Denise Brown
Dateline NBC
Denise Brown
Dateline NBC
updated 6/13/2004 8:40:51 PM ET 2004-06-14T00:40:51

It has been the abiding hope of both the Brown and Goldman families that some good come of those tragic murders 10 years ago. For Fred Goldman, it's been his work to strengthen victims’ rights. For Denise Brown, the issue is domestic violence. She has never minced words when expressing her feelings about this case. The pain, the anger, and the hope that her sister's murder, as horrific as it was, would help save other lives.

Stone Phillips: "It's been 10 years since you lost her. Does it seem like 10 years?"

Denise Brown: "Actually, it seems like yesterday. I sit there and I think, okay, well, it's been 10 years since I've been able to talk to her on the phone. It's been 10 years since I've been able to tell her I love her. You know everybody says, oh, it gets easier. The only thing that gets easier is, you don't cry as much."

In the last 10 years, Denise Brown has found another way to tell her younger sister she loves her. She's become a crusader against domestic violence, a passion fueled by the loss of Nicole. Away from the spotlight, Denise and her family help keep Nicole's memory alive for Sydney and Justin, Nicole's children with O.J. Simpson.

Brown: "We tell stories about, oh, Nicole and I, we did this, or, We used to do this. Just so that they don't forget. I just never want them to forget their mother."

Sidney and Justin live with their father in Florida and visit their  mother's family in California on  holidays.

Phillips: "I think it's a question everybody has wondered about. How the kids are doing."

Brown: "They, they're doing good. They're-- they've turned into just fantastic kids. Sydney's 18, Justin's 15. Justin's 6-foot-2. Sydney's, I think, 5-7, 5-8. Thin, beautiful."

Phillips: "How much of Nicole do you see in them?"

Brown: "Tons. I mean, I think Justin looks just like Nicole. Yeah. I really do. And then Sidney's got some of-- I think Sydney has some of both. But I think Justin really looks a lot like his mother."

Phillips: "Do you talk with them about what happened?"

Brown: "No."

Phillips: "Never comes up."

Brown: "No."

Phillips: "Do you think they believe their father killed her?"

Brown: "I honestly I have no idea because It's something we don't talk about."

Phillips: "That because you just feel it's in their interest not to talk about it."

Brown: "Well, yeah, I mean yes it has been 10 years but they did lose their mom in such a horrible brutal, brutal way. They are always, the media is always on them, I mean always watching and seeing what is going on and you don't want to hurt somebody even more. I mean I don't think any child wants to believe that their own father murdered their mother."

Denise herself has tried to move on. She's 46 now, divorced. She lives with her teenage son and her parents and tries to push the most painful memories about Nicole away.

Brown: "You know your brain has a great mechanism in it to just kind of put it back there, and just kind of forget about it and live your life."

Phillips: "What do you think you have most blocked from your mind?"

Brown: "The pictures of Nicole. I walked into Marcia Clark's office before the trial even started. There was a huge poster, I mean huge, and it had a picture of Nicole about this big. And it was with her throat cut open… I sat there in the doorway. And I was looking at this picture. Marcia looks at me and she looks at where I'm looking… and she goes, ‘Oh my God, it's like a piece of furniture to me.  I forgot it was even here.’ That was horrible. And that's something I don't want to remember ever. Because I don't want to remember her like that."

Although Marcia Clark, through her agent, denied the scene took place, one of Nicole's other sisters who was with Denise at the time, says she remembered the incident clearly.

Phillips: "Your feelings about Marcia Clark today?"

Brown: "I hate her. And I know hates a strong word. But I can't stand the woman."

Phillips: "Because she lost the case?"

Brown: "No, no, I mean, I think she made a lot of mistakes. But I think that it all happened when she wrote her book. And she said in there, that we were not supportive in trying to help. And I thought, you miserable human being. You are nasty. You are mean. And I hope I never see you. I just hate her."

Phillips: "And Chris Darden?"

Brown: "Chris Darden apologized. Chris Darden felt bad. You know, he said, ‘God,’ he says, ‘I am so sorry that we lost this case.’ And that's okay. And it happened. And it is what it is. And I'm totally okay with Chris."

Phillips: "Looking back now, what's your take on what happened at the trial?"

Brown: "What is my take? I think it was the most ridiculous thing I've ever seen."

The drama unfolded for nine months under the glare of television cameras, which seemed to feed those endless theatrics in the courtroom. 

Brown: "But I do tell you, I truly am happy that the cameras were in the courtroom."

Phillips: "You don't think cameras turned it into a circus?"

Brown: "Well, it could have turned it into a circus. But I don't believe that the American public would have believed that he would have been the type of person to batter my sister. They would not have believed us."

In a trial full of surprising twists and riveting moments. Denise Brown's emotional testimony early on was described as unforgettable. She described what she believed  was Simpson's obsessive and  abusive treatment of her sister in disturbing detail. And one of the most painful moments was when prosecutors showed pictures of her sister's face covered with bruises, from an incident prior to the murders.

Although Denise didn't realize it at the time, seeing these photos would mark a turning point in her life, the beginning of her transformation into an advocate for abused women everywhere.

When she testified in February 1995, Denise thought Simpson's attacks on her sister were isolated events. she says it took her years to understand that her sister fit into a classic pattern of an abused woman.

Brown: "I didn't know about the domestic violence at that point. I didn't know about the cycle of violence."

Phillips: "How did you come to learn what had happened inside the relationship? I mean what opened your eyes to that?"

Brown: "Nicole's notes and diaries.  It was her notes and diaries, that she left behind."

While Simpson has repeatedly denied ever hitting Nicole, even under oath in a taped deposition for the civil trial, Denise says Nicole's diaries recounted episode after episode of abuse.

Brown: "We documented 17 years of either verbal, emotional, psychological, physical. We had it all right there. And you just go, oh, my gosh. Why didn't you get out? Why didn't you say something to us?  Why didn't you come for help?"

She may not have been able to save her sister, but the Nicole Brown Charitable Foundation has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for battered women since Denise started it 10 years ago.

Phillips: "Simpson has said, ‘I have watched Denise Brown make a fortune off her sister's death.’"

Brown: "Oh, God! If that was the case, I wouldn't be living at home."

While that charge coming from Simpson made her laugh - the questions were serious enough in 1999 to cause the California Attorney General's Office to look into the Foundation's finances. A year later, the Office concluded there was nothing to warrant a formal investigation.

So the good work continues, and Denise says helping other women has helped her deal with her own anger at Simpson, at lead prosecutor Marcia Clark, even at God.

Brown: "After Nicole was murdered. I was so angry with God. I thought, how could you do this?  How could you let this happen?"

She says her mother suggested that she see a minister for spiritual counseling.

Brown: "And he told me one sentence. He says, ‘Denise,’ he said, ‘It's not God's doing. It's the evil of man.’ And as soon as he said that, a load just lifted off my shoulders. And I said, oh my God, you're right."

Phillips: "Tell me about the cross you're wearing?"

Brown: "This was Nicole's cross. And I wear it all the time. And you asked me earlier about what I remember on the stand. I remember grabbing this and grabbing it for support. Like, ‘Hey, Nick, help me,’ you know. And yeah, that's why I wear it. Because it was hers."

Phillips: "It’s been almost a decade since—"

Brown: "Yeah."

Phillips: "O.J. Simpson said that he would find the real killer."

Brown: "Yeah, he looks at him every day in the mirror. He doesn't have to go too far."

Shortly after her sister's murder, Denise testified about domestic violence before Congress, urging senators to pass the Violence Against Women Act. And recently she's made a television pilot, called "Predators," to help victims of domestic violence.

In a way it is bittersweet, that Denise Brown has found the purpose for her own life in her sister's death.

Brown: "I think she did so much good in her death, that she may not have been able to do with her life. I think that she has done so much good for so many people."

Phillips: "Through the work that continues."

Brown: "Yeah and I won't stop. I won't stop."

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