Prosecutors Tell Tale of ‘Other’ Simpson : Trial: Revealing a bloody trail of evidence, they say he killed out of a desire to control his ex-wife. Judge Ito threatens to cut off TV coverage after a juror is shown.
Ending months of anticipation, prosecutors in the O.J. Simpson murder trial finally revealed their case in public Tuesday, telling 12 jurors and millions of television viewers that the affable public face of the star athlete hid a controlling spouse who tried to dominate his wife and who killed her when he failed.
Prosecutors also for the first time described the panoply of physical evidence that they say links Simpson to the June 12 murders. DNA tests and other scientific analysis of blood, hair and fibers, the lawyers said, show a literal trail of blood running from the crime scene to Simpson’s car and back to his home two miles away.
Simpson is charged with the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Lyle Goldman. He has pleaded not guilty, and his lawyers had asked Superior Court Judge Lance A. Ito to let Simpson proclaim his innocence to the jury as part of their opening statement. As legal experts had predicted, Ito denied that unusual request Tuesday, though he did rule that Simpson can show the jury scars that his lawyers maintain prove he would not have been able to carry out the killings.
The prosecution’s opening statements had been long awaited and were televised across the country. But no sooner had the government lawyers delivered their remarks than Ito threatened to end the television coverage of the trial.
Court TV, which is responsible for the pool coverage of the trial, allowed a brief shot of an alternate juror to be broadcast, in violation of a court order restricting dissemination of images of jurors. Although the network apologized for the mistake, Ito was outraged.
The television media “have demonstrated an inability to comply with the court’s order,” Ito said. “My inclination is to terminate all television coverage at this point.”
Speaking directly to the press, Ito added, his voice heavy with anger and sarcasm: “Our friends in the news media, I thank you again. . . . This is unbelievable.”
Ito has previously threatened to discontinue the television coverage of the trial, and with the issue suddenly thrust again to the forefront, he asked a lawyer representing The Times and other news organizations to meet with him this morning. He then recessed the proceedings for the day.
That forced lead Simpson trial lawyer Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. to delay the delivery of his opening statement until today, a development that defense lawyers said was unfair to Simpson because it allowed jurors to hear from only one side Tuesday.
“We have seen today his right to a fair trial has been interrupted,” said Robert L. Shapiro, one of Simpson’s attorneys, who described the early halt of the proceedings as a result of the television mix-up as a violation of his client’s right to due process. “Now the jury is left under a cloud and sent home at 3:30 with concerns about what happened. . . . We’re anxious to get this matter moving, and we’re prohibited from that.”
Without any defense statement to balance it, what the attentive group of jurors and alternates got from the government team was a double-barreled attack, combining allegations of domestic abuse with a host of blood, hair and fiber samples. Relatives of Simpson and the victims also watched with rapt attention Tuesday, occasionally breaking down in tears when grisly photographs from the crime scene were displayed for the first time in open court.
DNA tests point to the blood of both victims in Simpson’s car and indicate a mixture of their blood and his on a glove found at his home, prosecutors said. In addition, DNA tests identify Simpson as the source of five drops at the crime scene, they said. They also said a drop of blood found on a sock recovered from Simpson’s bedroom belonged to Nicole Simpson.
A Story of Jealousy and Control
“That trail of blood . . . is devastating proof of his guilt,” Deputy Dist. Atty. Marcia Clark said as she neared the end of her remarks. “The results of the analysis of that blood confirms what the rest of the evidence will show, that on June the 12th, 1994, after a violent relationship in which the defendant beat her, humiliated her and controlled her, after he took her youth, her freedom and her self-respect, just as she tried to break free, Orenthal James Simpson took her very life in what amounted to his final and his ultimate act of control.”
In contrast to her emotional conclusion--which Ito interrupted after defense attorneys complained that Clark was arguing her case rather than merely previewing the evidence--the veteran prosecutor spoke in flat tones as she listed the blood and hair samples connecting Simpson to the crime. When photographs of five blood drops from the scene were displayed one after another on a screen for the jury, Clark simply repeated over and over: “Matches the defendant.”
Hair samples from a watch cap recovered at the crime scene also appear to match Simpson’s, and fibers from the cap resemble fibers from his car’s carpet, Clark added. A hair found on Goldman’s shirt also resembles Simpson’s hair, she told the jury.
Many of the test results discussed in court had been previously reported in The Times and elsewhere, but the jurors selected for the case were picked partly because they had little exposure to the case, so many of them may have been hearing the results for the first time. Moreover, some of the test results have never been reported, and others emerged after the jury was sequestered. As a result, that evidence surely took the panel by surprise.
Although Cochran did not get the chance to address the jury Tuesday, he said outside court that the prosecution statement was “full of half-truths and not the total facts.”
Simpson’s lawyers have signaled that they will attack the DNA results by accusing authorities of mishandling samples or even of planting evidence in order to implicate Simpson in the crimes. Bracing for that argument, Clark urged jurors not to abandon their common sense as they consider the evidence.
“Beware of the efforts to get you to accept the unreasonable, to be distracted by the irrelevant and to base your decision on speculation,” she said. “You have to examine all the evidence very carefully and ask yourselves: ‘Is this reasonable? Is this logical? Does this make sense?’ ”
In her presentation, Clark also hammered on Simpson’s lack of a verifiable alibi. Prosecutors believe the double homicide was committed about 10:15 p.m. on June 12, when a neighbor of Nicole Simpson recalled hearing a dog plaintively howling in the distance. According to Clark, no one has emerged to say they saw Simpson between about 9:35 p.m. and shortly before 11 p.m.
Defense attorneys have spoken with a woman named Rosa Lopez, however, who apparently told them that she saw Simpson’s car outside his Brentwood home about 10:15 p.m. Her name first surfaced in a defense motion filed this week, and already Lopez has been so besieged by news organizations that Cochran joined with prosecutors Tuesday in urging the news media not to harass her. Carl Jones, the lawyer representing Lopez, made the same request in a letter to the district attorney’s office.
Prosecutors have yet to interview Lopez, whose account could poke a hole in their case. In court, Deputy Dist. Atty. Christopher A. Darden said authorities will make arrangements to interview Lopez through Jones.
Presenting the Motive
While Clark had the job of laying out the prosecution’s physical evidence and describing its theory of the events that took place on the day of the murders, Darden told jurors why prosecutors believe O.J. Simpson, a man known to all of them as a star athlete and pleasant television and movie personality, brutally murdered his wife and her friend outside her Brentwood condominium.
The key to understanding the crime, Darden said, is that Simpson’s public persona hid a controlling spouse who tried to dominate his wife and who killed her when he failed.
“She left him,” Darden said. “She was no longer in his control. He was obsessed with her. He could not stand to lose her. And so he killed her.”
Speaking in uncharacteristically understated tones, Darden spent just over an hour laying out the prosecution’s domestic abuse allegations. And he wove those allegations into the prosecution’s central theory of the case--that the murders were the final act in an abusive, 17-year relationship.
Nicole Simpson was killed for the simplest and oldest of reasons, Darden said: jealousy and control. As for the other victim, Darden said Simpson “killed Ron Goldman because he got in the way.”
Although Simpson did not display any emotion at first, he visibly reacted as Darden reviewed the prosecution’s allegations of domestic abuse--allegations that the government team just recently won the right to introduce during the trial.
When Darden said the defendant had repeatedly called his ex-wife’s family during the period of their separation in attempts to lure her back, Simpson turned toward the audience and sought eye contact with members of the Brown family who were in court. They stared straight ahead, as they did through most of the session.
Members of the Brown and Goldman families lost their composure briefly, however, when prosecutors later displayed photographs from the crime scene. The photographs did not go out over the television feed, but were projected onto a large monitor above the witness stand.
One depicted a close-up of Nicole Simpson, slumped on her side, still dressed in the black cocktail dress that she wore to dinner the night of the killings. The other photograph was of Goldman, his shirt pulled up and his body bloody.
Simpson stared at the ceiling when those photographs were displayed, refusing to look at them. But members of the victims’ families burst into tears, as did Simpson’s adult daughter, Arnelle, who was in the audience Tuesday. Arnelle’s mother, Marquerite Simpson Thomas, also was present and moved to sit next to her when Arnelle began to cry.
In addition to sharing separate moments of grief, the Brown and Simpson families spent a few moments together during one of the breaks in the court proceedings. Juditha Brown, Nicole Brown Simpson’s mother, approached O.J. Simpson’s mother, Eunice, with a photo album. Standing around Eunice Simpson’s wheelchair, members of both families looked over pictures of the two children of O.J. and Nicole Simpson.
Despite some points in common, however, the families also have divided loyalties. Relatives of Nicole Brown Simpson were wearing angel pins to symbolize their loss--the pins are copies of one of the murder victim’s favorites--while members of the Simpson family were wearing gold heart-shaped pins that say “Family: OJ 100% NG,” a reference to Simpson’s statement that he is “absolutely 100% not guilty” of the murders.
During his hourlong presentation, Darden spoke of evidence that had never before been publicly disclosed.
Darden said, for instance, that a 911 operator will take the stand to describe a 1989 emergency call that features the sounds of Simpson actually striking his then-wife during a beating in the pre-dawn hours of New Year’s Day. Jurors will be allowed to hear that dramatic tape, Darden aid.
“You will hear the sound of this defendant, this man beating this woman,” he said. “You will hear the sound of his hand smacking across her face. You will hear the sound of this defendant beating his wife.”
Rather than apologize for his conduct when officers arrived, Simpson proclaimed to them that he had no more use for his wife, Darden said. He quoted Simpson as saying: “I’ve got two women now. I don’t need that one.”
And when the officers tried to take Simpson into custody, the suspect instead fled in his Bentley, Darden said, adding contemptuously: “The next day, he went to the Rose Bowl.”
After Ito abruptly recessed the proceedings, Simpson’s attorneys gathered outside the courthouse to warn against prematurely judging their client on the basis of the prosecution opening statements.
“We have a wrongfully accused client,” Cochran said as he left the building. “You will see the complete picture tomorrow.”
Whether the public will see that picture remained unclear at the end of the day, however.
Ito has asked to meet at the beginning of today’s session with Kelli Sager, a media lawyer representing a number of news organizations, to discuss the possibility of discontinuing the television coverage. Defense opening statements are scheduled to begin at 10 a.m., and Simpson’s lawyers asked that at least those statements be broadcast in fairness to their client, because the prosecution statements were carried on television.
Scrambling to explain the mistake, Court TV officials took full responsibility but said they would ensure that it was not repeated.
“We made a mistake,” said Steve Brill, president of Court TV. “Our camera person was following Miss Clark. As she moved away from the podium, he inadvertently shot a juror who appeared at the corner of the screen. He immediately jerked the camera away--we timed it at about eight-tenths of a second. We knew what had happened, and we immediately asked to speak to the judge about it.”
Two alternate jurors are seated in front of the jury box, just a few feet from the prosecution table. Brill said a second person monitoring the feed, a technician manning the tape delay mechanism for audio and video, failed to catch the mistake until it was too late.
“We’ve covered 288 trials, and this has never happened before,” Brill said.
Brill added that the person operating the camera was not the usual Court TV cameraman who has covered the trial. That man was taking time off on doctor’s orders because of stress. His replacement was the cameraman’s supervisor, who runs the video company that Court TV has used in the coverage of several trials, including the Menendez brothers murder trial.
Brill said the mistakes could be rectified in the future by restricting the movement of the camera from the podium to the witness stand.
“We can assure ourselves it will never happen again,” Brill said. “Whether we can assure Judge Ito is another question.”
Spokesmen at local television stations said they did not feel the camera should be pulled out of the courtroom, adding that they should not be penalized for Court TV’s mistake.
“It would be a mistake to pull the camera,” said Craig Hume, acting news director of KTLA Channel 5. “The public has a right to see the trial gavel-to-gavel. The judge has a legitimate concern, but these problems can be addressed and better safeguards can be established to keep it from happening again.”
Times staff writer Greg Braxton contributed to this report.
More Trial Coverage
* WHAT THEY WORE--Attorneys are on stage before the jury, and their clothes are one key element of their performance. A13
* WHERE THEY SAT--News reporters were steamed over the front row seats that the judge gave to two book authors. A13
* WHAT THEY SAID--Excerpts of opening statements by prosecutors Christopher Darden and Marcia Clark. A14
* ADDITIONAL STORIES, PICTURES: A12-A14
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