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THE SIMPSON LEGACY: LOS ANGELES TIMES SPECIAL REPORT : ESSAY / GREG KRIKORIAN : Blindsided by Fame : Sudden Prominence Was a Boon to Some, a Burden to Others, but None Had a Choice

October 11, 1995|GREG KRIKORIAN

Fate.

We spend our lives hoping for the best, bracing for the worst, preparing and planning as if the present were some sort of dress rehearsal for tomorrow. We know better. Or we should. When destiny smiles, so do we, satisfied that we deserved it. When fate frowns, we can only ask why.

Of all the whys in the O.J. Simpson case, one of the most vexing is why it made so many complete strangers instantly familiar to us, not for their heroics but for their roles in dissecting a tragedy.

Many of the best-known surely wanted it that way. The Kaelins and Resnicks, the high-priced attorneys and the celebrity jurors. The ones who basked in the bloody spotlight of the trial.

Then there were the others who inadvertently stumbled into the spotlight and found it too bright.

Call them The Blindsided.

Some of them almost seemed to ask for it, believing for whatever reasons that they were ready for their fleeting minutes of fame. Mary Anne Gerchas must have thought so. Did she really think her unresolved brushes with the law would be forgiven once she told her story about the night of the murders? Instead of going prime time, she went to jail.

Or Rosa Lopez. A year ago, she lived on Rockingham Drive. Now, with her testimony discredited, her life in this country apparently over, she lives with her sister's family in a cinder-block house in El Salvador.

Others probably should have known better, the ones who came into the trial credentialed or confident or both. Who left embarrassed or angry or both.

In the coroner's office, you will hear that Dr. Irwin L. Golden is capable and hard-working. That he's in the trenches every day. Over the years, he has performed more than 6,500 autopsies and testified in more than 700 trials. Why then, when he took the witness stand in this case, did he seem as befuddled as a struggling medical student, his gaze wild, his testimony sputtering? Blindsided, pure and simple.

And what about Robert Tourtelot, who has spent half of his life as an attorney? When O.J. Simpson's attorneys went after Mark Fuhrman, Tourtelot stepped in to represent him, assured that the former LAPD detective was being maligned. He wasn't. And Tourtelot suddenly found himself with a client that even he, as attorney, could not stand to represent.

Then there were the rest, the ones who could not have been expected to be prepared, who were part of the case only because they were in the right place at the worst time. They were the ones who may not have run from the cameras, but never ran toward them, who put a "not for sale" sign on their privacy, even when doing so would have meant fame, cash or both.

Pablo Fenjves became known because he coined a particularly haunting phrase--plaintive wail. Steven Schwab, because his timelines were based on his late-night television watching. Sukru Boztepe, because he and his wife found the bodies.

None of them had a choice, really. The case found them.

It also found young Allan Park. At 24, he had only driven a limousine a few months before the murders made him the most famous chauffeur in the world. He's only driven a limo twice since.

Blindsided.

We could blame some of what happened to them all on a force that often seems as mighty as fate: the media.

For if their names and faces and words had not been broadcast and published around the world so relentlessly, what they said or did not say might have easily passed without consequence. They could have come forward, they could have testified and whether or not the trial came any closer to uncovering the truth, their lives would not have been as upended. That would have been their gift. Ours would have been that a trial over two brutal acts would not have seemed more like a train wreck than a judicial proceeding, with more casualties than we can yet count.

With 1995 in its fall, we may not have enough time left for another "Trial of the Century." But there is no escaping that we will have other big trials. And the spotlight will fall not only on those who seek it. Not in this age of sudden fame and instant disgrace.

So we will come to this place again, tragedies enabling us to instantly recognize faces and names that meant nothing to us yesterday. Who knows, we might even be the ones who will be called.

All we know for sure is that what lies before us is what brought us here: Events we cannot imagine. Circumstances we cannot control. Fate.

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