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Families Make Poignant Visits to Grave Sites

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Minutes after Ascension Cemetery closed, minutes after the daylong procession of caring strangers had ended, a car drove up bearing the last visitors to the grave of Nicole Brown Simpson.

Juditha and Dominique Brown, mother and sister of the slain woman, approached the headstone, accompanied by the family dog. They placed flowers and planted a sign reading, “Always in Our Hearts / Nicole and Ron.” Juditha Brown smiled.

And in less than five minutes, they turned and departed, just like all the others who had come Wednesday to pay their respects and perhaps celebrate their belief that finally justice had been done.

Miles to the north, at Ron Goldman’s grave at Pierce Brothers Valley Oaks cemetery in Westlake Village, a mini-shrine of flowers, ceramic angels and handwritten notes had been formed.

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A waist-high spray of birds of paradise, gerbera daisies, carnations and irises stood by the black granite gravestone. Written in gold script on a white satin ribbon were the words: “Finally justice is served.”

Around sunset, Patti Goldman, wife of Ronald Goldman’s father, Fred, walked up to the grave, surveying the flowers and notes left there. Moments later her husband arrived. He placed a bouquet on the grave, and the couple sat down to read the handwritten notes. As they embraced, Patti began to cry.

After about 10 minutes, the couple left the cemetery.

On the day after a jury found O.J. Simpson liable for the deaths of Nicole Simpson and Ronald Goldman, family members of both victims observed the courtroom victory in those brief but poignant moments beside the graves.

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And elsewhere, many who knew the Browns or the Goldmans seemed to feel a sense of relief.

“I feel the families have finally gotten some justice, some acknowledgment that both of their kids got murdered,” said Theresa Sundstrom, who works at Monarch Bay Pharmacy and Gifts, a shop the Browns frequented across Pacific Coast Highway from their gated community.

“The fact that they found him guilty, that he has to pay the fine, is enough,” Sundstrom said.

Jim Hayton, the owner of Dana Point Carwash and a friend of the Browns, joked with his customers Wednesday that a portion of all the day’s proceeds would go to O.J. Simpson “to help him keep his Bentley.” Because of the verdicts, the mood in town was upbeat and everybody seemed to enjoy the joke, Hayton said.

“People here seem to be in a better frame of mind,” said Hayton, who got to know the Browns by washing the cars in the local Hertz dealership formerly co-owned by Lou Brown, Nicole’s father, and O.J. Simpson. “I myself couldn’t be happier. I’m happy for the victims of domestic violence and for my customers, who feel the system didn’t completely fail them.”

Many others who visited Ascension Cemetery expressed concern for the Simpsons’ two children.

“I feel so sorry for the Browns and what they had to go through and for the children,” said Rose Gunderman-Unger, 74, of Mission Viejo, a regular visitor to the grave site. “It’s going to be very hard for them.”

The Browns’ attorney Kimberly Knill of Laguna Beach said the civil verdicts will help them in their ongoing battle to regain guardianship of the children, an opinion not shared by all legal experts. Knill said she discussed legal strategy with Lou and Juditha Brown on Wednesday, and expected to reach some final decisions next week.

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"[Simpson] could be emotionally and financially drained,” Knill said. “That could be grounds to say, ‘Hey, he’s not the best person for these kids.’ ”

She said she could file a motion in Orange County Superior Court requesting a change in the Dec. 20 decision that awarded Simpson full custody of Sydney, 11, and Justin, 8.

The Browns also have vowed to appeal the custody decision, and Knill said they could pursue their options in Superior Court and at the appellate level at the same time.

Francois Dubau, a Laguna Beach pastor who collaborated on a book with Lou Brown due out this spring, said Brown spent the day attending to business at the Nicole Brown Simpson Foundation in Dana Point.

“I know [the Browns] are ecstatic about what happened,” Dubau said. “Last night, they really got a sense that fairness and justice had come through.”

Times correspondents Jeff Kass and Kate Folmar contributed to this report.


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