OJ faces the public in TV phone-in

TIM CORNWELL

Los Angeles

After a week's grilling by lawyers in the civil law suit against him, an emboldened OJ Simpson picked up the phone to the CNN television network yesterday and spontaneously took on his toughest public questioning to date.

The world's most famous former murder defendant, cleared four months ago of the killings of his ex-wife and a friend, surprised presenters on CNN's legal show Burden of Proof. But Mr Simpson stayed on the line for nearly an hour, haggling over evidence between commercial breaks. The interview made clear his emerging line of defence in the legal action for damages brought by the families of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman.

Mr Simpson claimed his ex-wife was lying, and knew it, when she noted a series of violent incidents in her diary. He insisted she was left with bruises at his hands just once. "Only one incident in '89 in my attempt to get her out of my bedroom, which I was totally wrong for," he said.

The diary, published posthumously in the US tabloid press, was actually a list she made at the time of their divorce in an attempt to break open a prenuptial agreement, he said. The story is the same one Simpson told in a five-day question-and-answer session last week with attorneys for the Brown and Goldman families, the prelude to a civil trial set for April. Then, he also suggested drink or drugs was distorting his wife's personality.

The charge that a repeated pattern of abuse ended in murder - backed up with DNA evidence - was central to the case against him. Undermining his wife's credibility appears vital to his standing both in the civil suit and before a sceptical public.

The phone-in was the first time Mr Simpson had ventured into an interview with no ground-rules. He was asked to explain how Ronald Goldman's DNA ended up in his truck. "I have absolutely no idea. I think we should be asking the LAPD [Los Angeles Police Department] that," he said.

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