OJ at the sharp end of court inquisition

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The Independent Online
Three hours into his second day on the witness stand, OJ Simpson was attempting to explain away cuts on his left hand - cuts his accusers now say were caused by the clawing fingernails of his victims.

He had stumbled through his story that he broke a glass in a Chicago hotel room in shock when he heard of his wife's death, and swept the shards into a sink. Maybe, he now suggested, a cut on his ring finger was caused while he "wrestled" with his son, Jason, seven.

Attorney Daniel Petrocelli was quick to seize the opening. "You are not saying, are you, that Jason gouged you with his fingernails and caused your injuries," he asked, his voice dripping sarcasm.

Mr Simpson's first public testimony on his actions before, during and after the murders of his ex-wife, Nicole, and her friend the waiter Ronald Goldman, took on all the trappings of a classic court-room confrontation yesterday.

The former football star, cleared of murder in a criminal trial last year, is being sued for damages in a wrongful-death case brought by the families and estates of Mrs Simpson and Mr Goldman.

Mr Petrocelli subjected Mr Simpson to a merciless crossfire of questions in a series of challenges and denials that probed every detail of his story.

He raised the spectre of perjury when he asked Mr Simpson about a lie- detector test. Mr Simpson had denied in pre- trial depositions under oath, ever taking such a test. According to a recent book on the case American Tragedy, Mr Simpson privately took a polygraph exam on 15 June, two days after the killings. "You took the test and you failed it, didn't you?" Mr Petrocelli asked. "You got a minus 22 [one of the lowest scores possible]." "That's not correct," OJ said. He added that he was not aware that it was a polygraph test he took.

Last Friday, Mr Petrocelli had taken Mr Simpson through the history of his stormy relationship with Nicole. That set the stage for yesterday's clash, when Mr Petrocelli turned the spotlight on the day of the killings, 12 June 1994. He first asked Mr Simpson about a phone message that his girlfriend, Paula Barbieri, left at 7am telling him their relationship was over. It is the plaintiffs' case that it helped drive Mr Simpson into a murderous rage.

Mr Simpson yesterday denied ever picking up the message - contrary to phone records showing he called his message service at least twice. He admitted, however, that he had repeatedly tried to call Ms Barbieri.

"The reason you tried to get in touch with her is because you were feeling alone, true?" Mr Petrocelli asked. "That's not true," Mr Simpson said. "You blamed Nicole for feeling alone, didn't you?" "No."

The hearing continues.