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Simpson conviction met with emotion, little rage

The Baltimore Sun

The verdict in the most recent O.J. Simpson trial came and went in the dark of night in a Las Vegas courtroom. The proceedings might not have been breathlessly awaited, but the outcome still provoked strong emotions through Los Angeles, a city indelibly marked by the first Simpson trial 13 years ago.

This latest verdict was seen by many as a sad epilogue: Either Simpson is getting what he deserves or can't figure out how to stay out of trouble - or both.

"It's just catching up with him," said Vartan Tashjian, a set dresser who watched Simpson's murder trial but did not pay much attention to the latest one.

The issues, this time, were armed robbery and kidnapping, not murder and race.

"I woke up this morning to all these voice mails on my phone asking me to comment on the verdict, and I wondered, 'What verdict?' " said Shawn Chapman Holley, an attorney who was part of the team that defended Simpson on the murder charges.

But as news of the verdict spread yesterday, observers weighed in. "I just couldn't believe they actually got him on this, as opposed to a double murder," said Andy Brown, a travel industry manager who lives near the condominium once owned by Simpson's wife, Nicole Brown Simpson.

Outside her home on the night of June 12, 1994, Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend, Ron Goldman, a waiter and aspiring actor, were stabbed to death. The crime scene made the upscale neighborhood a landmark for gawkers for months.

The trial mesmerized the country, and every detail was gobbled up: a blood-stained glove, a Bruno Magli shoe print, a forlorn dog wandering from the murder scene.

But the trial in Las Vegas was no soap opera, and race relations have changed in the intervening years.

"A lot has happened since the Trial of the Century," said Earl Ofari Hutchinson, president of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable. "The case polarized America along racial lines." But with the passing of time, he said, that divide is "not as deep and not as passionate."

Yet there were still people who saw either race or hatred for Simpson at play in the verdict this time.

"It was payback," said Jay Brooks, a 32-year-old computer analyst, who is black. He believes that Simpson was innocent then as well as now.

The message was even more pointed than that, Chapman Holley said while attending the "Jazz at Drew" music festival that attracted an overwhelmingly black audience in South Los Angeles. "Everyone here is talking about how it's not a coincidence that the verdict comes 13 years to the day" after the verdict in the murder trial. "These jurors wanted payback, and they were going to have the payback to the day," Chapman Holley said.

Daniel Petrocelli, the lawyer who won Goldman's family a multimillion-dollar civil judgment against Simpson, said he and the Goldmans were not surprised that Simpson was convicted.

"I don't have any doubt that jurors convicted him because he was guilty," said Petrocelli, "but the fact that most people in this country believe he got away with murder I'm sure played a role."

For some of those who were an integral part of his first trial, Simpson's resurfacing was an unwanted intrusion.

Denise Brown, a sister of Nicole Brown Simpson who became a crusader against domestic violence and a frequent talk show guest, was silent. The Brown family issued a statement yesterday, mentioning the two children - now ages 20 and 22 - that Nicole and O.J. Simpson had together. (Simpson has two grown children by a previous wife.)

"Our family would like to thank everyone across the country for their thoughts and prayers as we work through many mixed emotions," the statement read. "Our focus is on the children Sydney and Justin whom we deeply love and cherish."

Some of the lawyers who defended Simpson on the murder charges had even less to say.

"I just don't want to talk about O.J. Simpson anymore," said Gerald Uelmen, a professor at Santa Clara University Law School.

Said Harvard University Law professor Alan Dershowitz: "I'm not going to talk about it."

Around Los Angeles, people mused that Simpson had a difficult time staying out of trouble. Randi Cozad was 14 when Simpson was acquitted. "He has to learn that when he falls off the radar, to just stay off," said Cozad, 27.

Others thought he not only couldn't stay off the public stage but wanted to be there. "I think he just wants to get a little fame, maybe have someone offer him a show or something," said Frank Snowden, 23.

Laurel Hirschmann's voice swelled with emotion when talking about the verdict. Hirschmann, 49, who is white, said Simpson's second run-in with the law had brought back the anger she felt while following the first trial.

To her, Simpson had become a emblem of wealthy, famous people who game the justice system. "I think it's a slap in the face of a regular person," she said. When he was arrested again, she assumed that Simpson would elude conviction once more.

"It's pathetic that it took something this petty for him to be convicted," she said.

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