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THE SIMPSON VERDICTS : Scores Mourn Nicole at Lake Forest Grave : Grief: Within minutes of news of acquittal, strangers visit cemetery to ensure that victim is not forgotten. Most are women; some say they've been battered too.

October 04, 1995|GREG HERNANDEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LAKE FOREST — Most came carrying fresh flowers, a few had written poems, some prayed. But more than anything else there were tears as more than 100 people gathered on the hilltop grave of Nicole Brown Simpson to share their sadness and anger at the verdicts.

Within minutes after the announcement that O.J. Simpson had been acquitted of murdering Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Lyle Goldman, strangers streamed into secluded Ascension Cemetery.

There, they stood before the simple stone marker, which was quickly covered with flowers, teddy bears and wooden crosses. It did not matter to them that Nicole Brown Simpson's family was not present; as they gathered around the grave, they simply wanted to grieve and vent at what many considered an unjust verdict.

"Justice was not served, I'm sorry," said one of the cards on the grave, a tone reflected in other messages.

"It's enough to make you really wonder about the system," said 37-year-old Becky Arnold, as she knelt next to the grave. "I guess Nicole was right. She said he was going to kill her and that he was going to get away with it and he did."

Most of those who came to the private Catholic cemetery were women; some said that, like Nicole Simpson, they had been victims of domestic violence. (O.J. Simpson had pleaded no contest to spousal abuse charges in 1989.)

A 44-year-old woman who said she was a battered wife stood by the grave, weeping. "I didn't think anyone else would be here," she said quietly. "I wanted to come here and tell her that she was right, that he would get off. It's so sad. That could have been me."

All around here, people laid carnations, sunflowers and red roses on the grave, mingling with several reporters and photographers in the afternoon sun. Some did not leave until they were gently asked to by cemetery officials at closing time.

Some brought their children as if on an outing; others drove by, gawking. But for most it was a time for quiet reflection.

Ophelia Vargas and her daughter, Magda, differed in their opinions of Simpson's guilt or innocence, but both came to pay respect to Nicole Simpson.

"I think he's innocent, but I'm here because of the Brown family and I'm very proud of the way they acted today," said Ophelia Vargas, 70, as she knelt in prayer.

Her daughter, kneeling next to her, said, "My mother is crying from happiness but I'm crying from sadness. Nicole was battered, and as a woman that touches me."

Wiping away tears of anger and disbelief, 52-year-old Lydia Molina sat with two friends under a shady tree near the grave.

"It's like no one cares about what happened to his woman," said Molina. "Beat her. Kill her. The message is that it's OK. I prayed that the women on the jury would feel their gender. The minute the race card was drawn, the abuse was lost."

Lori Flask, 40, said the verdict was "like torture." But she found solace in visiting the grave.

"I'm not an angry person," Flask said. "You pay your respects to someone who has suffered."

Kenny Ramsey, 47, took the day off from his job as an equipment operator to visit the grave.

"This is kind of like the finale," said Ramsey, a resident of Lake Forest. "It's a bittersweet ending. I think we all got to know [Nicole] through this trial and a lot of us came to love her."

Charlie Judas, 70, arrived with his wife, Marie, carrying congratulatory red roses--they had anticipated a guilty verdict.

Said Charlie Judas: "There will be a higher authority [O.J. Simpson] will have to answer to."

Nearby was Cheryl Moore, 33, sitting next to the grave for several minutes with her head buried in her hands. The San Juan Capistrano woman said she knew Nicole Simpson from their days at Dana Hills High.

"I remember the football game when she was a homecoming princess," Moore said. "I remember it so well. I can't believe it's come to this. I'm really distraught today over what happened with the verdict. It should have never been this way."

Others said they weren't sure what drew them to the grave.

"I just feel like I should be here," said Liliana Yerington, 36, of Lake Forest. "I don't really know why. I think it was because she was a mother like me."

Pamela Tarzian, 47, and her 22-year-old son, Ryan, said they were hesitant to come to the cemetery but did anyway, carrying a giant sunflower and a poem.

"We thought we might be disturbing family or close friends," Pamela Tarzian said. "But it makes us feel good to be here. [Nicole] needs an outpouring of love."

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