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THE SIMPSON VERDICTS : Fuhrman Country Unsettled by Trial : Police: Some L.A. officers who retired to rural Idaho haven support the verdict. But race has become a troubling issue.

October 04, 1995|KIM MURPHY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SANDPOINT, Ida. — In a neighborhood of red-and-gold autumn foliage, closecropped lawns and squirrels darting across the sidewalks, Mark Fuhrman's house stands in anonymous, small-town splendor, ringed by a white picket fence, a brick chimney standing out against the neatly painted white frame, a soccer ball tossed carelessly in the yard.

The only difference between the former Los Angeles police detective's house and a dozen others up and down the street is the snarling, mixed-breed dog pacing up and down the yard and the sheets of newspaper taped over the windows.

Presently, a pickup truck load of young men barrels down the quiet street, one of its occupants defiantly crunching a beer can with his teeth for the benefit of half a dozen reporters waiting outside Fuhrman's house in the wake of the O.J. Simpson verdict. Fuhrman is not to be seen. A neighbor says he has gone hunting in Wyoming.

In this scenic quarter of northern Idaho, where dozens of Los Angeles police officers like Fuhrman have retired to gentler lives, the Simpson case has injected itself into the region's already troubling stew of racial politics and reminded the former Los Angeles lawmen of the more troubled world they left behind.

"People keep asking why we came up here. No traffic. No smog. No crime. What else do you need?" said Bob Inge, a retired Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy who lives in Sandpoint. "You can go back to living in a place where you don't have to look over your shoulder anymore."

Yet Fuhrman's decision to buy a house here earlier this year, and his emergence as the central figure in the O.J. Simpson defense strategy, has brought the turmoil of Los Angeles quite painfully to this quiet town on the edge of Lake Pend Oreille. The defense's allegations that Fuhrman was a racist who tried to frame Simpson has forced the community, again and again, to confront allegations that it is a haven for white separatists.

Indeed, Tuesday's acquittal was greeted with both suspicion and delight by some of the white separatist organizations that have found homes in Sandpoint and the rolling, pine-studded hills around it.

"O.J. Simian did great. He got rid of a Jew and a race traitor," said the Rev. Gerald Gruidl of the Aryan Nations, a white supremacist organization headquartered south of Sandpoint in Hayden Lake. He was referring to the murder victims, Ronald Lyle Goldman, who was Jewish, and Nicole Brown Simpson, who had earned the wrath of separatist organizations by marrying outside her race.

At the American Promise Ministries in Sandpoint, which preaches the message that members of the white race are the only true descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the Rev. David Barley said the verdict reflected the black majority on the jury.

"I love my race. I support my race. And I would say in the O.J. case the jury was doing just that--'We support our brother and we're going to stand by him,' " said Barley. He said Nicole Simpson may have brought on her own death "by her own destructive lifestyle, to become a victim of her own ways . . . if you believe that God controls the affairs of the world."

Yet while northern Idaho is a haven for separatists, most Sandpoint residents emphasize that groups like the Aryan Nations are a distinct minority. Most of the ex-Los Angeles officers here seemed troubled by Fuhrman's racist remarks, and a surprising number had no criticism for the jury's acquittal.

"I think the verdict was justified, I really do," said one officer, who asked not to be identified. "Everything I saw the prosecution present, as far as I'm concerned, was circumstantial evidence, and in 22 years of law enforcement, I've never been able to convict somebody on circumstantial evidence."

"I don't think he did it," the officer went on, "and as far as the Police Department goes, I think they need to take a serious look at themselves. When you have an officer who gets back up on the stand and takes the 5th Amendment, he might as well hang a sign around his neck and say, 'I lied.' He was a disgrace to me in terms of my profession, what I represent."

Yet Kelly Willoth, a former LAPD officer who joined the police force in nearby Post Falls to "get out of the hustle-bustle" of Los Angeles, said Fuhrman was simply doing his job.

"I think the whole thing is pretty sick," she said. "They had a lot of evidence against him. It's clear to me those people that live out there, they blame the department for a lot, and it showed. They had good DNA evidence, and nobody seemed to care about that. There's this feeling that everybody has about the LAPD, that they're dirty, they're corrupt."

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