Even now, after so many months of testimony, much of it riveting, some of it jarring, his simple, haunting phrase remains among the most memorable of the case.
It was June 30, 1994, when Pablo Fenjves first took the witness stand during the preliminary hearing and was asked by Marcia Clark where he was the night Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Lyle Goldman were murdered. He was at his home in Brentwood, Fenjves said, watching the news. And in response to Clark's follow-up question, Fenjves acknowledged he was momentarily distracted.
By the sound of a dog barking, Fenjves explained.
\o7 "Sort of a plaintive wail."
\f7 The words not only froze the moment in time but seemed to capture the tragedy.
If the phrase sounded writerly, it's no surprise, since the Venezuelan-born Fenjves, 42, is a screenwriter and former journalist. If it sounded contrived, Fenjves insists otherwise.
"People have asked me, 'Did I think about that phrase beforehand?' The truth is I didn't," Fenjves said. "I just tried to think what it sounded like and . . . the words 'plaintive wail' popped into my head."
As a writer, Fenjves is pleased that others found his words memorable. As a onetime reporter, he is sure his actual testimony was another matter--"almost embarrassingly boring" is how he described it.
"I believe my testimony was the least compelling," he said. "But for better or for worse, it may have helped establish the likely time of death."
Before and since testifying, Fenjves said, his life has been only moderately affected by the trial. A death threat after his first testimony was disturbing, but not surprising, he said. "I sort of figured it goes with the territory," he said.
As a screenwriter who is often in the company of celebrities, Fenjves said he was not startled by the sudden spotlight of attention. "When you see pictures of celebrities sitting at a table, I am . . . the unnamed guest," he said dryly. "The writer is sort of relegated to that role, but not unhappily in my case."
When he was chased down the street by reporters, strangers, even souvenir hunters wanting his autograph or photo, Fenjves said, he was bemused at the attention. "I've gone from total obscurity to relative obscurity," he quipped.
For someone who turns down invitations to speak before screenwriting classes because he gets anxious addressing 30 or 40 students, Fenjves suddenly found himself on the witness stand in a trial watched by 80 million. "I was pretty nervous," he said. But if called again to testify, Fenjves said, he will not shrink from it.
"It was a horrible tragedy for the families," Fenjves said. "For me, it was an unwanted moment in the sun. I get to go on with my life. The Goldmans and the Browns will always have a huge void in theirs."