Children may be returned to their father

OJ SIMPSON : THE AFTERMATH

TIM CORNWELL

Los Angeles

The family of Nicole Brown Simpson signalled yesterday that they may be prepared to return Justin Simpson, seven, and Sydney, nine, to the care of their father, rather than subject them to a bitter legal tug-of- war

Lawyers for both sides were talking about a reunion and a possible joint custody agreement.

After his acquittal on Tuesday, OJ Simpson made it clear that he intended to ask for custody of his children. "My first obligation is to my young children, who will be raised in the way that Nicole and I had always planned," he said in a statement read by a son from his first marriage, Jason.

The fate of the two children is now an emotive issue, promising to be the latest poignant episode of the OJ Simpson soap opera.

They were upstairs sleeping when Nicole and her friend, Ron Goldman, were brutally murdered in a bloody struggle in the grounds of her home.

While the family of the other victim, Ron Goldman, have made no secret of their belief that Simpson is guilty, Nicole's parents have been much more discreet.

Her father, Lou Brown, said he was prepared to "assimilate" with the father of his grandchildren. "A reason a lot can be overlooked is the children," he said. "The children are our lives."

The Brown family are still party to a civil law suit filed against Simpson for damages from their daughter's death, but its fate is uncertain.

They would "pack those kids' bags and, with all the class and dignity they have, send them back ... They did not disparage O.J ... They will come home to a father that they love," a family friend told the Los Angeles Times.

However, Nicole's mother, Juditha Brown, said yesterday that she did not expect Mr Simpson to reclaim the children immediately. "He would like to get acquainted with the children again ... I think he is reasonable enough to know that the children have a good life here, that they find strength and love in this house."

Ms Brown said that they had informed the two small children of the outcome as soon as they returned to their Southern California home.

"Yes, we told them 'Daddy's free' They were happy. They love Daddy. We have never said anything negative about Daddy to them," she said.

"Our grandchildren now have a father that's a free man, whereas they have no mother regardless of her situation. But at least they have one parent to back up their life," Nicole's father added.

Legal analysts said that although Mr Simpson had been declared innocent of any crime, evidence from the murder trial could be introduced into a custody fight, and could weigh heavily against him.

That would include taped evidence of a violent abuse recorded during emergency phone calls that Nicole made to the Los Angeles police.

Sydney and Justin have been living with their grandparents in conservative Orange County, where Nicole grew up.

On visits to the local supermarket, the family called ahead to arrange for any tabloids and magazines which were carrying lurid coverage of the OJ murder case to be removed from the shelves.

The Browns were granted temporary custody of the children when Mr Simpson was first held in jail. In court papers, Mr Simpson's lawyers made it clear that he expected "to resume his legal and physical custody ... upon his release from incarceration". Although Mr Simpson talked to the children once a week by phone, they did not visit their father.

Faye Resnick, a friend of Nicole's who wrote a sensationalist book about her life, apparently spoke for many family members when she said: "Oh God! Nicole was right. She said he was going to kill her and get away with it. He always said he was above the law."

Friends of the couple disagree about how much attention the children actually received before and after the couple broke up.

Nicole, who enjoyed the high life among the Los Angeles party set, used to drive the children around in a white Ferrari paid for by Mr Simpson, full of family litter, coins and toys. "That was the car ... It just so happened that her station wagon was a Ferrari," said her sister Dominique Brown.

The children come up frequently in recorded telephone conversations between the Simpsons, revealed at the trial.

"Please leave, OJ. Please, the kids; the kids are sleeping," Nicole is heard saying in one call.

A voice identified as OJ's comes back: "You didn't give a fuck about the kids when you were fucking in the living room. Who cared for the kids then?"

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