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THE SIMPSON LEGACY: LOS ANGELES TIMES SPECIAL REPORT : Twist of Fate / HOW THE CASE CHANGED THE LIVES OF THOSE IT TOUCHED : MARY ANNE GERCHAS : Past Came Crashing Down on Would-Be Witness

October 11, 1995|GREG KRIKORIAN

Maybe she would have gone to jail anyway. And if that had happened, maybe, just maybe, her whole checkered past would have come rushing back regardless.

But those are what-ifs. The fact is that when Mary Anne Gerchas stepped forward as a possible key defense witness in the O.J. Simpson trial, it didn't take long for her legal troubles to become as big a story as whatever testimony she might offer.

Gerchas, defense lawyers boasted in their opening statements, would reveal how she saw four men rushing away from Nicole Brown Simpson's condo about the time of the slayings.

She never did.

First we learned she had been sued at least 34 times. Then there was the charge that she had defrauded the JW Marriott Hotel in Century City by skipping out on a $24,000 bill. Before long, all we knew about the 40-year-old woman was that her standing as a witness was bound to be tainted by her history as a defendant.

So did the Simpson trial affect Gerchas? "She lost her business. She lost her car. She lost her apartment. She was convicted of three felonies. And she was sentenced to a year in jail," said her attorney, William Graysen.

"What do you think?"

This month, Graysen said, Gerchas was released from Sybil Brand Institute after serving three months of a one-year sentence on offenses that included defrauding the hotel. Released to a work furlough program, the former jewelry store owner now is providing clerical assistance to the county of Los Angeles.

"She doesn't want to talk. She just wants to get on with her life," Graysen said, adding that Gerchas is determined to avoid any attention that might jeopardize her probation.

She has been through enough, Graysen said, noting that one week before her release, Gerchas found out that her mother had died in her sleep.

"So a lot has happened to . . . Mary Anne over the last year," Graysen said. "But she is a pretty strong person and it is admirable how she is holding up."

When he first agreed to represent Gerchas, Graysen said, he was almost convinced that her prosecution by authorities was selective, a retaliation for her plan to testify on Simpson's behalf.

"In the beginning, I was wondering what was going on," he said. "The only way to impeach Mary Anne [as a witness] was with her criminal record."

But as surely as he believed her story, Graysen said, he soon concluded that her legal troubles were of her own making, not a concoction of prosecutors. As he put it: "In the final analysis, there was sufficient evidence to warrant her guilty plea."

Does Gerchas now regret that her planned testimony brought such attention from authorities?

"She has never said to me, 'Gee I wish I never came forward. I rue the day I decided to testify,' " Graysen said.

But given how her life has been upended, Graysen says, such thoughts would not be surprising.

"Has her life changed? Yes," Graysen said. "Is it turned around forever? I hope not."

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