An appeals court on Tuesday overturned a ruling giving O.J. Simpson custody of his two younger children, saying that a lower court judge should not have excluded evidence of whether Simpson killed their mother.
The 4th District Court of Appeal, ruling on a petition by the parents of Nicole Brown Simpson, ordered a new hearing.
"Because the trial court excluded evidence of whether Simpson killed the children's mother, and also clearly erred in excluding evidence bearing on the domestic violence issue in the mother's diaries, the case must be remanded for another hearing," the ruling said.
"As a matter of case law, as well as common sense, the question of whether one parent has actually murdered the other is about as relevant as it is possible to imagine in any case involving whether the surviving parent should be allowed any form of child custody," the ruling said.
Simpson told The Associated Press he plans to fight the decision for as long as it takes to keep custody of Sydney and Justin.
"The one thing is no matter what anyone thinks of me personally or what they may think I have done or haven't done is the well-being of these kids," he said.
Simpson said no one could argue that the kids aren't doing "incredibly well and are incredibly well adjusted and happy."
Ms. Simpson's parents, Louis and Juditha Brown, had been guardians of the children while Simpson was on trial for the murder of Ms. Simpson and Ron Goldman. The two were knifed to death outside Ms. Simpson's home on June 12, 1994.
Simpson was acquitted of murder in 1995, but jurors in the civil case awarded the victims' families $33.5 million in damages from Simpson.
"While we understand the incredible pressure the court was under, the fact remains that it made a number of errors," the justices wrote. "These errors require reversal of the order terminating the guardianship."
The children's court-appointed lawyer, Marjorie Fuller, said the children would probably stay with their father until appeals are exhausted.
"My reaction on behalf of my clients is that they are very disappointed with the result," Fuller said.
"It's not a done deal," she added. Either she or Simpson may request a hearing within 30 days or appeal directly to the state Supreme Court, she said.
In 1996, Judge Nancy Wieben Stock granted Simpson's petition to terminate the Browns' guardianship, giving him custody. The Browns appealed. The children wrote the justices an emotional letter asking to stay with their father in August.
The justices ordered the case to be reheard before Orange County Court Commissioner Thomas H. Schulte, who originally began the hearings in September 1996. He was replaced in October 1996 by Wieben Stock, who made the ruling in Simpson's favor and later survived a recall attempt.
"First and foremost, the grisly circumstances of the mrder itself simply could not be ignored, even if consideration of them would have taken some time," the justices wrote. They noted that the children were asleep inside the house when their mother was killed.
Natasha Roit, the Browns' attorney, said Wieben Stock should have considered the "murder issue" in the first place.
"Two children, the potential for humongous violence," she said, "and not to accept that evidence was error, and based on that alone the court could have reversed it, but there were other errors as well."
The justices also said the lower court should have admitted Ms. Simpson's diaries, which discussed her ex-husband's domestic violence.
It ordered the lower court to consider any propensity to violence by Simpson, the possible effect of taking the children from him and the children's own views.
Written by Larry Gerber ©1998 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed
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