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Expert on Battered Women Criticized for Backing Simpson Defense

February 2, 1995 GMT

DENVER (AP) _ A psychologist who was instrumental in bringing the concept of battered-woman syndrome into courtrooms nationwide has shocked and disturbed some colleagues by agreeing to testify in O.J. Simpson’s defense.

Some advocates and lawyers working in the field accuse Lenore Walker of abandoning the work she has championed for 20 years.

Walker countered that she does not believe Simpson is guilty or innocent _ only that he deserves a fair trial.

``I think a number of people have rushed to a very harsh judgment without understanding what my role could be in the case,″ the 52-year-old Denver psychologist said Monday.

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Prosecutors contend the killing of Nicole Brown Simpson was the culmination of years of violence and degradation.

Walker _ whose stand was outlined in opening statements by Simpson lawyer Johnnie Cochran Jr. _ said she will testify that Simpson lacks certain behavior traits often seen in husbands who murder, and that not all abusers kill.

``I’m saying you cannot prove his guilt or innocence by the domestic violence evidence in the case,″ she said.

Walter Gerash, a Denver lawyer who has called on Walker’s expertise, said she may trip over her own research, which frequently deals with cycles of violence.

``I think her works are such that if they can show Simpson fits that pattern, she’s going to be in trouble,″ he said.

``If Mr. Cochran accurately represented what Dr. Walker will testify to in court, she is wrong in her assessment of this relationship, and contradicts her own writings and research in domestic violence,″ said Rita Smith, director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

And Rob Gallup of Abusive Men Exploring New Directions _ AMEND, based in Denver _ took issue with Walker claim that Simpson does not exhibit the traits of an ``antisocial personality disorder.″

``It’s a new pronouncement for her to say that antisocial disorder is the behavior that women should really worry about,″ Gallup said. ``That really does battered women a disservice.″

According to Walker, antisocial personality disorder is a precursor of a possible lethal attack, and its symptoms include continued stalking, abusiveness toward children and fighting over custody and visitation.

Walker came under fire from another source Wednesday: a complaint filed by the Colorado attorney general’s office in a dispute over services rendered. Walker could lose her license if she is found to have failed to meet generally accepted standards of practice.

The charges stem from a $2,500 payment Walker received to evaluate Sharon Nelson, who is serving a life sentence after pleading guilty to murdering two husbands. Nelson’s attorney, Marcia Minuck, said Nelson wanted to be evaluated by an expert on wife-beating because she was considering changing her plea. Walker interviewed her in jail for four hours in November 1991, but then failed to produce a written evaluation, Minuck said.

Walker publicist Israel Levine said Walker felt she had done nothing wrong. Speaking last week, before details of the complaint became known, Levine said, ``Evidently, it was a dispute over a fee and not connected to her professional performance.″ Levine was not available this morning for further comment.

Walker, who holds degrees in education and psychology from Rutgers University, has written 10 books on domestic violence, including ``The Battered Woman″ in 1979. She has tried to debunk myths about the thought patterns of women in abusive relationships.

Walker was an assistant professor of psychology at Rutgers in the early 1970s. She later became a psychology professor at now-defunct Colorado Women’s College in Denver and helped found the Domestic Violence Institute in Denver in 1976. The institute studies domestic violence and treats battered women.

She went into private practice in 1981.

Walker has known Cochran since the early 1980s, when he directed the Los Angeles Domestic Violence Council. Walker said she and another psychologist interviewed a ``very cooperative″ Simpson for 40 hours and plan to spend more time questioning him.

Walker said she is not abandoning abused women and will take care not to blame the victim, which she said is common in such cases.

``I will talk about the fact that there are risk factors that we look for and at this time, in this case, most of those risk factors are not present,″ she said. ``Therefore, in this ... case you cannot say that because of the domestic violence, we know he killed her.″