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THE SIMPSON VERDICT : A Dog's Howls Signaled Start of Tragic Episode

October 03, 1995|STEPHANIE SIMON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A dog's urgent howls tore through the shadowy Brentwood night. On Montana Avenue, a neighbor trying to hear the 10 o'clock news stepped outside to investigate.

It was an Akita, frantic with agitation. His white belly was splashed with blood, his paws stained a sticky brownish-red. The dog could not be quieted. Another neighbor took the disturbed animal for a walk, thinking that might still the sad cries. Instead, the exercise seemed to excite the Akita.

Faster and faster, the dog tugged the stranger along a dark sidewalk on South Bundy Drive, straining at the leash until he reached a tiled walkway half-hidden by shrubs. There, abruptly, the dog stopped and wailed. Up the walk was a hideous sight.

Two bodies lay sprawled in a lake of fresh blood. A tall blond woman in a black cocktail dress and a dark-haired young man in jeans, both slashed to death in a brutal attack. So unexpected anywhere, but especially amid the greenery outside a quiet Westside condominium. The neighbor led there by the Akita turned away in horror after a single shocking glance.

"I saw it for a half-second," Bettina Rasmussen said. "And I never looked back again."

And so began the tragic episode that captivated the nation for more than a year and whirled headlong into the "Trial of the Century."

Initial news reports on the slayings focused on the improbability of a gory double murder in upscale Brentwood, and gave little hint of the tumult to follow.

"Football great O.J. Simpson's former wife and a 25-year-old man were found apparently stabbed to death outside her Brentwood townhouse early Monday morning," The Times tersely announced in Tuesday's papers.

A Classic Whodunit

O.J. Simpson's name alone pushed the story to Page 1. As the hours wore on, intriguing details began to emerge--details that transformed the crime from a curious tragedy into a creepy mystery. It had the elements of a classic whodunit: a bloodstained glove and a knit cap dropped at the scene, a trail of bloody footprints, and the bodies of an attractive man and woman who had loved to dance at trendy Westside clubs.

What's more, the crime seemed motivated by intense rage. This was not your typical quick-and-dirty shooting. It looked like a vicious, hateful slaughter.

Ronald Lyle Goldman, a 25-year-old waiter at Mezzaluna restaurant on nearby San Vicente Boulevard, had been cornered by his attacker, trapped in a cage of trees and railings. His beeper and keys had fallen to the ground as he flailed. Strong and athletic, Goldman had tried to escape, but the killer had drawn a blade across his neck, twice--then slashed his throat and lungs.

Nicole Brown Simpson, 35, the mother of two children with O.J. Simpson, died from a similar wound: a long, deep slice to her neck that severed her arteries and nicked her spinal cord. She may have been knocked out first with a blunt blow to the head. Then, as she slumped on the ground, the killer may have pulled back her hair to bare her throat, which was cut nearly from ear to ear.

A grand juror who viewed the official photographs of the crime scene photos called the attack "something out of antiquity"--an act of barbarity in a time when impersonal bullets, not savage knife attacks, fell most murder victims. "This was butchery," the juror said. "Absolute butchery."

The day that ended in butchery--Sunday, June 12--had begun pleasantly in Nicole Brown Simpson's household. In the afternoon, she applauded with pride as her 8-year-old daughter, Sydney Simpson, performed a dance recital on stage at the school auditorium, her black and silver costume glittering with two large stars. A celebratory family supper followed at Mezzaluna, Nicole's favorite Brentwood restaurant.

The dinner was a coming out of sorts for Nicole. After a tumultuous divorce and two years of failed attempts at reconciliation, she had told her sisters that the break from O.J. was final. It was time to push forward with her life. Three weeks before, Nicole had returned a diamond bracelet O.J. had given her as a birthday gift. She was through with him for good, she confided to family and friends. No more sweet vacations followed by vicious fights. No more accusations of infidelity. She would be able to date other men without fearing his temper. He would be free to romance women without sparking her rage.

"She said, 'It's over' really convincingly," Nicole's elder sister Denise recalled.

Their mother, Juditha Brown, asked Nicole if she really was finished with O.J. "Yes, I'm really sure," she remembered her daughter saying.

At the recital, O.J. sat apart from Nicole and their son, 5-year-old Justin. Some of Nicole's friends said later that O.J. looked blank and brooding. Others in the audience described him as jovial and relaxed. He kissed Nicole's mother, shook hands with her father and playfully hoisted Justin in the air.

But he was not invited to dinner with the Brown family.

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