Justice For Nicole Brown Simpson — Read PEOPLE's Feb. 8, 2016 Cover Story

O.J. Simpson, who died April 10, was tried for the murder of his ex-wife but found not guilty by a jury in 1995

O.J. Simpson, the former football star remembered for his role at the center of one of the most sensational murder trials in American history, died on April 10 at age 76.

In 1994 and 1995, people across the country were riveted by the televised proceedings in L.A., where Simpson was accused of killing his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman. In the end, a jury found the NFL player-turned-movie star not guilty but many viewers remained unconvinced of his innocence.

Here is PEOPLE’s cover story from February 8, 2016, when friends and family of Brown Simpson and Goldman talked about their loss—and longing for justice.

On the night of June 12, 1994, the ravaged bodies of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman lay crumpled in pools of blood in the lush, tiny courtyard of her Brentwood, Calif., condo. Inside, candles still flickered next to the warm bath the 35-year-old had drawn in her sunken tub, while her two young  children, Sydney and Justin, then 8 and 5, slept, unaware that the mother they adored and who doted on them was lying dead mere steps away, nearly decapitated by a vicious knife attack.

<p>Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty</p> O.J. Simpson and Nicole Brown Simpson

Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty

O.J. Simpson and Nicole Brown Simpson

The murders were shocking in their brutality. But even more shocking was what happened next: Nicole’s ex-husband, O.J. Simpson, a celebrated and be loved football star who had become even  more famous for his roles in commercials and The Naked Gun movies, was arrested for the murders—and in 1995, as the country watched what was dubbed the Trial of the Century” live on TV— found not guilty of them. “My God, what a circus,” recalls Nicole’s youngest sister, Tanya. “It was crazy.” Both the Brown and Goldman families remain convinced of Simpson’s guilt. “It was the ultimate act of betrayal,” says Tanya.

Blonde, bubbly and beach-loving, Nicole grew up as the ultimate California girl in the coastal town of Dana Point. Voted homecoming queen in high school, she got a job as a waitress after graduation at the Daisy, a posh Beverly Hills nightclub where, at 18, she met the then-married O.J., a handsome, charismatic football icon who was 12 years her senior. T

<p>Barry King/WireImage</p> O.J. Simpson, Nicole Brown Simpson, and their kids Sydney and Justin

Barry King/WireImage

O.J. Simpson, Nicole Brown Simpson, and their kids Sydney and Justin

hey wed at O.J.’s Tudor-style mansion on N. Rocking ham Ave. in Brentwood in 1985 and seemed to have it all—two beautiful children, lavish trips to Aspen and a pair of Ferraris. But few knew of the hell Nicole endured behind closed doors at the hands of her husband. Her chilling 911 calls were played during the trial, including one in which she is heard begging police in 1993 to get to her home because O.J. had banged down the door and was “going to beat the s--- out of me.” “The only vocal memory I have of her is her voice on the 911 calls,” says Tanya. “That gets me more than anything, even the pictures, because you hear her fear.”

After weathering years of alleged beatings and verbal abuse from the man she loved, Nicole divorced O.J. in 1992. Though they tried to reconcile, she broke it off for good a week and a half before she died. “She was done,” says Tanya. “She just wanted to start her life over and begin a real family life, just her and her kids.” Her death, Tanya says, “doesn’t define who she was. Nicole was a mom, first and foremost. Her kids were her life.”

<p>Myung J. Chun/Daily News/AP</p> O.J. Simpson with attorneys, F. Lee Bailey and Johnnie Cochran Jr., reacts as he is found not guilty of murdering his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman on October 3, 1995.

Myung J. Chun/Daily News/AP

O.J. Simpson with attorneys, F. Lee Bailey and Johnnie Cochran Jr., reacts as he is found not guilty of murdering his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman on October 3, 1995.

While reports surfaced during the trial that Nicole had allegedly lived life in the fast lane—taking part in drug- and alcohol-fueled parties—“she was actually a homebody,” says Tanya. “She loved hanging out with the kids, playing and swimming with them. She was a hands-on mom.” Nicole, says Tanya, delighted in baking cookies for the kids, making her own invitations for their birthday parties and whipping up holiday feasts for the family.

After preparing a big dinner, “there would be flour everywhere, in her hair and on her face. Then she would put on a pair of jeans and a casual top and she would look hot. Nicole was always in T-shirts, jeans, flip-flops or shorts.” As a reminder of who Nicole really was, Tanya says, “I buried her with lip gloss and a pack of gum.”

Reliving the case is also difficult for Kris Jenner, who, years before her “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” fame, spent much of her marriage to Robert Kardashian with O.J. and Nicole. She was planning to meet Nicole for lunch the day after the murder. “I went to bed one night and I woke up the next morning and my entire universe had changed,” she says. “They were two of the best friends I ever had in my entire life.

They were my family.” O.J., she says, “was like my big brother,” and Nicole had supported her through a devastating miscarriage before her pregnancy with daughter Kendall, whose middle name is Nicole in her honor. “She gave me all her maternity clothes,” Kris says. “It was so sweet. I wore them during the trial. That gave me strength.”

<p>Taylor Hill/FilmMagic; Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images</p>

Taylor Hill/FilmMagic; Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

Jenner says she was shocked to learn of the abuse Nicole had suffered (“She kept it from us,” she says), and losing her friend in “such an extremely horrific, violent way” was devastating. Having her ex defend the man she believes killed Nicole made the situation even more surreal. “It was excruciating,” she says. “I just wanted it to be over so we could all try to pick up the pieces and move past the anger and the grief and the sadness. It was such a hard dark time for everyone.”

Ron’s life tragically intersected with Nicole when he met her at Mezzaluna, the trendy Santa Monica eatery where he worked as a waiter. They became fast friends; she was drawn to the aspiring restaurateur’s upbeat nature. “I had enormous pride for Ron and for the young man he was becoming and all the good things he did for people,” says Fred, citing Ron’s tireless work with cerebral palsy patients. “His smile never disappeared. He always had a good attitude toward virtually everything.”

In a horrific twist of fate that cost him his life, Ron stopped at Nicole’s condo to return glasses her mother had left at Mezzaluna earlier that night. Fred and his daughter Kim Goldman (who named her son after her beloved brother) believe Ron happened upon the murder scene and tried to help Nicole. “I am so proud of him that in his last moments he did something heroic,” says Kim, 44.

Upset by the not-guilty verdict in the criminal trial (“Justice was not served,” says Fred. “The murderer walked out of a courtroom a free man”), the Goldmans fought back by suing O.J., winning a $33.5 million judgment in a 1997 civil suit. “He swore he’d never pay a dime and has never willingly paid a penny,” says Fred. “We have taken some things away from him. But the bottom line was: He never was truly held responsible.”

Ironically 13 years to the date he was acquitted of the double murders, O.J. was found guilty of armed robbery, kidnapping and weapons charges in 2007 in Las Vegas and is now serving a 9-to-33-year sentence in Lovelock Correctional Center in Nevada, eligible for parole in 2017. “He’s a broken man,” says his former manager, Norman Pardo. For the Brown family, the shattering of their family and the pain Nicole and O.J.’s children—Sydney, now 30, and Justin, 27— face every day still lingers. Though Tanya declined to share specifics on their lives, “they are so well-grounded,” she says. “I’m very proud of what and who they have become.”

Trying to rid themselves of memories of that dark time, Tanya and her sister Denise, 58, recently shredded more than 15 bags of documents from. O.J.’s murder trial that their late father, Louis Brown, had kept all these years. Says Tanya: “We thought, ‘Let’s get rid of it. It’s not part of our lives anymore.’”

Like the Goldmans, Tanya says she will reluctantly watch the miniseries. But the best way to honor her sister is to remember the joy she brought to those who loved her. “You may cry in the beginning,” she says, “but as time goes on, with more healing, you learn to laugh and remember the fun times. And that’s what Nicole would want.”

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