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Elusive weapon in Simpson slayings: Kitchen knife? Carving knife? Retractable blade?

Despite growing skepticism that it has anything to do with the infamous case, a knife reportedly found years ago at the former home of O.J. Simpson has generated considerable interest.

One big reason: Authorities have never found the weapon used to kill Simpson's former wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ronald Goldman in 1994.

The fact that the "discovery" comes as an FX miniseries about the case is airing may or may not have something to do with all the fascination.

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But here are the basics:

Haven't there been other knives connected to the case before?

Yes.

A 15-inch knife with a retractable blade that Simpson purchased at Ross Cutlery in downtown Los Angeles briefly tantalized prosecutors in his criminal trial. They thought it might be the weapon used in the slayings, and they even asked a coroner to compare that type of blade with the slash and stab wounds of the victims. The fact that no one could find the knife only added to the intrigue.

But the defense produced the knife — in an envelope that became known as the "mystery envelope" in the preliminary hearing. Forensic tests later revealed that the knife was in pristine condition, with no scratches or bloodstains to suggest it had been used in the vicious double slaying.

Prosecutors in Simpson's criminal trial never introduced it as evidence.

In 1994, a woman discovered a kitchen knife smeared with red stains less than a block from Simpson's home.

A broken carving knife was discovered in a trash can at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, where Simpson went just after the slayings.

Does it really matter?

Yes and no.

Simpson was found not guilty, so the issue of another trial is moot.

But there still is major interest in the case, in part because so many people believe Simpson was the killer.

Laurie Levenson, a Loyola law professor who watched the criminal trial, said prosecutors never identified the knife. But they did imply that Simpson could have grabbed one from his former wife's home.

"It's the nuance that there were knives in Nicole's kitchen," Levenson said.

"The knife was not the main focus of the trial; both sides wrote off the murder weapon," she said.

Levenson said prosecutors felt they had a strong case because of two bloody gloves — one found at the crime scene and the other at Simpson's Brentwood estate.

"They had the bloody glove, a gift they thought was from heaven and did not need anything more," she said.

But during the trial, Simpson tried on one of the gloves, and in what would become a Perry Mason moment, it appeared not to fit him.

So what do we know about this new knife?

A retired LAPD police officer recently turned in a knife that he said was given to him by a construction worker who helped raze Simpson's mansion in 1998. The officer said he got the knife in 2003.

It's now being tested for DNA evidence. Several LAPD sources say the knife appears not to be connected to the Simpson case.

The former officer's attorney, Trent Copeland, described the weapon as a relatively small buck knife.

Could a small knife have been used in the killings?

From the beginning, there was much dispute about how the killing occurred. Defense attorneys argued at least two knives were used, suggesting that meant there could have been two killers.

"There were indications that two different knives may have been used. One with a straight edge and one with a serrated edge," Carl Douglas, a member of Simpson's "dream team" of lawyers, said in an interview.

But during the trial, the L.A. County coroner said one knife could have been used in both killings.

"The same, single-edged knife could have caused the injuries on both decedents," Dr. Lakshmanan Sathyavagiswaran testified.

Sathyavagiswaran added that a double-edged knife could have caused some of the wounds, but he stressed that he saw no wounds that a single-edged weapon — about 6 inches long and 3/4 of an inch wide — could have caused.

"My opinion is that Miss Brown was on the ground, face down, when this wound was inflicted," he said. "My opinion is that the head was extended backward and the knife was used to cause this incise slash, stab wound from the left to the right," he told jurors a year after the killings.

Sathyavagiswaran said Goldman was stabbed and slashed to death and that all those wounds could have been caused by a single knife. Two of the cuts, he added, appeared to have been the result of Goldman's assailant drawing the knife across the victim's throat threateningly while holding him still.

Although some of Goldman's wounds suggest that he put up a fight, he succumbed to the ferocious assault, slumping near a fence outside Nicole Brown Simpson's condominium, Sathyavagiswaran said.

Some have questioned whether a buck knife could have been used.

"It doesn't strike me as the knife we know about that matches the theories of the coroner during the trial," Levenson said.

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Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
A version of this article appeared in print on March 08, 2016, in the News section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "Knife rekindles Simpson case - LAPD tests a blade reportedly found at the football star's former home. - EXPLAINER" — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe
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