that the blackest thing Simpson ever did was get chased by cops in his Bronco – Simpson’s colour came to the fore when a racist cop took the stand. Or more pointedly, when Cochran played the pivotal ‘N’ word tapes to the jury, on which Detective Mark Fuhrman said ‘nigger’ more than 60 times. (Interestingly, Fuhrman is far less the pariah today than Simpson, despite such offensive beliefs as ‘the only good nigger is a dead nigger’. He has a hit radio show in Washington state and a couple of bestselling books to his name. America’s most celebrated racist cop declined an interview since he had signed an exclusive deal with Rupert Murdoch’s Fox television.)
When the racial fallout began, Simpson was assailed for conveniently donning the rags of social injustice, but it was his lawyer, Johnnie Cochran, who attracted the fiercest invective for ‘playing the race card’, a ploy deemed so cynical that even his fellow defender Robert Shapiro took issue.
It is the endurance of this outrage in the mainstream reading of the Simpson trial that indicates just how unresolved the core issues remain. For instance, the very term ‘race card’ is questionable. As Cochran’s statement to The Observer contends: ‘It suggests that race is something that can be frivolously used or bandied about as if in some sort of card game. The truth is, racism and discrimination are serious problems that unfortunately exist in many segments of society, including the Los Angeles Police Department.’ That is to say, that while colour-blind courts are an attractive aspiration for the majority, minorities must often be pragmatic about the realities of race. By this token, the ‘race card’ is always in play for black America.
Cochran continues: ‘The issue of race was not created by me or Mr Simpson as a ploy or distraction, rather, it was a fact which existed by virtue of the past conduct and statements of one of the lead detectives in the case.’ Or in other words – when the prosecution puts a racist on the stand to convict a black man, who is to say who played the race card first?
The sensitivity surrounding the verdict is such that several prominent black organisations in America would sooner discuss anything than the legacy of Simpson. The NAACP (National Association For the Advancement of Colored People) and the National Urban League both fought shy of commenting, saying: ‘There are bigger issues at hand, it’s time to move on.’ Yet it is arguable that many of these bigger issues, such as racial profiling and so on, are in part just ugly ripples of the Simpson verdict. After all, it became swiftly apparent that in the post-trial outrage a revolt by white America was underway.
Cochran, who became a hero to the black community, was painted as a villain, a slickster – snappy but fundamentally amoral. The black, female jury were judged to be not only too stupid to comprehend the evidence, but also guilty of making an emotional rather than an intellectual decision and, even worse, deliberately perpetrating a miscarriage to ‘send a message’ as Cochran had advised. And amid all this racial bitterness, California voted against affirmative action in November 1996. A bonafide backlash had begun, and for many this quiet, ‘white riot’ continues to this day.
‘”I bet you people are happy now.” That’s what I heard when the verdict was announced,’ says Julianne Malveaux, a black columnist for USA Today. ‘I said, “What do you mean, ‘you people?’ I don’t have a dog in this fight!” I think justice was served and the jury was right to acquit because the prosecution made a lousy case. But I also think black people have paid a heavy price for Simpson’s acquittal. A lot of whites took note of what happened, and they’re not outspoken about it any more, they just act. They riot by voting for Bush.’
For Malveaux, however, Simpson is not necessarily guilty of double murder. Her position is that the courts have spoken, and that the jury’s decision should be respected, just as black plaintiffs have respected the verdicts of so many all-white juries in the past. What most galled liberal whites was the bolder, more cynical stand that many African Americans still take today – that yes, Simpson probably did it, but it’s about time a travesty in the courts went ‘our way’ for once.
‘That’s why I celebrated,’ says Jill Nelson, award-winning contributor to the Village Voice. ‘Not because I think he’s innocent, but because he got off, just like a white man would have in his position. OJ showed that the Justice for Just-us days are done. He showed that a black man could play the game, too, and the rules wouldn’t be changed just for him. If he had the right money, the right connections and celebrity and all the rest, then he, too, could make the system work for him.’
Nelson’s view lies at the divisive core of ‘the Simpson matter’, as Lance Ito called it, despite its perverse reassurance that it is money and not race that lies at the root of this gory American parable. Given wealth and fame and the trappings of whiteness, Simpson showed that a black man could enact a crime so throbbing with archetype that it might figure in the nightmares of white America – the grim tale of a negro who slaughters a white woman and man, leaves his blood at the scene and calmly retires to play golf, secure in the knowledge that his $25,000-a-month pension is beyond the law’s grasp.
The last time Denise Brown saw the man she wants dead was in 1997 at the least covered of the trials – the trial for custody of the children, Sydney and Justin, who were eight and five when ‘it happened’.
Before awaiting the verdict of the civil trial, Judge Nancy Wieben Stock awarded Simpson physical custody and Nicole’s parents, Louis and Juditha were given guardianship. And ever since then, Denise has neither spoken to nor laid eyes on Simpson, although she has come close many times, even within earshot.
In 2001, for example, she was within yards of her sister’s killer – she pulled up right outside his front door, in Kendall, Florida. ‘I waited in the car until the kids came out. I never got out of the car and Simpson never came out of the house,’ she says. ‘I guess I’m glad. I don’t know what I would have said. The kids have mobiles, so I don’t have to talk to him. And now that Sydney’s 18, she can drive herself to the airport – it’s not an issue any more.’
After the trial, it was decided that for every Christmas and summer vacation, the children would leave Simpson’s Florida home to stay with their grandparents in Monarch Bay, California. So from the beginning, there were arrangements to be made – places and times to meet, pick up and drop off – and, since Denise was busy declaring Simpson a murderer, her parents negotiated all personal contact with the children’s father.
Denise and her parents live together – with her 18-year-old son, Sean – so, often, she would come home to find her father speaking on the phone with Simpson. ‘They don’t chat,’ she says. ‘It’s not an easy situation. But the children can’t make plane reservations themselves.’
Simpson’s presence in the Brown home is inescapable, particularly when the children are over. He’s the elephant in the room, the great undiscussed. While the children well know their father and the Browns loathe each other, the subject is never raised. ‘They never mention it and neither do I,’ says Denise. ‘If they ever ask my opinion, I’ll tell them. But they don’t. I think they already know what I think.’ Her parents, of course, think the same thing, and yet they have embraced the fact that a war with Simpson doesn’t do the children any good.
So while Denise continues to charge him with murder, Lou and Juditha have attempted a more delicate, pragmatic path – one in which manners mask the hostility you might expect between a parent and their daughter’s killer. That they have attracted criticism in doing so points less to their devotion to the children as to a general disquiet surrounding the behaviour of the Brown family throughout the trial.
Before the custody ruling, for example, Lou Brown said on Geraldo Rivera’s chat show that after 16 months in prison Simpson wouldn’t want the children all the time because ‘I’m sure he has a lot of wild oats to sow, a lot of women to chase after.’ The almost joshing, laddish tone towards the man who abused and then murdered his daughter gave pause to many who would have otherwise viewed the Browns in a light of unquestioning sympathy.
In fact, the Browns appeared frequently miscast for the role of The Bereaved in such a grand production. As Kim Goldman tactfully says, ‘They just have a different way of dealing with things – which is fine. I realised early on that this was not going to be the family that I bonded with over this.’
During the criminal trial, for example, they often left their seven seats vacant. When they did show up, they appeared to enjoy the attention, choosing to enter through the media melee at the front, rather than quietly via the back entrance. At one point, Denise’s sister Tanya was seen necking and groping her boyfriend. At another, her other sister Dominique sold topless pictures of Nicole to the National Enquirer, for $25,000. ‘That was just plain wrong, it was horrible,’ says Denise, about the sale of the pictures. ‘It ruined my relationship with her for many years.’
Yet money is an equal opportunity corrupter and such incidents only revived the most damning suspicion about the Browns, namely that they kept quiet about Nicole’s abuse since they were doing so well from Simpson’s money. Brown shakes her head, irritated. ‘Yeah, I’ve heard all that, but we had our own money, we didn’t need Simpson’s. Before we moved to Monarch Bay, we had a two-acre house with a tennis court and a pool – much bigger than Simpson’s house in Brentwood.’
So what about the job that Simpson had given her father Lou, of managing a Hertz Rent-a-Car franchise? ‘Dad was looking after that Hertz counter because Simpson asked him to. He was worried about getting ripped off! Of course he took a salary, he wasn’t going to do it for free. But he didn’t need the money.’ The memory exasperates her, these allegations of greed. ‘People think we’ve got millions from the civil suit, but we don’t get a penny,’ she says.
Brown herself shows no signs of wealth. She wears stonewash jeans, drives an old Mercedes and lives with her parents. Her only income, she says, comes from speaking engagements. ‘Whatever we get from the civil suit, which isn’t much, it all goes into a trust for the children.’
On this much, Kim Goldman and Denise Brown agree – no one has become rich from the $33.5m civil suit settlement. Goldman estimates that, so far, about $400,000 has been raised from the auction of Simpson’s luxury items several years ago. ‘The money was split between the Browns, us, the sheriff’s department and the auction house. Basically, we paid the lawyers,’ she says.
Like Brown, Goldman keeps an eye on Simpson’s movements, tracking his blips on the radar with both interest and contempt. While she is disgusted by his arrogance, his refusal to ever sympathise for the loss that her family experienced, she can also tell you about the time he was found not guilty (‘Yeah right’) of road rage in 2001; about the rap show he hosted in Cincinnati, 2002; and about the auction, in February of this year, at which Simpson tried to sell signed photos and memorabilia.
‘We got our lawyers to pull the plug on that and garnish his wages, immediately,’ she says. ‘Not because it’s about money – it was never about money – but at this point, money’s the only way we can hurt him. The killer has made it real clear that he has no intention of honouring that civil judgement. He even said, “I will refuse work all my life if it means having to give the Goldmans a cent.”‘
Goldman is much further removed than Denise Brown is from Simpson’s life. He doesn’t call her house – the very thought makes her shudder. Nevertheless, he haunts her in subtle yet mundane ways. For example, her aversion to knives. She cannot bring herself to buy a new set for her kitchen – it’s difficult to approach the kitchenware section in shops, even the word ‘knife’ is unpleasant. She flinches when people say ‘he cut me up on the freeway’ and she’s wary of watching Jay Leno or David Letterman. ‘They still mention the killer and make jokes about him, and they’re always negative, which is good. But still, it’s a shock.’
To Goldman he is always ‘the killer’ – never ‘Simpson’ or ‘OJ’ or, God forbid, ‘The Juice’. She learnt from Marcia Clark, who called him only ‘the Defendant’, the importance of taking away his name, his celebrity aura. Yet now that the Simpson name evokes only guilt, darkness and ridicule, to hear ‘the killer’ over and over – ‘I saw the killer in the National Enquirer today’ and ‘They mentioned the killer on The Practice last week’ – seems to bestow on Simpson a new improved aura of menace and infamy. But still Goldman cannot use his name – it has an ugly music for her, the lettering alone upsets her.
She cannot bear to see the initials ‘OJ’ on a breakfast menu. ‘I don’t drink orange juice any more!’ She laughs because it’s ridiculous, but the last time she bought orange juice was during her pregnancy, and she destroyed the receipt rather than read the initials. ‘Even typing,’ she says, ‘when I write OK, and you know the letters J and the K are so close together? It’s stupid, I know, but it still freaks me out.’
A few years ago, Goldman saw him in a parking lot. She wanted to kill him, but she couldn’t. ‘I knew it was him, even though my eyesight is terrible, because I studied him every day in court, I just glared at him. That was my only weapon. And I saw this figure walking towards me and I panicked. I slammed on my brakes. And I swear, my foot was hovering over the gas, I thought for sure I was going to do it.’ She’s flustered as she tells the story – she knows it was Simpson. He walked into a nearby production office, the very same that produced his self-serving video, I Want to Tell You.
When Denise Brown hears about this harrowing close encounter, she laughs. ‘Oh she should have just run him over! Don’t panic, Kim, just step on the gas!’
For Brown the death of Simpson is a joke, a pipe dream. It is the reality of Simpson in her life that preoccupies her. She wonders out loud about a rumour she heard. ‘Something that Simpson told my dad, about a reality show called Juiced. Apparently he’s already figured out a way so that none of the money from it can be touched. But he might lying. He likes to start these rumours…’