Scenes Of The Crime

Seventeen miles across town from the O.J. Simpson trial, T-shirted tourists still stop before the yellow police tape that blocks the entrance to Nicole Brown Simpson's condo. If anything, their numbers have grown since Nicole and her friend, Ron Goldman, were murdered there a year ago this week. The gawkers snap pictures of the walkway, now largely obscured by overgrown foliage. For some, the visit is the first stop on a ghoulish O.J. tour: past Simpson's palatial Rockingham estate, over to Mezzaluna for lunch and finally to the criminal-courts building downtown and its media hordes. Outside Nicole's condo, Larry Rodriquez, a 21-year-old Texan, takes a picture of the scene. "I stopped," he says, "so I really shouldn't say anything. But being here is kind of sick. It's like 'Natural Born Killers'."

Rodriquez can be excused for invoking the over-the-top Oliver Stone movie. The trial-of-the@second-half-of-the-century has turned surreal, morphing everyone connected to it into a cartoonish and grotesquely distorted figure. But last week a trial that has made its victims nearly a forgotten side-show--and its jurors media stars-was violently yoked back to its origins.

Using gruesome photographs that horrified usually inscrutable jurors, prosecutor Brian Kelberg laid out the state's most detailed theory yet of how Simpson allegedly attacked and butchered Nicole and Goldman last June 12. Chief coroner Dr. Lakshmanan Sathyavagiswaran reconstructed the struggle based on autopsies, photos-and, as the defense will argue, unsupported conjecture. The killer, he theorized, probably struck and knifed Nicole several times around the neck and head, knocking her to the ground. Based on the location of the knife wounds, the coroner believes that Nicole probably confronted the killer but was able to offer little resistance. The killer then turned to Goldman, who may have surprised them. He grabbed Goldman from behind and lightly sliced a knife across his throat-perhaps in a taunt-before stabbing him more than 15 times in his neck, abdomen and chest.

Then the killer turned back to Nicole, the coroner theorized, who was on the sidewalk face down, probably unconscious. Placing his foot on her back, he yanked her head by the hair and fatally cut her neck to the bone. "I would say she died within a few minutes, probably much less than a minute," Sathyavagiswaran said.

The attack was so brutal that commentators wondered whether jurors would believe thin a guy supposedly as nice as O.J. could have really carried it out. The defense is also expected to maintain that the coroner's theories don't undermine their contention that the killings may have been done by more than one person. But the state hoped the testimony on the similarity of the knife wounds would support its theory that Simpson alone killed his ex-wife. The prosecution's pictures--shielded from public view--badly shook jurors, perhaps diverting them from a host of autopsy errors and onto the magnitude of the crime itself. Juror No. 984, a 37-year-old woman, was so overcome that she asked to be excused.

Simpson, who couldn't see the pictures from his seat, was agitated, rocking in his seat, but he seemed calmer in following days. Among the spectators, Goldman's father, stepmother and sister sobbed frequently and clutched each other. Said deputy prosecutor Bill Hodgman. "This isn't a soap opera. It's pain."

The emotional testimony overshadowed -- for a few days, anyway--what was shaping up as another week in the trial of the bizarre. Consider: Judge Lance Ito cited six journalists for chewing gum or sucking on candy. He had worked a secret camera to catch the offenders; if they continued, he said, he'd bar them from the court. Prosecutor Chris Darden told a reporter he was "ashamed" to be a participant in the trial. A day later, he was hit with a $12 million lawsuit by Pamela Mills, a longtime employee of the D.A.'s office, charging that Darden had tried to intimidate her into claiming she was a close friend of Marguerite Simpson's, O.J.'s first wife, and that she knew of instances of spousal abuse. The D.A. denied it.

Political pressures: What has become the country's biggest guessing game--when will the jury drop below 12 -- got new life last week. Ito bounced 2 more jurors, bringing the number of alternates down to just 2 from the original 12 --with months of testimony to come. The case can proceed with fewer than 12 jurors if both sides consent. Defense lawyers say they would p refer to continue; why not, the jury is thought to be leaning their way. For the same reason, the prosecution was considered to be adamant against proceeding with fewer than 12 members. But NEWSWEEK has learned from a source close to the prosecution that L.A. District Attorney Gil Garcetti has tentatively decided to proceed with fewer than 12 jurors, if necessary, largely because of political pressures. Having forked out more than $6 million for the trial, taxpayers may not favor ending a trim for what may seem like a technicality. Garcetti is up for re-election in 1996 and, by all accounts, wants to minimize the residual O.J. damage.

The defense is also ratcheting up its claim that the prosecution is deliberately trying to dig up dirt on jurors perceived to be pro-Simpson, particularly African-Americans. It pressed that argument last week to an appellate court after Ito dismissed Willie Cravin, one of the two ejected jurors. The appeals court upheld Ito. This week, defense lawyer Alan Dershowitz, in his first court presentation, will also attack the prosecution for allegedly targeting jurors. A defense source told NEWSWEEK that the defense will ask Ito to put prosecutors under oath to discuss the juror investigations and whether the state is trying to jettison jurors believed to be pro defense.

One year after the brutal murders, legal analysts worried that the American public will regard the Simpson trial as typical of the justice system--and demand radical changes. But this trial is not typical. "Never has a case received as much media attention, never has a case become such apart of popular culture, never has a ease made celebrities of witnesses, lawyers and the judge," says Erwin Chemerinsky of USC law school, in Los Angeles. And rarely do defendants have as much money. If any broader message is involved, it's that the O.J. trial says a little about the justice system--and loads about American culture. The show must go on.

Brian Kelberg has what it takes. He's forceful, he's professional, he's direct. Are we looking at the lead prosecutor for Simpson Trial II?

Filing the writ to save friendly juror Willie Cravin was a long shot, but anything that keeps this jury intact can't be all bad.

Secret cameras? Blacklisted journalists? Surely you must have more to do than looking for gum chewers and candy suckers.