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Testimony Opens in Simpson Trial with Account of Physical Abuse

By William Claiborne
The Washington Post
LOS ANGELES

The prosecution Tuesday opened testimony in its murder case against O.J. Simpson with a methodical recounting of the physical and mental abuse it claims Simpson inflicted on his former wife Nicole Brown Simpson before he allegedly killed her and her friend Ronald L. Goldman last June.

The first three witnesses whom prosecutor Christopher Darden put on the stand after seven months of pretrial hearings and jury selection provided the jury with details of a much-publicized incident early on the morning of Jan. 1, 1989, in which Simpson allegedly beat his then-wife. Simpson later pleaded no contest to a charge of spousal battery.

Police detective John Edwards testified that when he arrived at Simpson's estate that morning, a trembling Nicole Brown Simpson emerged from the bushes, wearing only a bra and sweat pants, with a cut lip and bruised forehead. "He's going to kill me!" he said she cried.

Lead defense attorney Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. suggested to Edwards that she was drunk that night and that the couple may have merely been engaged in a "mutual wrestling match," as O.J. Simpson later claimed. But the detective did not budge from his account.

Throughout the first long day of testimony, prosecutors made no mention of the killings, underscoring the strategy they had signaled in their opening statement last week.

Most of Tuesday's testimony about the 1989 New Year's incident had been disclosed in pretrial proceedings. A notable exception was Edwards' assertion that Nicole Simpson told him her beating was preceded by an argument over her husband's having had sex that night with one of two other women living in their house.

The prosecution's first witness was Sharyn Gilbert, the 911 emergency operator who took Nicole Simpson's telephone call early that morning and almost immediately entered in her computer: "Female being beaten at location could be heard over the phone."

Gilbert said she heard a woman screaming and "someone being hit." She immediately broadcast an urgent radio call for any police car in West Los Angeles to respond to the Simpsons' estate in fashionable Brentwood.