O.J. Simpson denied that he beat Nicole.
Then he denied a lot more, on issues big and small.And by the end of a long court day, he had issued the most important denials of all, declaring that it was "absolutely not true" that he killed Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman.
Simpson's inquisitor, plaintiff attorney Daniel Petrocelli, pursued this questioning-denial strategy to the hilt Friday to open the eagerly awaited civil trial questioning of the man who was acquitted of murder.
Loyola University Law School Dean Laurie Levenson, who was in the courtroom, said the plaintiffs got off to a good start - and the former football star has cause to worry.
"He is letting O.J. hang himself," she said of Petrocelli. "If O.J. didn't deny these things, they wouldn't have an effective examination. And when he starts denying things proven by records, then his denials mean nothing."
After a few preliminary questions, Petrocelli opened his examination in earnest by displaying an enlarged photograph of a bruised, cut and scratched Nicole Simpson on a screen situated over Simpson's left shoulder.
Petrocelli asked Simpson, wound by ugly wound, how those marks got there during the 1989 New Year's Day fight that brought police to Simpson's house and resulted in Simpson's no-contest plea to a charge of spousal battery.
Simpson took responsibility for the wounds but denied that they were caused by him hitting, punching, kicking or slapping Nicole. Just how they were caused, he wasn't sure; he mentioned a head lock and "rassling."
After the 1989 fight, Simpson told a TV sportscaster that "it was no big deal" and that "no one was hurt."
"You lied to cover up the 1989 incident with Nicole?" Petrocelli asked about that interview.
"No," said Simpson, explaining that he meant it was "no big deal" to the public, not to him and Nicole.
"I minimized the situation," Simpson said.
Petrocelli led Simpson through several other domestic violence allegations and Simpson denied them all.
He denied that Nicole ever said she was frightened of him. He denied that he was enraged when he smashed Nicole's windshield with a baseball bat. He denied that it was Nicole who initially broke up with him. He denied that he went crawling back to her.
He denied that he looked like an "animal" when he got angry, that Nicole ended their post-divorce reconciliation, and that he couldn't stop talking about Nicole in the weeks before the murders.
He denied trying to sic the IRS on Nicole, and he denied arguments with girlfriend Paula Bar-bieri, including an alleged argument the night before the murders. He denied that he told golfing partners about that final fight. He denied Petrocelli's account of an argument with one of those golfing buddies.
He denied lamenting that an oral sex scene in a movie reminded him of seeing Nicole have oral sex with another man. He denied feeling anger and frustration over losing Nicole.
And he denied getting a telephone message from Barbieri on the morning of the murders, a message in which Barbieri broke up with him.
"I never heard the message," he said.
The plaintiffs paint that rejection as contributing to Simpson's supposedly unstable emotions that night.
Petrocelli confronted Simpson with phone records showing that his voice mail was accessed about 3 1/2 hours before the June 12, 1994, murders.
"You called your message manager and you retrieved a message spanning 5 minutes?" asked Petrocelli.
Petrocelli pressed him some more, and Simpson said: "No, I didn't pick up any messages."
"The records are incorrect?"
"I don't know about the records," said Simpson.
And still Petrocelli pushed on.
"You had received a message by 6:56 p.m. from Paula telling you that the relationship was over?"
"That's incorrect," said Simpson.
Simpson then denied that in a call about a half-hour later he told Raiders cheerleader Gretchen Stockdale he was "totally unattached" from Barbieri. Simpson said that what he meant was that he was unattached from Nicole.
Simpson also denied making a call received by his message center at 8:55 p.m.
"I don't believe that happened at all," he said in a barely audible voice.
Finally, in a call between Simpson and his ex-wife at about 9 p.m. - less than two hours before her death - Simpson denied having words with her and said he only spoke with their daughter.
"It's your testimony that there was absolutely nothing said between Nicole and you?" asked Petrocelli.
"Absolutely nothing," Simpson said quietly.
"Excuse me?" Petrocelli said.
"Absolutely nothing," Simpson said in a louder voice.
"Not even small talk?" asked Petrocelli.
"Not even small talk," Simpson answered.
With five minutes left in the court day, Petrocelli elicited the final denials.