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Simpson's Custody Victory Voided

Court: Justices order new trial, ruling that evidence about slaying should have been allowed. Lawyer for Browns says 'a wrong has been righted.'

November 11, 1998|RICHARD MAROSI and GREG HERNANDEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

A state appeals court on Tuesday threw out a judge's decision giving O.J. Simpson full custody of his two children, saying attorneys should have been allowed to introduce civil trial evidence in the slaying of his ex-wife.

In a scathing ruling that reopens the bitter battle between Simpson and his former in-laws, Louis and Juditha Brown, the court found that Orange County Superior Court Judge Nancy Wieben Stock erred by preventing the Browns' attorneys from introducing evidence suggesting that Simpson killed Nicole Brown Simpson.

The justices also criticized Wieben Stock for excluding evidence from Nicole Brown Simpson's diaries, which detailed Simpson's alleged violent tendencies.

"As judges, we are charged with ascertaining the truth of the most important aspects of a case," Justice David G. Sills wrote in the majority opinion. "In light of the importance of the murder evidence to the welfare of the children, any doubt as to whether the murder issue had been raised should have been resolved in favor of hearing it rather than excluding."

Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Lyle Goldman were knifed to death outside her Brentwood home on June 12, 1994, as the Simpsons' children, Syndey and Justin, slept inside.

"Whoever committed this crime must have acted in extreme rage and anger and been oblivious to the possibility that the victim's children might discover her body," Sills wrote.

The justices ordered a new custody trial. They also ruled that family court Commissioner Thomas Schulte should hear the second trial. Schulte was originally scheduled to hear the case but was removed in favor of Wieben Stock by the presiding judge.

Simpson told Associated Press that he plans to fight the decision.

"The one thing is no matter what anyone thinks of me personally--or what they may think I have done or haven't done--is the well-being of these kids," he said.

Simpson said no one could argue that the children aren't "incredibly well-adjusted and happy."

Marjorie Fuller, the attorney appointed to represent the interests of the Simpson children, said she spoke with Sydney, 13, and Justin, 10, on Tuesday afternoon about the appellate decision.

"The only comment I have is on behalf of my clients, Sydney and Justin, who are very disappointed in the result," Fuller said.

Natasha Roit, the Los Angeles attorney who handled the case for the Browns at trial as well as on appeal, said the grandparents "clearly look at it as a wrong that has been righted."

Juditha Brown "was thinking about Nicole and what Nicole's wishes would be. What she wanted to know first and foremost was what's the best thing to do for the children now."

The appeals court ruling is the latest in series of dramatic legal decisions in the Simpson saga. Jurors in a criminal trial acquitted the football great of murder in 1995, but jurors in the civil case later awarded the victims' families $33.5 million in damages.

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Times staff writer David Haldane contributed to this report.

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