Rosey Grier Testifies in Simpson Case
In the latest twist of the O.J. Simpson case, former football defensive lineman-turned-evangelist Rosey Grier was called to the stand Friday to testify about a recent jailhouse conversation with the defendant that allegedly was overheard by at least one deputy. Grier’s courtroom appearance was prompted by declarations and reports filed under seal by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. Neither prosecutors nor defense attorneys have seen the materials, filed late last month directly with Superior Court Judge Lance A. Ito.
But prosecutors, obviously hoping for a jailhouse statement that would bolster their case, fought hard to glean the nature of what Simpson said to Grier during their Nov. 13 Bible meeting. The defense worked just as aggressively to keep the matter private, saying even the most harmless comments between an inmate and a clergyman are protected under California law.
The issue was not resolved Friday; Ito said the hearing will resume next week.
Friday’s session was full of provocative suggestions but produced no bombshells. It did, however, shed light on a persistent mystery in the case: what prompted a Nov. 29 visit to the jail by Ito and attorneys.
The visit--one day after the Sheriff’s Department filed the declarations--gave the judge a chance to view the visiting room where the incident allegedly occurred.
Ito said from the bench Friday that he had “gone through these very corridors, sat in these very booths” that Grier used when he visited Simpson. The day’s biggest mystery, however, was not cleared up in court.
During the legal skirmish, Deputy Dist. Atty. William Hodgman tried unsuccessfully to pry the barest details about the statements from a stone-faced Grier, who carried a Bible with him to the witness stand. The prosecutor seemed particularly interested in establishing whether Simpson raised his voice during any meeting with Grier in a third-floor room at the Men’s Central Jail.
Hodgman had to fight just to ask the question. Overcoming objections by Simpson defense attorney Johnnie L. Cochran Jr., the prosecutor convinced Ito that the query was valid because Simpson may have effectively waived his right to confidentiality by raising his voice during the guard-monitored visit.
Did Simpson raise his voice over normal speaking levels, Hodgman asked.
“No, sir,” Grier answered.
Just before that, Hodgman also tried to gain a legal foothold by asking Grier if he discussed such non-spiritual topics as football during that and any other visit--a tactic that evoked a quick objection from Cochran.
“Whether it’s football, volleyball. . . . We’re asserting the privilege,” the defense attorney said as Simpson smiled and looked on. Ito did not allow the question.
Seeking to establish how important the deputies’ declaration may be, Hodgman asked Ito to consider giving prosecutors a specially prepared version when the hearing on the matter resumes Wednesday.
A spokesman for Los Angeles County Sheriff Sherman Block said late Friday that Block had not seen the sealed papers and that he would decline comment.
“Right now, until things have been adjudicated, we’re probably not going to be able to make any statements on what transpired and why they were brought before the court,” said Sgt. Larry Lincoln.
The Sheriff’s Department first brought the Nov. 13 incident to light by reporting it directly to Ito on Nov. 28.
The department filed declarations directly to the judge because of concerns that Simpson’s conduct during the incident constituted a legal waiver of clergy privilege.
Under questioning, Grier said he had no more than casual contact with Simpson until June, when the Hall of Famer was charged with the double murders of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Lyle Goldman.
Grier, ordained as a minister in 1986, said he went to the jail chaplain seeking permission to visit and give spiritual support to Simpson, who has pleaded not guilty to the crimes.
“I knew exactly what he was going through,” Grier said. “When it seems like everything has crumbled around you and you have nowhere to turn, and there was hope. There was a reason to live. There was a reason to continue on, regardless of what things looked like. That your life could be changed through the power of God.”
During their jailhouse visits, Grier said, he reads the Bible with Simpson.
“We go over Scriptures. We pray. We discuss various people in the Bible, problems they had, talk about who God is. . . . What is sin. We talk about all kinds of things in the Bible.”
And the former defensive lineman for the Los Angeles Rams said he tried to visit Simpson on Sunday mornings, when the prisoner’s mind was not so “clouded with so many other things. I thought that if I went on Sunday morning when he was rested, that we would have a chance to share the word and he would be able to hear clearly without dealing with all the other things at one time.”
Defense lawyers had sought to keep the session with Grier private, saying any public discussion of the matter could only create an impression that Simpson had said something incriminating. Ito initially agreed to close the hearing. However, after an attorney representing The Times and other media organizations protested, the judge decided to allow reporters into the courtroom on one condition: that the actual contents of Simpson’s overheard remark not be divulged in open court.
The questioning never came close to eliciting the specific comment.
Earlier Friday, sources provided additional information about a juror who allegedly failed to fully disclose on a juror questionnaire past contacts with Simpson.
On Thursday, Ito met with the juror, a 48-year-old man employed by the Hertz Corp., for which Simpson acted as a longtime celebrity spokesman.
The juror, sources said, has acknowledged that he may have been at a Hertz-sponsored event at Los Angeles International Airport more than 10 years ago that Simpson also attended. But he denied having met the former athlete. He also has said he never met Simpson’s elder daughter, Arnelle, who also worked for Hertz briefly last year.
Without divulging details, defense attorney Cochran said the flap over potential juror misconduct is unwarranted. Sources, however, say the defense is concerned that prosecutors are trying to get the man kicked off the jury. Deputy Dist. Atty. Christopher Darden denied that, saying the prosecution is satisfied with the makeup of the jury. He declined further comment.
Darden himself is at the center of a controversy over the makeup of the prosecution team.
In court Friday morning, defense lawyer Gerald Uelmen set forth legal arguments seeking to have Darden removed. .
The defense objects to Darden’s involvement in the case because he headed a now-completed grand jury investigation into whether Simpson’s best friend, Al Cowlings, tried to help the former athlete flee from police five days after the murders.
Cowlings was not indicted.
The defense contends that the grand jury was not really interested in Cowlings but that prosecutors used the panel in an attempt to gather more evidence against Simpson.
Ito made no ruling but took the matter under advisement.
The Simpson Case
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