In a brief but unforgettable appearance on the witness stand, Nicole Brown Simpson’s sister tearfully told jurors Friday that she saw O.J. Simpson publicly humiliate his wife and violently attack her on at least one occasion.
Under questioning from Deputy District Attorney Christopher A. Darden, Denise Brown spent 26 minutes on the witness stand. As the court day ended, she told the story of a confrontation that she said occurred in the Simpson home after she accused Simpson of taking her sister for granted.
“He grabbed Nicole, told her to get out of his house,” she said. “Wanted us all out of his house, picked her up, threw her against the wall, picked her up, threw her out of the house. She ended up on her elbows and on her butt. … We were all sitting there screaming and crying. He grabbed me and threw me out of the house.”
In the weeks immediately after the murders, Brown had denied that her sister had been abused, but more recently she has emerged as the family’s leading critic of Simpson, whom she believes committed the June 12 murders of Nicole Simpson and Ronald Lyle Goldman. Simpson has pleaded not guilty.
On Friday, Brown came to court wearing two angel pins and a pair of angel earrings favored by her sister - as well as a black and white cross that dangled from a chain around her neck. As she described the violent scene at the Simpson house, she paused, overwrought and struggling to regain her composure.
“Are you OK, Miss Brown?” Darden asked.
“Yeah,” she responded. “It’s just so hard.”
Simpson looked in her direction, but did not display any emotion as his former sister-in-law broke down in tears.
Despite Denise Brown’s insistence that she could continue, Darden asked for court to adjourn for the day, just a few minutes ahead of its scheduled conclusion. Judge Lance Ito agreed, sending the panelists back to their hotel for the weekend with the image of the emotionally spent victim’s sister - who bears a striking resemblance to Nicole Simpson - fresh in their minds.
In addition, they earlier heard another riveting tale from Brown, one that does not involve allegations of physical violence but that nonetheless raises questions about Simpson’s treatment of his wife. Describing a scene in a Santa Ana bar, Denise Brown said her then brother-in-law grabbed her sister in front of a room full of strangers.
“At one point O.J. grabbed Nicole’s crotch and said: `This is where babies come from and this belongs to me,”’ Denise Brown recalled, setting her jaw and vainly attempting to choke back tears. “And Nicole just sort of rode it off like it was nothing, like, you know, like she was used to that kind of treatment.”
“I thought it was really humiliating, if you ask me,” Brown said.
Brown will be back on the stand when court resumes Monday morning, and defense attorneys have painstakingly prepared for the delicate task of cross-examining her. In interviews since the murders, Brown has supplied Simpson’s lawyers with a rich vein of material to challenge her credibility, but capitalizing on it is a sensitive assignment since defense attorneys can ill afford to appear to attack her.
The task will fall to Robert L. Shapiro, who leads the Simpson defense team but who has been heard from only sporadically since Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. emerged as the principal trial lawyer.
Legal experts said Shapiro’s crossexamination could prove one of the most important undertakings of the case.
“This is the dead sister in black hair,” Gerry Spence, a renowned criminal defense attorney, said of Denise Brown. “How she comes off will determine what the jury thinks about the dead one. If she’s destroyed in cross-examination, that will bode ill for the prosecution.”
Earlier in the day, a police officer described the scene at Nicole Simpson’s house after a 1993 incident in which she called for help after Simpson came to her house yelling and cursing. Sgt. Robert Lerner said that he and four other police officers spent over an hour calming O.J. Simpson. But Lerner added that Simpson never struck his ex-wife during that altercation and was not arrested.