Thursday, July 5, 2018

A 'Drop-Dead' Soundbite for Violence


The voice is, by turns angry, exasperated, terrified and, finally resigned. It is her second 911 call within 10 minutes.

In the background, a man is screaming - about children, tabloids, an old boyfriend. The words are only semi-audible, but his rage needs no amplification.

"Could you get someone over here now, to 325 Gretna Green. He's back. Please", asks Nicole Simpson.

"What does he look like?" asks the operator.

"He's O.J. Simpson. I think you know his record", she says with a tremor of panic. Simpson she explains, had broken down the back door of her house.


"Is he threatening you?"

She begins to sob. "He's fucking going nuts."

The Simpson case continued to obsess the nation last week.


Audiotapes of Nicole Simpson's October 25, 1993, police calls, made public by authorities on Wednesday, offered harrowing proof of a relationship plagued by violence and intimidation.

Less than eight months later she and Ronald Goldman were dead, brutally knifed to death, the Los Angeles district attorney alleges, at the hands of her ex-husband.

By themselves, the tapes say nothing about O.J. Simpson's guilt or innocence. But they provided more disturbing evidence that his genial public persona masked a more menacing private personality.

As the tapes were played nonstop on television and radio, they also galvanized a debate on the hidden ravages of domestic violence.


Lawmakers began to get the message: New York and Colorado passed tough new laws against spousal abuse.

The tapes were also part of a fiercely contested trial by soundbite. The principle players, District Attorney Gil Garcetti and defense counsel Robert Shapiro, both scrambled for early public-relations advantage in what could become the most sensational criminal trial in memory.

Their jousting raised questions about the real strength of the state's case, as well as Simpson's ability to get a fair day in court. Last Friday, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Cecil Mills halted a grand-jury review of evidence in the case, citing concern that a torrent of pretrial publicity had prejudiced some jurors. 

Garcetti and Shapiro, both concerned about a tainted indictment, pushed for the ruling. But it is clearly a setback for the state. Now, a judge will decide whether Garcetti has sufficient evidence to go to trial. A preliminary hearing, scheduled to begin Thursday, is certain to be a marquee attraction for celebrity-trial junkies.

It will also afford Shapiro and his defense team the tactical advantage of an early look at the state's case.

Hours later, on Wednesday, L.A. police, on the advice of City Attorney James Hahn, released the tapes of Nicole Simpson's 1993 police call. The media had been demanding them for days. But the timing of the city's compliance - just in time for the 5 p.m. newscasts in Los Angeles - had the whiff of retaliation from officials bent on winning the news cycle back from Shapiro.

Details of Nicole Simpson's troubled and violent marriage also emerged in sharper relief last week.


One friend told NEWSWEEK of an ugly incident at daughter Sydney's school around the time of the 1992 divorce in which O.J. stormed up to his wife and yanked her arm so hard she nearly fell.

Accounts of her last days suggest a woman bent on making a clean break from the volatile Simpson.

Denise Brown told The New York Times her sister had broken up with Simpson a week and a half before she died. She also put her $625,000 town house up for lease in early June, just five months after she'd bought it.

One news organization quoted a friend as saying she was concerned about safety - that she'd caught O.J. looking into her window. "Drop-dead gorgeous New York style townhouse in heart of Brentwood" for $4,800 a month, said a description listed by her real-estate agent.

But whatever her plans, whatever her fears, time ran out on the evening of June 12.

Newsweek Magazine (July 4 1994)

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