December 09, 1996 12:00 PM

LOS ANGELES CORRESPONDENT Lorenzo Benet says he first realized the magnitude of the O.J. Simpson case not when Simpson was arrested in 1994 for the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman, but a year later, when his daughter Hannah, then 4, glanced at a newspaper photo. “She said, ‘That’s O.J. Simpson,’ ” Benet recalls. “The only other famous adult she could name was President Clinton. That’s when I knew this had penetrated every crevice of American life.”

Benet has been covering the Simpson case since the morning after the murders. He was our first reporter at Simpson’s Rockingham estate on June 13, 1994. “From the street I could see markers on the driveway where blood had been discovered,” he says. Correspondent Lyndon Stambler joined the team the next day, checking out Nicole’s home, where, he says, “huge quantities of blood had flowed like a river down the walkway. Red paw prints from Nicole’s dog led down the sidewalk.” Within four days, Benet and Stambler, with four other reporters, put together the first of seven cover stories we would devote to the case. Now our troops in L.A., again led by Benet and Stambler, are back in Santa Monica court, covering Simpson’s civil trial.

Benet, 37, a Brookline, Mass., native and a graduate of the University of Michigan, came to PEOPLE from The Los Angeles Daily News in 1988. He covered the San Francisco earthquake of 1989 and in 1991 spent six weeks in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait reporting on the Persian Gulf War. He is the coauthor of The Lives of Danielle Steele (1994), a biography of the romance novelist, and he collaborated with black conservative activist Star Parker on her autobiography Pimps, Whores and Welfare Brats, which hits bookstores in January. But no matter how much work he takes on, he’ll never give up the ice-skating beat. “My wife, Aimee, is a professional skater,” he says. And Hannah? “She skates too.”

When Stambler, 40, started reporting on Simpson, he says, “my first reaction was that O.J. couldn’t be involved. I grew up in L.A. He was one of my sports idols.” A graduate of Stanford University, where he also received masters in English and in education, Stambler worked for The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times and Investor’s Business Daily before coming to PEOPLE in 1990. He has also reported on Michael Jackson, the L.A. riots and—his favorite—a man who defends Alaska’s grizzlies. This fall he wed UCLA public health doctoral candidate Terry Silberman; when trial recesses allow, Stambler is cowriting (with his father, Irwin, an author) The Encyclopedia of Folk & Blues Music.

For now, both Benet and Stambler have made the civil trial their top priority. On Nov. 22, the day Simpson first took the stand, Stambler was the second person to claim a spot on the courthouse steps—at 4:30 a.m. By 7 a.m. the crowd was 200 thick, and a high school marching band played in the parking lot. “It was like a cross between the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and arrivals for a Hollywood premiere,” he says. When Simpson showed up at 8:53, “everyone cheered, booed, hoisted signs and snapped photos.” Except Stambler. He took notes.

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