Confronting the man she believes murdered her daughter, Juditha Brown testified against O.J. Simpson on Friday, throwing him hard glances as she described him as nervous, upset and so angry he stared right through her when they met a few hours before Nicole Brown Simpson was killed.
Brown's tearful testimony--broken by wrenching sobs as she recounted her daughter's final day--provided the most emotional moments so far in the civil trial against Simpson. Jurors studied her face and took detailed notes as she dabbed tears and told them that Simpson's angry expressions on the evening of the slayings unsettled her, leaving her with a nervous feeling that lingered even after he drove away.
"Had you ever seen that look on Mr. Simpson?" attorney John Q. Kelly asked.
"Never," Brown answered emphatically.
From his seat at the defense table, Simpson smiled broadly and raised his eyebrows in apparent disbelief.
The plaintiffs had hoped to wrap up their case against Simpson on Friday, but they ran out of time after two long sidebars interrupted Brown's testimony. Instead, they plan to finish their presentation Monday with one final witness: Fred Goldman, father of victim Ronald Lyle Goldman, who was slain alongside Nicole Simpson on June 12, 1994.
Simpson was acquitted of murder charges last year. Goldman's parents and the estate of Nicole Simpson are now suing in civil court, seeking to hold the former football star responsible for the killings. If he is found liable, Simpson could be ordered to pay the victims' relatives millions of dollars in damages.
From a legal standpoint, Brown's testimony was needed for one point alone: to establish the value of the strapless black mini-dress Nicole Simpson was wearing when she was slain. The estate's claim against Simpson seeks compensation for the blood-drenched dress because lawyers must establish a material loss in order to ask for punitive damages.
After a sidebar haggle, the defense agreed to stipulate that the dress cost $250. But Brown stayed on the witness stand--clutching a tissue and trembling slightly, a grieving reminder of the human tragedy that set off the legal battle.
The last time she saw her daughter alive, Brown told the jurors, Nicole Simpson was walking toward an ice cream store with her two children. "I looked back at her again and I was thinking, 'What a gorgeous girl. What great legs,' " Brown said. "Those were my thoughts."
Brown also told jurors that at her daughter's wake, O.J. Simpson pushed her aside, knelt over the coffin, kissed Nicole on the lips and said, "I'm so sorry, Nic, I'm so sorry."
In his delicate cross-examination, lead defense attorney Robert C. Baker used two video clips to suggest that Brown had shaded her testimony against Simpson.
Brown told jurors, for example, that when she asked O.J. Simpson whether he had anything to do with her daughter's death, he refused to answer the question directly. But Baker played a snippet of a television interview in which Brown says that Simpson had in fact answered her question "No," then went on to tell her, "I loved your daughter." After watching the video, Brown agreed that her testimony on the witness stand had been inaccurate.
Baker also showed a home video taken right after the dance recital the night of the slayings. Brown had testified that Simpson made her anxious with his angry stares that evening. But in the video, she kisses Simpson goodbye--with no apparent hesitation--as he laughs and jokes with a friend.
"You certainly didn't appear nervous," Baker said.
"Well, you know, just kissing people," Brown responded.
Before Brown took the stand, the plaintiffs presented videotaped testimony from a little-known player in the Simpson drama: Ron Goldman's biological mother, Sharon Rufo.
Rufo, who lives in St. Louis, was divorced from Fred Goldman in 1974, when their son Ron was about 5. After 1976, she saw her children only sporadically, she testified. And when Fred Goldman and the children moved from the Midwest to California in 1987, she lost contact with them altogether.
Rufo is seeking compensation for the loss of her son's companionship. In addition, as a legal heir of Ronald Goldman's estate, she would share with Fred Goldman any punitive damage award.
In her testimony, Rufo described her tentative attempts to reestablish communication with her son a few years before his death. Their contact was sparse: She wrote him twice in 1990 and he called her twice, once in 1990 and once in 1992, she said. They talked about his new haircut, his financial troubles, his job assisting cerebral palsy patients, and her cats.
In the first call, two days after Mother's Day 1990, "he was telling me about how anxious he was to finally get in touch with me," Rufo said. She was equally anxious: "I was just trying to get as much information about him as I could, since it had been a few years since I talked to him."
Rufo has attended the trial occasionally, flying in for highlights such as the opening statements and Simpson's testimony. But the plaintiffs elected not to put her on the stand for live testimony--a decision legal analysts said was unusual but understandable. "By using the video [of her pretrial deposition], they're in control of what the jury sees," civil litigator Paul Kiesel said.
Before turning to the relatives' testimony Friday, the plaintiffs revisited a crucial issue: the deep cuts and abrasions on Simpson's left hand.
In a blistering confrontation that peaked in a shouting match, lead plaintiff attorney Daniel M. Petrocelli demanded to know how many cuts Leroy "Skip" Taft noticed on Simpson's left hand the day after the murders. Taft, Simpson's business lawyer and longtime friend, turned to jurors and reported: "As I sit here today, I recall one cut."
That account conformed with Simpson's testimony that he suffered a single cut on the knuckle of his middle finger while sweeping up shards from a broken drinking glass in his Chicago hotel room the morning after the slayings. But it contradicted Taft's own prior testimony on the subject.
In a pretrial deposition, Taft testified under oath that he saw "for sure two" cuts and possibly a third when he sat with Simpson in police headquarters June 13, 1994.
Voice thundering, Petrocelli read aloud all of Taft's deposition statements that conflicted with his testimony on the witness stand. Steadfast, Taft insisted that he was not lying about the number of cuts to help Simpson, his friend of 27 years.
Instead, he sought to disavow his deposition testimony, saying he had confused his observations of June 13 with his subsequent viewing of various photographs showing more than one cut on Simpson's hand.
Simpson has testified that he does not know how he received most of the injuries, but that all but one were suffered after June 13.