In a stunning defeat for O.J. Simpson, Superior Court Judge Lance Ito ruled Wednesday that prosecutors can try to make a case that Nicole Brown Simpson’s murder was part of a pattern of spousal abuse that ended with her death and the murder of Ronald Goldman on June 12.
Ito also denied a defense motion that would have barred the prosecution from using such words and expressions as battered wife, battered spouse, spousal abuse, stalker and stalked in describing Simpson’s troubled relationship with his ex-wife.
“Based upon the prosecution’s offer of proof submitted in response to defendant’s motion, such restriction is not warranted,” the judge wrote in a 10-page decision.
Among the incidents admitted into evidence is the 1989 conviction of Simpson on charges of spousal abuse and most of the taped recording of Nicole Simpson’s emotional 911 call to police in 1993, on which the football legend can be heard yelling in the background. Also admitted were eyewitness reports of violence against Nicole Simpson dating to 1982 and six statements made by Simpson indicating his jealousy, obsession and temper. They include letters to his ex-wife in which he apologized for the 1989 assault.
Ito did not allow any statements made by Nicole Simpson either in a journal or to others, including a call she may have made to a battered women’s shelter five days before her murder.
Legal experts saw Wednesday’s ruling as a major blow to Simpson’s defense.
“It’s devastating to the defense and enormously helpful to the prosecution,” said New York University law professor Stephen Gillers. “It allows the prosecution to argue to the jury, with proof to back it up, that this defendant is capable of this kind of act.”
Simpson’s defense lawyers, who fought long and hard to keep out the evidence, said they were not upset by the decision. “We’re comfortable with the evidence,” Robert Shapiro said in a statement to reporters. “We’re very comfortable with the explanations we will have to the jury on the evidence, and we’re very secure in our position.”
The prosecution had no comment.
All told, Ito allowed the prosecution to present evidence of 19 separate incidents that were contested by the defense and barred 12 others.
The decision came on a hectic day in which Ito worked to clear the decks for opening statements on Monday. He dismissed two jurors and replaced them with alternates, assured the jurors they could have conjugal visits, released an order to Simpson’s lawyers to justify Simpson’s jailhouse visits, which jail officials said had been excessive, and denied a defense motion to bar the victims’ families from the courtroom.
Also, the feud between Shapiro and F. Lee Bailey, another member of the defense team, appeared resolved as the two appeared in the courthouse arm-in-arm.
Among the domestic violence incidents the jury will be allowed to hear details of are:
The 1989 conviction for spousal abuse including letters and police photographs of Nicole Simpson’s injuries.
An incident in 1988 or 1989 when a limousine driver said he saw Simpson slap his ex-wife in the back seat of the car.
An incident in 1989 when Simpson allegedly pushed his ex-wife from a moving car.
A 1987 incident at a beach where Simpson was allegedly seen striking his wife and knocking her to the ground.
A 1985 altercation when Simpson allegedly smashed the windshield of his wife’s car with a baseball bat.