A woman named Nicole called a battered women's shelter five days before Nicole Brown Simpson was slain, complaining that her famous ex-husband was stalking and threatening her, a shelter worker testified today.

"She would go to the market, he'd be there staring at her from the other aisle," said the witness, Nancy N. Ney. "She said that he had told her a few different times that if he ever caught her with another man he would kill her."

The testimony had been banned from O.J. Simpson's criminal trial as hearsay, but Superior Court Judge Hiroshi Fujisaki stunned legal observers -- and opened up a possible avenue for appeal -- by allowing it.

His decision appeared to surprise even the plaintiffs' lawyers, who shook hands on the legal triumph.

The defense vigorously objected to the testimony, saying there was no proof the caller was Nicole Simpson. They also complained the testimony was hearsay and not supported by records.

Ney said she retrieved sketchy written records of the call and reconstructed other details from memory after Nicole Simpson and Ronald L. Goldman were slashed to death.

Ney testified that she took the call at Sojourn House on June 7, 1994, from a woman named Nicole who said she was divorced from a well-known man. Ney said she didn't ask for the woman's last name.

"She said he was very high profile. She said if she told me his name, I would know who he was," Ney testified. "She said that she was very frightened. She sounded very frightened."

Ney said she asked the caller if her ex-husband had ever beaten her. "She said yes.' "

Ney said the call ended with the woman asking if she could call Ney back the following week -- but the woman never called again.

Simpson was acquitted of the murders in October 1995. He was sued by families of the victims seeking a jury ruling that he is liable for the killings and should pay them damages.

Ney did not testify in the criminal trial. At that time, Sojourn House fought turning over records, and Superior Court Judge Lance A. Ito barred the testimony as hearsay, inadequately backed up by records.

In an angry cross-examination, defense attorney Robert Baker suggested that Ney and Sojourn House thrust themselves into the Simpson case to drum up donations. Ney denied that.

Baker pointed out that the original date on the call sheet -- May 7 -- had been scratched out and replaced with June 7. Ney acknowledged that work calendars showed she was not at the shelter on May 7 and said the date was a simple mistake.

Ney testified that the caller sounded much like Nicole Simpson on a 911 tape played on TV and that the age and personal information given by the caller matched Nicole Simpson's: She was in her mid-thirties, lived in west Los Angeles and had a boy and a girl under 10.

"After I heard about the murders, I thought the details sounded familiar," Ney said, "and I went back and found my {call} sheets."

The judge suggested that Baker had invited the testimony in his opening statement by saying that the Simpsons had an amicable relationship after they parted and that O.J. Simpson himself had compounded the problem by testifying that his ex-wife didn't fear him.

Also today, jurors were shown brief excerpts of a videotaped deposition by Simpson's ex-girlfriend, Paula Barbieri, about a message she left on his phone-answering system on the morning of the killings breaking off their relationship.

"Between the work, kids, golf, my schedule, it was just too difficult to work things out," she said. Barbieri said that messages Simpson left for her later in the day led her to believe he had gotten her message. Simpson has testified he never got the message. Plaintiffs contend that he did and that it helped push him to murder. CAPTION: Fred Goldman, father of Ronald L. Goldman, arrives at courthouse in Santa Monica, Calif.