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THE SIMPSON VERDICTS : Brentwood Wants It Over, but Reaction Is Still Sharp : Aftermath: Some residents say ex-football hero will no longer be welcome. Others complain about losing their sense of security.

October 06, 1995|DUKE HELFAND | TIMES STAFF WRITER

One longtime resident complained that her quiet community had been turned into a sensationalist landmark. A neighbor who once waved to O.J. Simpson on the street planned to ignore the former football superstar next time. And a real estate broker said the last days of the Simpson saga left her emotionally spent.

Across Brentwood on Thursday, residents and workers alike grappled with a mixed mood of anger and exhaustion. For most, life appeared to go on as usual--jogging along San Vicente Boulevard, dropping the kids off at day school or sipping cappuccino at Starbucks. But tension was seething beneath the surface of this enclave of walled estates, where mention of Simpson drew sharp reactions.

"I'm embarrassed to say I'm from Brentwood," said Roz Gibson, 56, a resident of 30 years who was running errands with her husband, Jack. "It's been tainted by murders and sensationalism. When people ask me where I'm from, I say the Westside of Los Angeles. There's nothing else to Brentwood but O.J. now."

Like Gibson, many people on the streets condemned the jury's not guilty verdicts and said they firmly believed that Simpson murdered his ex-wife, Nicole, and her friend, Ronald Lyle Goldman. The Hall of Famer, some said, "bought himself justice" with a star legal team.

Simpson, many predicted, will no longer be welcomed in a community where for years he walked the streets as a celebrity, signing autographs and chumming with some of Los Angeles' wealthiest people.

"I used to see him on the street and wave to him," said Jack Gibson. "Now, I wouldn't even say hello. I'd look the other way. He's a bad person."

Some said that Simpson's return had shattered their sense of security.

"It bothers me to think that somebody who got away with murder lives down the street from the school where my children go," said Rebecca Leiner, whose sons, ages 15 and 17, attend private Brentwood School. "I'm not worried that he's going to kill my children. But there's a killer on the loose. It makes me feel sick and frightened."

For many in Brentwood, the trial posed its own set of problems. Hordes of tourists crammed the streets seeking a peek at the crime scene or hoping to glimpse Simpson's estate. News crews frequently disrupted diners at Mezzaluna, where Nicole Simpson used to eat, asking patrons for their reactions to the case.

Many at Mezzaluna and other spots along San Vicente Boulevard said they were ready for an end to the onslaught and looked forward to putting the whole mess behind them. "Enough is enough is enough," said Marcy Braiker, a real estate broker, as she sipped coffee at Starbucks. "It's done. It's over. Go on."

Michele Durrett, a clerk at the coffeehouse, said customers have grown tired of the drama and are wary of the attention it has focused on the normally sedate community.

"The neighborhood is very close to the case, and they just don't want to talk about it anymore," Durrett said. "The past days have been very emotional for friends and family."

Others said they are curious to see whether the football legend will show his face on fashionable San Vicente Boulevard or whether he will--as rumors have it--sell his estate and move to Mexico.

Pamela Smith is one of those who can't wait to learn about Simpson's next move. She called the verdicts tragic and wrong, but said it just added to the fascination over what is probably the highest-profile legal case in decades.

"People are interested to finalize, to see how he's gonna get on with his life," said Smith, who was eating lunch with her sister and mother at Mezzaluna. "I think people are interested to see the full circle. He owes it to the world to give his side of the story."

Any chance of the subject fading from public fascination seems unlikely, at least in the months to come. On Thursday, tourists and other looky-loos continued to stream past Simpson's Rockingham Avenue estate and Nicole Simpson's condo on Bundy Drive.

At the condo, a morbid reminder suggested just how far anger about the verdicts has reached. Someone left a piece of paper on the tiled walkway, just feet from where the two victims were found, with a message typed in large, bold letters: "OJ MUST DIE."

Visitors standing next to yellow police tape that cordoned off the walkway were still debating the case, asking questions that they said may never be answered.

"I'd like to see whether [defense attorney Johnnie L.] Cochran [Jr.] got to the jury," said Virginia Darragh, 47, who came with her husband, Richard, from Canoga Park to view the crime scene. "He orchestrated everything. He sits there like the cat who swallowed the jury."

After the verdicts were read Tuesday, Bundy Drive was sealed off to traffic. Barricades were taken down by Thursday and motorists honked an unwelcoming message as they drove by visitors, who were arriving in groups throughout the day.

Security was tighter at O.J. Simpson's home about two miles away, where Los Angeles police were stationed at either end of Rockingham.

For police assigned to the traffic duty, the work held a sense of irony. They were keeping watch over a man whom they believed was guilty and whose defense relied on slamming the department's integrity.

"I'm not gonna put my life on the line for O.J.," said motorcycle Officer Harry Winston, who was keeping watch with his partner down the block from Simpson's home. "I'm here for the security of the neighborhood and to make sure these lawns don't get trampled by the news media."

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