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Simpson to Testify for First Time In California Courthouse Today

By Sharon Waxman
The Washington Post
SANTA MONICA, Calif.

For more than two years, O.J. Simpson has inhabited the lives of American citizens. O.J. on the run. O.J. silent. Accused. Acquitted. O.J. indignant. Self-righteous. Reborn. He has spoken in a book, on a $29.95 video and in carefully chosen interviews.

But never in a courtroom. Never, that is, until now.

The civil case brought by the families of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald L. Goldman may well be regarded as the denouncement of the lengthy, real-life drama that began with their grisly double murder on June 12, 1994. But the stakes are very different, because Simpson's finances, not his freedom, are at risk.

For many Americans transfixed by the criminal trial, the anticipated climax never happened. O.J. Simpson never had to answer prosecutors' questions before a jury and a nationwide audience. Crucial questions remained unresolved.

Ironically, now that Simpson will attempt to make his case before a jury - during testimony at a Santa Monica courthouse that begins today - the rest of the country will neither see nor hear it. All cameras and recording equipment have been barred from the courtroom; even journalists listening to the proceedings in an annex may not tape what they hear. Secondhand reports and artists' sketches must suffice.

Up to now, the public has not missed much that it did not already know. The civil trial has been a shorter, more focused version of the nine-month criminal proceeding. Same witnesses, same charts, same photos, same 911 tapes. And without live images to feed the media maw, most people have gotten on with their lives.

Still, there is a sense of unfinished business about this trial. More than a year after the former football star's acquittal, millions of people still feel passionately about the case that plunged the nation into a debate over race, class, celebrity and justice in modern society.

More than ever, a majority of Americans - including a growing number of African Americans, though still a minority - believe Simpson is guilty.

A recent CNN-USA Today poll found that 57 percent of those surveyed believe that the jury was wrong in acquitting Simpson of murder, compared with 44 percent in October 1995. Among blacks, 62 percent now believe the jury was correct, down from 78 percent a year ago.

But there has always been one missing element: O.J. Simpson under oath.