Setting out to dismantle an icon even before they attempt to prove him guilty of murder, prosecutors initiated their case against O.J. Simpson Tuesday with a series of witnesses who described in minute detail a 1989 incident in which, they say, he hit his wife hard enough to leave a hand mark on her neck and fingermarks on her cheek.
Then they displayed three photographs - not the computer creations of supermarket tabloids, but Polaroids the police took at a station house after the altercation between the Simpsons before dawn on New Year’s Day 1989. The pictures showed Nicole Simpson as a stunned and traumatized woman with wounds on her cheek and forehead and a cut over her lip, not as the smiling, glamorous figure seen in dozens of well-circulated photographs.
And the pictures, said the police officer who took them, did not do justice to the wounds he saw. “Not even close,” contended the detective, John Edwards, who said Nicole Simpson told him the fight was sparked when she learned that Simpson had had sex with his personal secretary, who was living in the Simpsons’ home at the time.
Before testimony finally began in the case, the chief prosecutor, Marcia Clark, was allowed to amend her opening statement to the jury, the first time ever in a California criminal case. Using only six of the 10 minutes Judge Lance A. Ito allotted her, Clark dismissed as a “known liar and a Simpson case groupie” a newly disclosed defense witness whose story about four unsavory men near the murder scene could be a pillar of Simpson’s defense.
The most dramatic of the prosecu tion’s three witnesses Tuesday was clearly Edwards, a beefy policeman who told of responding to a 911 call at Simpson’s home around 3:30 on New Year’s morning five years ago, and finding a shivering “female Caucasian, blond hair,” dressed only in a bra and muddy sweat pants, emerging from the bushes. He described her as cowering and hysterical, throwing herself against a gate post and, having managed to find the right button to get out, collapsing into his arms and clutching him.
“He’s going to kill me!” he said she declared. “He’s going to kill me! He’s going to kill me!”
Who, the officer asked.
“She said `O.J.,”’ he continued. “I was a little surprised. I said `O.J. who? Do you mean the football player?’ And she said `Yes, O.J. Simpson the football player.”’
Moments later, Edwards said, Simpson emerged from the house in his bathrobe. “I don’t want that woman in my bed anymore,” the officer said Simpson declared. “I got two other women. I don’t want that woman in my bed.”
Simpson told him, he continued, that he had not beaten his wife, but only pushed her out of bed.
At times, he said, Simpson was so angry over the turn of events that “veins were pulsating and popping out” of his head. He let Simpson get dressed to go to the police station, he said, only to see him hop in his blue Bentley and speed away. He was never arrested.
Prosecutors evidently chose to inaugurate their case with an episode that took place more than five years before the deaths of Nicole Simpson and a friend, Ronald L. Goldman, to illustrate that Simpson is not the lovable, light-hearted fellow he pretends, but a batterer. And more than that, they hope to show jurors that he is a liar who thinks he can get away with whatever he does because he always has, and is ready now to hoodwink them as well.