Family tells of OJ's grief at wife's death

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EDWARD HELMORE

Los Angeles

OJ Simpson's lawyers, the "dream team", opened their case this week by putting his mother, daughter and sister on the witness-stand to paint loving portraits of him. The team's opening strategy aimed to establish that Mr Simpson was grief-stricken the morning after the murders and not detached and concerned for himself.

Arnelle Simpson, OJ's 26-year-old daughter from his first marriage, took the stand first and testified that he was "emotional" and "distraught" and "out of control" when he learned of his wife's murder. Ms Simpson said her father was shocked, and concerned for his children's welfare.

She was followed by Mr Simpson's youngest sister, Carmelita Simpson-Durio, and his 71-year-old mother, Eunice, who spoke on topics ranging from her son's childhood rickets, her family history of arthritis, her religious convictions and her son's demeanour.

Before they begin attacking the testimony of the coroner or the reliability of genetic evidence linking Mr Simpson to the double murder of Nicole Simpson Brown and her friend, Ronald Goldman, the defence lawyers are seeking to portray Mr Simpson in the best way possible.

"He's been portrayed as such an animal," said defence lawyer Carl Douglas. "It was very important at the beginning of our case to demonstrate that there is a man, a real living, breathing human being, living with family members who care for him."

Ron Shipp, Mr Simpson's friend who testified early in the trial that he believed OJ had committed the murders, was a main target of the defence. They attempted to portray Mr Shipp as a drunk who barely knew the defendant.

However, the "dream team" is keen to avoid direct recommendations of Mr Simpson's character, since that would open the door to a rebuttal hearing in which the prosecution could bring in testimony about wife-abuse.

Instead, they introduced what appeared to be two near-irrelevant witnesses: a songwriter and an interior decorator. Neither had direct information on the murders themselves but merely observations of the defendant at charity functions.

The defence is expected to re-introduce the race issue in the coming week. The implication that the Los Angeles police are unreliable and racist will strike a chord with many members of the mainly black jury.

In another development, the Nicole Brown Simpson Charitable Foundation has been attacked for its operation. Since it was established to raise money for battered women, it has reportedly raised $200,000 (pounds 129,000) but has yet to give out anything. The charity's first director, Jeff Noebel, has been discovered to have been cited in a domestic restraining order for posing a "clear and present danger" to his estranged wife.

In addition, the foundation accepted money from controversial organisations and now faces criticism from several anti-domestic-violence groups.

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