Mary, a 20-year-old battered woman, didn't know Nicole Brown Simpson, but she felt a connection with her.
She and five other women in a South County shelter for victims of domestic violence had heard--and understood--the terror in Nicole's voice in her frantic calls to 911 for help in fending off her estranged husband.
On Tuesday, the women cried and expressed outrage at the acquittal of O.J. Simpson on charges that he murdered his ex-wife and Ronald Lyle Goldman.
"It made me feel helpless," said Mary, rocking her 5-month-old baby at Laura's House shelter, "like no one gives a damn about us. They basically said, 'It's OK to beat your wife.'
"It made me feel like more of a victim than ever."
The double murder trial of O.J. Simpson had catapulted the issue of domestic violence into a national spotlight, as prosecutors introduced into evidence photographs of Nicole left black and blue at the hands of her ex-husband. Prosecutors contended that Simpson, who was convicted of spousal battery in 1989, had finally killed his wife in a jealous rage after she left him.
The Simpson trial was a touchstone for victims of domestic violence, whom the media had long ignored until the lure of celebrity focused attention to the issue, experts said.
With the media's heightened interest, the Nicole Brown Simpson Charitable Foundation was formed last December to raise awareness about spousal abuse and fund shelters that serve its victims.
On Tuesday at the foundation's office near the Browns' Monarch Beach home, a somber staff of five tended to routine duties. In the afternoon, Nicole's father, Louis Brown, the 71-year-old foundation president, dropped by the office for an hour. He brushed by reporters, grim-faced and wordless, putting up his hand in response to questions.
Later, volunteer Doreen Whitcomb said the verdicts would not stymie the foundation's mission.
"We plan to go on here in a fervent manner," she said.
The foundation will have a meeting for potential volunteers Thursday from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at South Shores Church in Monarch Beach. (Information: 714-443-4200.)
After the verdicts were announced, several people dropped by the office to commiserate with workers. A couple of sympathizers left bouquets of flowers.
"We just came by to show our support," said Carolyn Honigman, 44, of Laguna Hills, who was with her husband. "I do feel Nicole was silenced today, and we do need to speak for her."
At Laura's House, some women discounted the words of Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti, who began his post-trial news conference by saying the case was "fought as a battle for victims of domestic violence."
They said no battered women would find comfort in his words.
Instead, the acquittal sends the message that no one will listen to battered women, said Beth, 48, who, like the other women in the shelter, did not want to be identified further because she fears retaliation if discovered by her abuser.
Beth said she didn't think anyone would believe that her husband followed her to the grocery store to make sure she wasn't meeting nonexistent boyfriends. She said no one would believe that he called her at work 20 times a day to make sure she was there, or that he threatened repeatedly to kill her.
The verdicts' message is that "we can't even begin to tell people of all this stuff," Beth said. "It's not getting through somehow. It's scary."
Sandy, 48, whose family did not believe she was abused, even when she showed up at gatherings with huge bruises, said battered women at home in "total fear won't have the guts to [leave] if there's no justice."
And Jennie, 33, said she fears that men who abuse their wives will take heart from the verdicts.
"They'll think, 'Poor O.J. He had to go through a year's worth of hell. Just because he hit her a couple times does not a murderer make,' " she said. "They're going to feel even more justified to hit their wives."