Simpson Enters Plea of Not Guilty in Double Murder : Crime: He looks haggard in court as he answers to charges of slaying his ex-wife and her friend. The defense is granted access to evidence in the case.
Looking dazed and haggard, O.J. Simpson pleaded not guilty Monday to charges that he murdered his ex-wife and a friend of hers, and his lawyer later said the football hall of famer was under medication and “very, very depressed, exceedingly emotional.”
Simpson faltered near the beginning of the arraignment in Los Angeles Municipal Court, failing to answer when Judge Patti Jo McKay asked his name and wincing when the charge of murdering his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, was read to him.
For most of the brief session, Simpson, dressed in a dark suit but without a tie, belt or shoelaces--officials will not allow him anything that could be used in a suicide attempt--stood with his head cocked to one side. He blinked slowly and gazed around the courtroom, sighing deeply several times as lawyers discussed schedules for turning over evidence and other details of the case.
Simpson’s lawyer, Robert L. Shapiro, asked for access to coroner’s reports, police reports and other case documents, some of which are completed and others that are being compiled. Shapiro did not ask for bail, a request that would almost certainly have been denied because of the charges in the case.
Prosecutors raised no objections to Shapiro’s requests.
“The people are happy to share all the evidence in this case,” said Deputy Dist. Atty. Marcia Clark, the prosecutor assigned to the case. “Every piece of evidence will be shared with the defense.”
Shapiro has hired experts to review evidence, particularly the findings of the Los Angeles County coroner. Late Monday, the attorney and one of those experts, pathologist Michael Baden, spent about 50 minutes at the coroner’s office to collect and review reports related to the case.
In court, Judge McKay set June 30 as a preliminary hearing date. Shapiro later said that he and Simpson welcomed the early opportunity to hear sworn testimony from witnesses in a public forum. Such a hearing, Shapiro said, would allow a public airing of the evidence and would subject witnesses to vigorous cross-examination in a case rife with speculation.
Whether that will happen, however, remains doubtful.
Prosecutors already are presenting evidence to a grand jury. If that body returns an indictment against Simpson in the murders, it would preclude the need for a preliminary hearing. Grand juries meet in secret, and witnesses cannot bring their attorneys, two facts that make such proceedings appealing to prosecutors trying to build a case.
While the hearings are closed, California grand juries generally disclose transcripts in cases in which the targets are indicted, so the testimony probably will not remain secret for long if Simpson is indicted.
As the case shifted from police to the courtroom, lawyers on both sides spent Monday jockeying for advantage, holding a pair of news conferences on opposite sides of town. Addressing the media in the lobby of his Century City office building, Shapiro reiterated his contention Monday that Simpson was home when the murders were committed, but he also declined to rule out pursuing an insanity defense for his client.
“At the present time I have not discussed at any great length the facts of the case” with Simpson, said Shapiro, adding that he is contacting lawyers across the country in order to assemble a trial team headed by himself.
Asked about an insanity defense, Shapiro responded: “Every possible defense has to be considered by any trial lawyer, and I certainly would reserve all possibilities.”
Shapiro also said his hurried reading of police reports given to him in court suggested that there was not conclusive scientific evidence linking his client to the murders. But Shapiro conceded that he had not read the entire document, and had not yet seen any of the evidence in the case.
“He has stated in his letter that he is innocent,” Shapiro said. “The charges that were read are charges that are going to be contested.”
Blood samples taken from the scene of the crime showed a blood type that matches Simpson’s, according to sources familiar with the case. Preliminary DNA tests have been conducted on those and other blood samples--including ones taken from Simpson’s driveway, as well as clothes, shoes and other items taken from his home. Prosecutors would not comment on the results of the preliminary DNA testing, but sources familiar with the case said those tests continue to link Simpson to the murders.
Preliminary DNA tests generally are not admissible in court, but final results are expected to be available in the coming weeks. Those tests are far more precise than the ones that have been conducted so far, and could play a significant role in the case against Simpson.
At his news conference, Shapiro acknowledged that Simpson had two cuts on one hand, a relatively small one to his index finger and a larger one near his wrist, which the athlete said occurred when he broke a glass in his Chicago hotel room upon hearing news of his ex-wife’s death. Simpson also has several scratches on his hands and wrists, Shapiro said, describing them as “paper cuts.”
Prosecutors, meanwhile, met with reporters at the courthouse after the arraignment and said they were confident that they already have enough evidence to convict Simpson of the brutal double murder, which occurred June 12 outside Nicole Brown Simpson’s Brentwood condominium. The blood-soaked bodies of Simpson, 35, and her friend, Ronald Lyle Goldman, 25, were found shortly after 12 a.m. June 13, touching off a murder investigation whose developments are being followed around the world.
“It was premeditated murder,” Clark said. “It was done with deliberation and premeditation. That is precisely what he is charged with because that is what we will prove.”
Clark said prosecutors have discounted any notion that the killings were an act of passion, or, as one reporter put it, “a spontaneous meltdown.” She also said there were no plans to charge anyone else in the slayings. “Mr. Simpson is charged alone,” Clark said, “because he is the sole murderer.”
Simpson’s failure to surrender Friday and a subsequent car chase broadcast on live television sent publicity surrounding the case to new heights and produced an outpouring of public opinion, much of it apparently favorable to Simspon. As he and close friend Al Cowlings were pursued by police through Orange and Los Angeles counties, hundreds of supporters cheered from overpasses and more gathered in front of his Brentwood home, where Simpson eventually gave himself up.
Simpson had drafted an apparent suicide note and had a gun during that chase, which Shapiro said began because his client was heading for his ex-wife’s grave so that he could kill himself there. Police sources said Monday that they recovered the gun from Cowlings’ Ford Bronco and that it was loaded.
Prosecutors have acknowledged that Simpson’s popularity may make it difficult to find a jury willing to convict him. But they said Monday that they are convinced that when the facts of the case are known, support for the world renowned athlete-actor will wither.
“Of course there is some sympathy for Mr. Simpson because he is a public figure,” said Deputy Dist. Atty. David Conn, who is assisting Clark. “But as time goes on I think the public is going to look a little more closely at the brutality of this crime and I think there will be a better perspective on the manner in which this case was handled.”
Nicole Simpson’s throat was slashed so deeply that the wound exposed her spinal column, according to sources familiar with the case. Goldman was stabbed numerous times with the same weapon, which Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti has described as a “substantial knife.”
Sources have said that Goldman’s injuries suggested a fierce struggle with his assailant.
Investigators still are searching for the murder weapon, and police returned Monday to a Chicago field where they searched with metal detectors last week. A gas station attendant has told police that he saw a man resembling Simpson in that field last week, during the time that Simpson was briefly in Chicago before returning to Los Angeles to face questioning in connection with the killings.
Late Monday, police dogs in Chicago found a bag containing a pair of socks in the wooded area just south of the O’Hare-Plaza Hotel where Simpson stayed briefly on June 13. They also found a pair of sunglasses. A Los Angeles detective at the scene said the items would have to dry out before they could be examined more thoroughly and preserved as possible evidence.
Start your day right
Sign up for Essential California for news, features and recommendations from the L.A. Times and beyond in your inbox six days a week.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.