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"So, Pedro," Petrocelli said, using his nickname for Gelblum, "what's the game plan?" It was his characteristic way of signaling a debate on strategy. From the outset, Petrocelli had in mind a plan very different from the first Simpson trial. As a civil lawyer, he rooted much of his strategy in the concept of the pretrial deposition and the opportunity it gave to question witnesses under oath, to trip them up and to use their conflicting statements to impeach their credibility on the witness stand. Simpson's conflicting versions of so many things--his relationship with Nicole, where he was and what he was doing the night of June 12, 1994, how he cut his hands--were all important, but nothing loomed as large as his denial of owning the Bruno Maglis.
The first time Petrocelli questioned Simpson, during depositions in January 1996, the lawyer had no idea that photos of Simpson wearing the shoes would surface. Nonetheless Petrocelli pushed and pushed as Simpson elaborated on his denials. "We pinned him down," said Petrocelli after the deposition. "It is a perfect illustration of how the deposition process can work. We had no photos. But Simpson lied and lied and lied. He committed himself. Whatever happened, it was important to pin him down on the lies, because we knew we would have the opportunity to confront him on the stand." He added, "There's no question that the shoes were the single most important piece of evidence in the case. And that is because they have nothing to do with the L.A.P.D. The shoes have nothing to do with race."
But how would Simpson's lawyer Robert Baker deal with conflicting statements that might arise during trial--or even new evidence? Petrocelli strategized with Gelblum and the rest of the team. They wondered if the defense, and Simpson himself when he testified, would choose to ignore unfavorable evidence. Gelblum and Petrocelli sat in an almost meditative silence for more than a few moments as they tried to anticipate the other side's moves. They had been doing this kind of thing for years, since they were night-school classmates at Southwestern University School of Law. Finally, Petrocelli said, "What can Simpson say about anything? He can't talk about the evidence; he can't refute it. He's basically gonna say, 'Listen, I won the Heisman Trophy, so I didn't do this. Period.'" As it turned out, Petrocelli was right. Simpson's testimony during his lawyer's gentle questioning was largely about his athletic career, his awards and achievements, and his idyllic life with Nicole.
Petrocelli did not come to the civil case as an expert on the first Simpson trial. His attention to it had been sporadic at best. Then one afternoon in October 1995, as he was driving on the 405 Freeway to his home in Chatsworth in the San Fernando Valley, he got a call on his cell phone from a well-known client. The client, who wishes to remain anonymous, wanted to help the Goldmans with their civil lawsuit and asked Petrocelli's permission to recommend him to the family of the murder victim. Petrocelli agreed. Fred Goldman, Ron's father, called Petrocelli, and they arranged a meeting.