In a motion unsealed late Tuesday, prosecutors said that O.J. Simpson once struck his first wife and that he called her hours before he was scheduled to surrender to police last June, claiming that he was suicidal and had been framed for the murder of his second wife and her friend.
The new disclosures came as Simpson’s lead trial lawyer suggested that he was considering firing one at least one of the defense team’s top attorneys to settle a disruptive feud before opening statements, which are scheduled to begin Thursday.
“No final decision has been made on that yet,” said Johnnie L. Cochran Jr., the defense team’s premier trial lawyer, who has played an increasingly significant role on the Simpson team since last fall. “All things are possible.”
As Cochran worked to resolve the dispute, the Simpson team was confronted with public airing of the allegation that Simpson once hit his ex-wife, Marquerite Simpson Thomas. Attached to the prosecution motion unsealed Tuesday is a statement of Los Angeles Police Officer Terry G. Schauer, who said he responded to a domestic violence call at Simpson’s home approximately 20 years ago.
“His first wife was there with two small children,” Schauer said in a statement last year. “She told us that she had been hit by her husband, O.J. Simpson, who left the location. . . . Some other officers took her from the house and, I believe, took her and the children to the Holiday Inn at Sunset and the 405 Freeway, where she spent the night.”
The allegation marks the first time that Simpson has been publicly accused of striking his first wife, and it contradicts her contention that she was not a victim of domestic abuse.
In their motion, which seeks to compel Thomas to testify at Simpson’s murder trial, prosecutors also state that they want to question her about a call Simpson made June 17, the day he was arrested for the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Lyle Goldman. He has pleaded not guilty.
Shortly before he was scheduled to turn himself in, Simpson called his ex-wife and children and “told everyone that he was ‘framed’ for the murders and was going to commit suicide,” the motion states. “Jason (O.J. Simpson’s oldest son) quickly got on the phone and told his father not to kill himself and that everyone needed him.”
The details about that call and about the latest domestic abuse allegation surfaced amid signs that the defense team is badly divided. In recent days, Cochran has been attempting to mediate a feud between Robert L. Shapiro and F. Lee Bailey, prominent lawyers and longtime friends whose relationship has broken over allegations of leaks within the Simpson team.
According to sources on the team, tensions erupted when an investigator working for Bailey accused Shapiro of selling a transcript of Simpson’s June 13 statement to the police to the Star, a supermarket tabloid. Shapiro denied that, and the editor of the Star said this week that Shapiro was not the source of the transcript.
Seeking to root out the source of that and other leaks, sources say, an investigator working with the Simpson team, former LAPD Detective Bill Pavelic, baited several traps for Bailey, at one point seeing to it that the Boston attorney received word of a false lead regarding the Simpson case.
When a reporter called another member of the defense team to verify the report, defense sources say Pavelic felt he had confirmed that Bailey was the source. The feud has escalated to the point that Shapiro and Bailey are not speaking to each other and Shapiro has removed his mentor’s name from his office stationery.
Shapiro said he recently went to Cochran to ask that Bailey be removed from the murder case.
Although Cochran would not say which of the two men might be let go, he stressed that he will demand “total loyalty” from every member who remains on the team.
“It’s important for everybody to remember that this is not about any of the lawyers,” he said in an interview. “It’s about O.J. Simpson.”
He would not comment on whether he would try to fire Shapiro. Asked whether he intended to remove Bailey, Cochran responded: “I hope it doesn’t come to that, but anything is possible.”
Cochran added that he intends to resolve the issue by the time opening statements in the trial begin. They are scheduled for Thursday.
Bailey, whose office released a statement Monday lamenting that Shapiro had publicly discussed the tensions, did not respond to a request for comment regarding Cochran’s remarks. Shapiro also declined to comment.
Although Cochran said the squabble has been distracting, he insisted that it would not detract from the quality of Simpson’s defense. Legal analysts have generally agreed that because Cochran has long been expected to carry the brunt of the work during the trial, the disagreement between two of the Simpson team’s other lawyers is unlikely to affect the substance of the case.
Cochran agreed, though he added that he is determined to resolve the issue soon so it does not spill over into the case once the jury is seated and evidence is being presented.
While the defense team attempts to stem its infighting, lawyers on both sides of the case are rushing to resolve a few lingering issues before opening statements. Also unsealed Tuesday was a defense motion objecting to the prosecution’s planned use of more than 200 recently announced possible witnesses.
That list of potential witnesses, attached to the defense motion, includes the father and sister of murder victim Goldman, as well as dozens of acquaintances of O.J. and Nicole Simpson.
Among others, it includes such notables as former baseball star Steve Garvey and former Simpson football teammate Reggie MacKenzie. Also listed are the key Los Angeles police SWAT officers who negotiated Simpson’s surrender June 17.
Two of those officers said they did not know why they were listed as possible witnesses, but speculated that they might be asked about Simpson’s behavior when he was arrested. Officer Peter Weireter, who spoke with Simpson over a cellular phone on the night he surrendered, is listed on the prosecution document.
A number of potential witnesses appear on the list who might be asked to testify about allegations that O.J. Simpson abused Nicole Simpson over the course of their 17-year relationship. Alfred Acosta, for instance, is a limousine driver who said he saw Simpson strike his wife in the back seat of a car in 1988 or 1989.
D’Anne and David LeBon, who also appear on the newly released list, allegedly overheard Simpson say, “I loved you too much” over Nicole Simpson’s coffin at her funeral. And William Thibodeau, a golfing partner of Simpson, told authorities that Simpson had showed him a “secret way” into Nicole Simpson’s house.
The list released Tuesday marks the first time that either side has publicly disclosed names of people it might call, but sources say it includes many who will not actually take the stand. The number of witnesses they are allowed to call about domestic abuse allegations will be influenced by Superior Court Judge Lance A. Ito’s decision on how much of that evidence the jury will be allowed to hear.
Ito had said he hoped to have that ruling Tuesday, but it was not finished by day’s end. He is expected to rule today.
Ito previously ruled that prosecutors improperly delayed releasing the witness list to the defense. To punish prosecutors, he has said he will not let them mention people on the list during opening statements and will delay the testimony of those witnesses.
Prosecutors were given the opportunity to demonstrate why Ito should not take that action, however, and may do so before they deliver their opening statement.
Meanwhile, prosecutors also abruptly withdrew on Tuesday a request for medical records of Simpson’s two grown children, saying they no longer need those documents.
The move ended a mysterious quest for medical records belonging to Arnelle and Jason Simpson, whose lawyers had signaled their intent to fight the subpoenas. But before they had the chance, prosecutors backed off.
“We have satisfied that particular investigatory need in other ways,” said Deputy Dist. Atty. Cheri Lewis. She did not elaborate, but sources have said that prosecutors wanted to see the records to determine whether any of Nicole Simpson’s medical files might have become mingled with those of her stepchildren.
Dr. Harvey Paley, an ear, nose and throat doctor with offices in Beverly Hills, was the physician from whom the records were seized.