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Life Goes On : At an Anniversary Vigil, Juditha and Lou Brown Will Again Mark the Day That Changed Their Lives--and Gave Them New Purpose

June 09, 1996|ANN CONWAY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MONARCH BEACH — The abrupt reminders are always there, from the bold queries of passersby ("Are you Juditha?" the woman from Pennsylvania asks as they dine in the same cafe) to the garish photos on the covers of supermarket tabloids.

The lives of Juditha Brown, 65, and Lou Brown, 72, are filled with reminders of the murders two years ago Wednesday that took the lives of their daughter, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ronald Lyle Goldman.

When Juditha plans to take Nicole's children, Sydney, 10, and Justin, 7, shopping at Target, she calls the store an hour beforehand to let management know they are coming.

"That gives them time to take the tabloids off the stands," she says, "so the children can have fun, shop without seeing those pictures of their mother."

The change in the lives of the Browns has been overwhelming. Their daughter is gone. And, despite O.J. Simpson's acquittal, they are convinced their former son-in-law is her murderer.

They are grandparents parenting two children who miss their mother and travel every other weekend to see their father at his Brentwood home.

They are wary of the press, but mindful of its power to bring attention to the issue of domestic violence, a cause to which they now commit their energies publicly.

Their circle of friends has grown; it now includes Christopher Darden from the Simpson prosecution team, television personality Geraldo Rivera, and the hundreds of others who have come to know the family throughout its painful ordeal.

People such as Doreen Whitcomb, 39, of Laguna Niguel, who for the second time is organizing a candlelight vigil to mark the anniversary of the deaths.

Wednesday night's vigil will take place at Salt Creek Beach Park in Dana Point between 9:30 and 10:30 p.m. It is meant as a remembrance of "Ron and Nicole and all the victims of domestic violence," Whitcomb said.

Whitcomb became acquainted with the Browns two weeks after the murders. Her daughter met Sydney during vacation Bible school. Soon, the little girls were playing at each other's homes. Whitcomb also has a son who is Justin's age.

"Justin and Sydney are doing fine," Whitcomb said. "They are normal, fun kids."

When they mention their mother, "we talk about her and remember things sweetly and preciously."

The Browns set the same tone in their household.

"Every child should grow up with a mother," said Juditha Brown. "But, at least, the children have a grandmother and grandfather and aunts who love them unconditionally."

Besides their grandparents, the children spend time with Nicole's sisters, Denise Brown and Dominique Brown of Laguna Niguel, and Tanya Brown, who lives in Newport Beach.

Ensuring the children's privacy has been a constant source of concern for the Browns.

"The best thing anybody can do for Sydney and Justin is leave them alone, allow them to grow, allow them to move on with their lives," said Darden, who has remained close to the Brown family. "Some of the [media] snapshots you see of the kids when they're out, just trying to be kids, are unconscionable."

The family's communications with Simpson are civil, Lou Brown said. "We're thinking in terms of the children growing up. We have to protect any vestige of respect they might have for their father."

Sometimes, however, the tension seems to burst through.

O.J. Simpson's best friend, Al Cowlings, has described one uncomfortable incident this spring, when both men showed up at a gym in Laguna Beach to watch Justin play basketball. Justin had called his dad to invite him, but the Browns were clearly upset at their presence, Cowlings told lawyers taking testimony for the upcoming wrongful-death civil court case against Simpson.

The Browns do not allow Simpson to come to their home to take temporary custody; transportation from Monarch Beach to Brentwood is done through an intermediary.

The couple has had temporary guardianship of Sydney and Justin since the summer of 1994, when Simpson was arrested on charges of killing his ex-wife and Goldman. He was acquitted in October.

Every other weekend, the former football star sends a driver to Dana Point to bring the children to his Brentwood estate. After a two-day visit, the driver returns the children to their grandparents' home.

In December, an Orange County court commissioner ordered that the guardianship case involving the children remain sealed to protect the children's privacy. The ruling by Commissioner Thomas H. Schulte extends to any posting of upcoming court hearings, which could bring a flood of media attention to the courthouse.

Although the custody case has been kept quiet, the civil case is sure to bring renewed attention to the Browns.

In the trial, set to start Sept. 9, relatives of Goldman and the estate of Nicole Brown Simpson will seek to hold Simpson liable for the Brentwood slayings.

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