In the battered women's movement, feminist psychologist Lenore Walker is an honored pioneer. A trail-blazing researcher in the study of battered women, she has profoundly influenced the public and the law's view of domestic violence, helping to defend hundreds of women who killed their abusers.
So when battered women's advocates heard last week that Walker was testifying for the defense in the O.J. Simpson murder trial, the news was astounding.
Whether simply curious or downright offended by the prospect of Walker testifying on behalf of Simpson--once convicted of battering Nicole Brown Simpson and now accused of killing her and her friend Ronald Lyle Goldman--members of the domestic violence community have been abuzz with the topic.
"I knew there would be a reaction," Walker said in an interview Saturday. "But I had no idea it would be like this."
Some such as Lynn Moriarty, director of the Family Violence Project of Jewish Family Service in the San Fernando Valley, worry that one of the best-known spokeswomen for battered women may be tarnished by her role in this most publicized of cases in which domestic violence has been raised as an issue.
"We're all very surprised and concerned," Moriarty said. "I hope that all of her work for this movement is not going to be discounted because people may see her as having sold out. I'm frankly mystified. . . . I sure could understand it if she were testifying for the prosecution."
Walker, a clinical and forensic psychologist from Denver who originated the concept of the battered woman syndrome, says her office has been flooded with hundreds of calls a day, many from feminists distraught over her decision to join the Simpson defense team.
She has hired a New York publicist to handle the media and tries to explain to callers she is not abandoning the movement. By the time she gets off the phone with them, she says, most are supportive.
"There's no question I'm an advocate for battered women. But I'm also a scientist. Because I will advocate for battered women doesn't mean I will not tell the truth about science," Walker said. "I am not saying O.J. Simpson is not a batterer. What I am saying is because you are a batterer that does not make you a murderer."
Simpson's guilt or innocence is for the jury to decide, she said, but by testifying, she hopes to ensure that the psychological data about domestic violence is not misrepresented by either side in the case.
"I believe that all of the work I have done in trying to measure battered woman syndrome and trying to present it in legal cases cannot tell us alone whether O.J. Simpson could have killed these people. You need other information. . . . I hope to be able to publicize the tragic consequences of domestic violence with the caution of looking at individual people's behavior."
Speaking generally, she added, "I really believe the Achilles' heel of the battered women's movement is the quick and harsh rush to judgment without enough information."
Walker has known Simpson defense attorney Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. since the early 1980s, when he was a prosecutor in the Los Angeles County district attorney's office and headed a domestic violence task force.
She said Cochran approached her last summer through Geraldine Butts Stahly, a San Bernardino social psychologist who has worked with Cochran in several homicide cases in which he defended battered women.
"We both trusted Cochran," said Walker, who has since spent hours evaluating Simpson. Even though the prosecution has referred to some of her studies in pretrial hearings, Walker said the prosecution has never called her.
The testimony of Walker and Stahly is likely to play a key role in defense rebuttal of the prosecution contention that Nicole Brown Simpson's murder was the culmination of years of obsessive control and battering by Simpson.
Walker would not discuss the details of her testimony, but in his opening statement last week, Cochran indicated that she would make a variety of points: That when a batterer kills the person he has abused, there is usually an escalating pattern of life-threatening violence that precedes the homicide--and Walker does not see that pattern in this case.
Further, Cochran said, Walker will testify that Simpson's behavior did not match the obsessive traits common to stalkers, that she does not find evidence that Simpson has an antisocial personality disorder and that statistics on abused women show that battering does not usually lead to homicide.
Often quoted and sought as a speaker on domestic violence, Walker has appeared on numerous television shows and written 10 books on the subject. Her 1979 book, "The Battered Woman," was a bible to many in the movement.
Hiring Walker was a brilliant move by the defense, said Patricia Giggans, executive director of the Los Angeles Commission on Assaults Against Women. "They're very smart, this team."