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THE O.J. SIMPSON MURDER TRIAL : Victim's Tearful Sister Alleges Simpson Abuse : Trial: Denise Brown describes two incidents. DNA expert denies prosecution tampered with evidence.

February 04, 1995|JIM NEWTON and ANDREA FORD | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

In a brief but unforgettable appearance on the witness stand, Nicole Brown Simpson's sister tearfully told jurors Friday that she saw O.J. Simpson publicly humiliate his wife and on at least one occasion violently attack her.

Under gentle questioning from Deputy Dist. Atty. Christopher A. Darden, Denise Brown spent 26 minutes on the stand, at first fighting but then eventually succumbing to her emotions. As the court day ended, she told the story of an explosive confrontation that she said occurred in the Simpson home after she accused Simpson of taking her sister for granted.

"He grabbed Nicole, told her to get out of his house," she said. "Wanted us all out of his house, picked her up, threw her against the wall, picked her up, threw her out of the house. She ended up on her--she ended up falling. She ended up on her elbows and on her butt. . . . We were all sitting there screaming and crying. He grabbed me and threw me out of the house."

In the weeks immediately after the murders, Brown denied that her sister had been abused, but more recently she has emerged as the family's leading critic of Simpson, who she believes committed the June 12 murders of Nicole Simpson and Ronald Lyle Goldman. Simpson has pleaded not guilty.

On Friday, Brown came to court wearing two angel pins and an angel earring similar to jewelry worn by her deceased sister--as well as a black and white cross that dangled from a chain around her neck. As she described the violent scene at the Simpson house, she paused, overwrought and struggling to regain her composure.

"Are you OK, Miss Brown?" Darden asked.

"Yeah," she responded. "It's just so hard."

In the audience, Lou Brown, the father of Denise and her dead sister, bowed his head silently, obeying Superior Court Judge Lance A. Ito's order not to display emotion even as his oldest daughter testified about the alleged abuse of his second child. Simpson looked in Denise Brown's direction, but did not display any emotion as his former sister-in-law broke down in tears. The jurors sat impassively as she sobbed.

Despite Brown's sniffled insistence that she could continue, Darden asked that court be adjourned for the day, just a few minutes ahead of its scheduled conclusion. Ito agreed, sending the panelists back to their hotel for the weekend with the image of the emotionally spent victim's sister--who bears a striking resemblance to Nicole Simpson--fresh in their minds.

In addition, they earlier heard another riveting tale from Brown, one that does not involve allegations of physical violence but that nonetheless raises questions about Simpson's treatment of his wife. Describing a scene in a Santa Ana bar, Brown said her then brother-in-law grabbed her sister in front of a room full of strangers.

"At one point O.J. grabbed Nicole's crotch and said: 'This is where babies come from and this belongs to me,' " Brown recalled, setting her jaw and vainly attempting to choke back tears. "And Nicole just sort of wrote it off like it was nothing, like, you know, like she was used to that kind of treatment."

"I thought it was really humiliating, if you ask me," added Brown.

Brown will be back on the stand when court resumes Monday morning, and defense attorneys have painstakingly prepared for the delicate task of cross-examining her. In interviews since the murders, Brown has supplied Simpson's lawyers with a rich vein of material to challenge her credibility, but capitalizing on it is a sensitive assignment since defense attorneys can ill afford to appear to attack her.

The task will fall to Robert L. Shapiro, who leads the Simpson defense team but who has been heard from only sporadically since Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. emerged as the principal trial lawyer. Legal experts said Shapiro's cross-examination could prove one of the most important undertakings of the entire case.

"This is the dead sister in black hair," Gerry Spence, a renowned criminal defense attorney, said of Brown. "How she comes off will determine what the jury thinks about the dead one. If she's destroyed in cross-examination, that will bode ill for the prosecution."

The defense's wariness of Brown, who has openly expressed her view that Simpson is guilty of the murders, was evident even in Friday's brief appearance. They objected often during her time on the stand, meeting with Ito and the prosecutors out of earshot of the jury. Afterward, they suggested that Brown's emotion might have been an act.

"That's one of the reasons we kept approaching the bench," Cochran said outside court. "I saw it coming. We kept trying to say it was not fair."

Asked what was unfair about a display of emotion, Cochran responded: "If it was planned, is that fair?"

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