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FRIENDS HAD URGED CHRISTOPHER DARDEN to steer clear of the Simpson case--he would look like the token black attorney in a case that had taken on ugly racial overtones. But the young prosecutor could not let it pass, and joined Clark and Hodgman in October 1994. "Most cases I prosecute aren't a challenge anymore," Darden told TIME. "The defendants are poor and they don't have the resources. This case was a fair fight." There was also the irresistible appeal of going up against one of the most respected black attorneys in the country, Johnnie Cochran, whom Darden admired. One friend warned Darden that he could not win. "I'm gonna be 'the man,'" Darden told the friend. She shook her head. "You're wrong. You ain't gonna be the man. Johnnie's the man."

Clark became obsessed with learning everything she possibly could about Nicole and her state of mind. "I have to defend a woman I never met,'' she explained to Candace Garvey, one of Nicole's friends. "All I've seen is bloody pictures. I need to know a lot of things about her.'' Nearly every night last fall, Clark would go home to put her two children to bed, then change into jeans and a sweatshirt to meet Darden and work on the case. One night, about 10 p.m., she joined Darden and Dr. Donald Dutton, an expert on domestic violence, at the bar of the Hotel Inter-Continental, one of the prosecutors' favorite haunts. She playfully kissed Darden on the cheek when she arrived, sank into an overstuffed sofa and ordered a Scotch on the rocks. Darden asked for a beer. A half-hour of jokes and pleasantries followed. And then came work. Clark pulled out her white legal pad. "O.K., let's go," she said. She drilled questions into Dutton, trying to understand Simpson's mind, his anger, his jealousy. Why did Nicole stay? Why would she smile when she didn't mean to? What might have prevented Nicole from screaming just before her throat was slit? The session went on past 1 a.m.

Clark's intensity was matched only by her mental agility. Once, while interrogating Kato Kaelin behind closed doors, Clark was suddenly interrupted by the phone. It was her children's nanny, who speaks only Spanish. Clark's tone completely changed as she began speaking fluent Spanish, giving child-care instructions. Says a clerk, Tracy Miller: "I couldn't believe how quickly she could just switch gears. And I didn't even know she could speak Spanish." A short time later, another prosecutor was set to interview an Israeli housekeeper who worked for Simpson's neighbors. The woman spoke little English. Says Miller: "Here comes Marcia into the room. She sits down and starts speaking fluent Hebrew with this woman. I thought, O.K., so what is it this woman doesn't do?"


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