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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 : ARNELLE SIMPSON : 'My Trust in People Has Become Very Shallow'

October 11, 1995|CARLA HALL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

As the dutiful daughter who never doubted her father, she felt betrayed by people who did doubt him. "My trust in people has become very shallow," she said, her earlobes glinting with the diamond studs her father gave her for her 21st birthday. "And I hate that--because I used to be a very trusting person. . . . [People] were so good to him when he was O.J. Simpson, the football player, making records, and now they're like, 'He did this and he did that.' If you went into anybody's life, everybody has some skeletons in their closet."

The daughter who was born the day her father won the Heisman Trophy--as she told a packed courtroom this summer--went to the prestigious Crossroads School in Santa Monica, then attended the University of Colorado before graduating from Howard University in 1992 with a degree in child psychology. She returned home to Los Angeles, unsure what she wanted to do with her life, living first with her mother and then with her father at Rockingham. Her father told her it was time to get out of there and earn her own way.

"I was angry with him at first," she said. "But then I realized he was preparing me to learn survival skills as a young adult."

She calls it a normal upbringing but its sorrowful, even tragic, moments prepared her, she said, for dealing with her father's trial. Her parents' divorce was painful. Worse, when she was 10, she lost her 2-year-old sister, who drowned in a swimming pool.

"I feel for the Goldmans," she said. "I especially feel for the sister, because I am close to my brother. And I have lost a sister. I know those feelings. I've been there. And I've lived it and survived it."

In court, she tried gently to connect with the Goldmans. "I've tried to make eye contact, but I don't want to insult them and I don't want to make them angry."

Instead, she says, she prays for the Goldmans and the Browns each night. "To me, there are three families involved here. The Browns, the Goldmans and the Simpsons. And to me, no one's pain is more severe than the other's. Pain is pain."

Dealing with the Browns, who have custody at the moment of her younger brother and sister, Justin and Sydney, is more direct--and more difficult. "It's difficult to be pushed in a situation where you've known these people and your father has taken care of these people and they believe that he did something that you don't believe he did. But at the same time, they have your brother and sister. It's something that I am on my hands and knees every day dealing with."

But she puts that aside when she visits her siblings--often carting them off to Magic Mountain or the beach with her brother, Jason, and A.C. Cowlings in tow.

She sighs when asked about trial testimony that portrayed her father as a wife-abuser.

"I didn't know that. I really didn't. As far as if it's true, I do know that all marriages have problems and that there are times maybe when it did get out of control. I do know that a lot of times both people play a part--and I do know that it is wrong for a man to hit a woman any time."

Her own future is still fuzzy. She toys with the idea of moving east. "Sometimes I feel like everyone's very La-La Land here. It's all about who you know and what kind of car you drive." (For the record, she drives a black Saab convertible.)

Even through the trial, she occasionally worked as a stylist, worrying that she needed to make some money. She outfitted singer Nona Gaye for the Soul Train Lady of Soul Awards show last August. It's not often that the stylist who arrives to work behind the scenes of a celebrity photo shoot or awards show is herself something of a celebrity. It catches others off guard. "Sometimes they're surprised," said Simpson, "but most of the time it's like, 'You go, girl!' "

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