Simpson Defense Calls Collecting of Evidence ‘Slipshod’ : Courts: Judge Ito concludes that defendants’ attorneys deliberately hid information about witnesses. He allows the prosecution to resume its opening statement.
O.J. Simpson’s lead trial lawyer, his opening statement interrupted largely by defense conduct ruled deliberate and illegal, belatedly resumed his address to the jury Monday with a ringing attack on what he called the “careless, slipshod, negligent collection” of evidence against his famous client.
But late in the day, prosecutors struck back. Outside the presence of the jury, they attacked the credibility of several potentially important defense witnesses, asserted that Simpson’s defense team had misstated blood test results and won the right to reopen their opening statement to the jury. The last was a highly unusual request that Superior Court Judge Lance A. Ito granted after concluding that Simpson’s lawyers had intentionally hidden details about witnesses in violation of state law.
In another development Monday, sources close to the case shared a copy of the list of early prosecution witnesses with The Times, revealing that the first batch of witnesses all bear on the issue of Simpson’s alleged abuse of Nicole Brown Simpson. The early witnesses include dispatchers who handled emergency calls in 1989 and 1993, a restaurateur who dated Nicole Simpson and who told the grand jury that Simpson spied on them, a sister of the victim who has been outspoken in her criticism of Simpson and a former police officer who worked for the former football star.
Johnnie L. Cochran Jr., Simpson’s top trial attorney, spent most of his statement Monday reiterating questions that the defense has long raised about the integrity of the police investigation, including alleged sloppy handling of samples and testing by a police lab that Cochran described as a “cesspool of contamination.”
“This careless, slipshod and negligent collection and handling and processing of samples by basically poorly trained personnel from LAPD has contaminated, compromised and corrupted the DNA evidence in this case,” Cochran said.
Near the end of his remarks, he also gingerly raised an even more volatile allegation, suggesting that police may not only have mishandled evidence but manufactured it as well. Referring to DNA tests performed on a pair of socks discovered in Simpson’s bedroom, Cochran displayed a timeline indicating that a local television station erroneously reported results of those tests before the socks had even been submitted for analysis.
The tests later turned out as the television station had reported because the sources of the story had advance knowledge of the results, Cochran said. He added that the defense will raise questions about “whether or not these socks were consciously, intentionally tampered with in an effort, in a rush to judgment to get evidence on Mr. Simpson.”
Simpson is charged with the June 12 murders of Nicole Simpson and Ronald Lyle Goldman. He has pleaded not guilty.
Cochran’s statement came as the Simpson trial sputtered toward the beginning of testimony and was delivered on the heels of Ito’s harsh denunciation of the defense team for failing to disclose the identities and statements of more than a dozen possible witnesses. That failure, Ito ruled, was a violation of California law requiring each side in a criminal trial to share information about its case.
Ito denied a prosecution request for a 30-day delay in the trial, which cleared the way for Cochran to complete his opening statement Monday. No sooner had he finished, however, than Ito was forced to grapple with the latest legal debate to bring the proceedings to a halt. After a heated argument outside the presence of the jury, prosecutors were given permission to reopen their opening statement because of improprieties in Cochran’s presentation.
Arguing for that additional chance to speak to jurors, prosecutors cited a number of areas they hoped to address:
* Deputy Dist. Atty. Marcia Clark said Nicole Simpson cannot be excluded as the source of blood found beneath her fingernails and a drop on her thigh. During his opening statement, Cochran said analysis of that blood showed that it could not have come from either victim or from O.J. Simpson, but sources said over the weekend that Cochran had taken the excerpt from the report out of context. Monday, Clark said subsequent tests on the same drops have pointed to Nicole Simpson as the likely source.
* Prosecutors said that Mary Anne Gerchas, a jewelry store owner Cochran said would testify that she saw suspects other than Simpson fleeing the crime scene, used at least three different names and Social Security numbers and that she is an avid fan of O.J. Simpson. They also promised that they could produce witnesses who would say that Gerchas told them she was not in fact walking along Bundy Drive looking for a condominium on the night of the murders as Cochran claimed last week.
* Government lawyers accused another potentially important defense witness, Rosa Lopez, of giving inconsistent statements and of saying she would do anything or testify to anything that would help O.J. Simpson. Defense lawyers denied that, saying Lopez had never even met Simpson. Her testimony is potentially important because she allegedly says she saw Simpson’s car parked in front of his house when prosecutors believe he was two miles away, killing Goldman and Nicole Simpson.
* Clark also said that Cochran misstated the reason why Simpson spoke to police on the day after the killings without his then-lawyer, Howard Weitzman, present. Cochran had said police forced Weitzman to leave the room, but Clark said that Weitzman had left voluntarily and that Simpson’s waiver of his rights was captured on tape.
Cochran’s comments in his opening statement about the anticipated testimony of Weitzman and Gerchas infuriated prosecutors, who had never been given statements from either of them or from a number of other possible defense witnesses. Simpson’s lawyers acknowledged not turning over some witness material but said the oversights were inadvertent.
Ito disagreed, ruling instead that it had been a deliberate move “for the purpose of gaining an unfair tactical advantage.”
Although he did not grant the prosecution request for a delay in the trial, he did tell the jury about the violation--reading an admonition that legal experts said could damage the defense.
In his admonition, Ito told the jury that Cochran--whom the judge referred to only as “defense counsel”--had “mentioned witnesses who had not been previously disclosed to the prosecution or whose written statements were not given to the prosecution before trial as required by law. This was a violation of the law. . . .”
Although Ito read that statement in a monotone and stressed that jurors should not infer anything about Simpson’s guilt or innocence from it, some legal experts nevertheless said it could send a clear signal that panelists need to be wary of Simpson’s lawyers.
“It’s devastating for a defense lawyer to start a trial with the judge telling the jury that you violated the law,” said Gerald L. Chaleff, a prominent Los Angeles defense attorney. “It sends a message that you are not to be trusted.”
Others also noted that the statement was highly unusual, but said they did not believe it would have a huge impact on the trial.
The admonition, said San Francisco criminal defense lawyer Paul Harris, was delivered “in a very low-key way and it had a lot of legal terms in it. When he mentioned the witnesses, he didn’t mention what they are supposed to testify to. I don’t think it was that bad.”
Ito also forced Simpson’s lawyers to delay calling the disputed witnesses until the end of their case and gave Clark permission to briefly reopen the prosecution’s opening statement before it begins calling witnesses. He did not allow Clark to raise the issue of a disputed blood test, however, instead ruling that he will address that issue at some other time.
In his statement last week, Cochran rocked the trial and observers across the country by maintaining that a blood protein found underneath Nicole Simpson’s fingernails and on her thigh was a type B, one inconsistent with both victims and O.J. Simpson. That, according to Cochran, suggested that another person had committed the murders.
Cochran based his statement on a government report that said a protein test of blood from the fingernails and thigh showed that those drops “could not have come from Nicole Brown Simpson, Ronald Goldman or O.J. Simpson.”
If true, that would be the most solid piece of physical evidence presented in open court that pointed to another suspect. But sources said over the weekend that Cochran had taken that remark out of context and that an additional sentence in the blood analysis report says Nicole Simpson could have been the source of the blood if the blood had degraded. Clark made that point in court as well, adding that subsequent tests of the blood point to Nicole Simpson as the source.
Although Clark asked for permission to tell the jury about Cochran’s alleged misrepresentation of the blood tests, Ito ruled that she cannot address that issue for now. The prosecution will be able to explain the blood test results during its presentation of evidence.
When court resumes today, prosecutors are expected to deliver their brief reopening statement, which Ito has confined to 10 minutes. Once that is over, witnesses should finally begin taking the stand.
The two sides have not publicly disclosed their initial witnesses, but defense sources say prosecutors have indicated to them that they expect to open their case by calling a number of people to testify about alleged abuse of Nicole Simpson by O.J. Simpson.
That unorthodox approach--most murder trials begin with the testimony of a coroner to make clear that a murder was committed--reflects the prosecution’s desire to strip Simpson of any credibility that he may enjoy with the jurors and to bolster their contention that his likable public persona disguised a jealous, obsessed man capable of committing a brutal double murder.
In his opening statement last week, Deputy Dist. Atty. Christopher A. Darden telegraphed that approach by urging jurors to look beyond Simpson’s “public face” and to focus instead on his efforts to control and manipulate Nicole Simpson.
“He killed her for a reason almost as old as mankind itself,” Darden said. “He killed her out of jealousy. He killed her because he couldn’t have her. And if he couldn’t have her, he didn’t want anyone else to have her. He killed her to control her.”
Speaking to the jury Monday, Cochran addressed that issue squarely, accusing prosecutors of trying to malign Simpson’s character to tar him with a murder charge.
“This case really boils down to a whodunit,” Cochran said. “Not about domestic violence or whatever. It’s about who killed these two people and (who committed) these particular horrible crimes.”
As he has before, Cochran acknowledged that Simpson had struck his wife in 1989, but said that does not mean he killed her in 1994.
“The evidence will show that O.J. Simpson as you see him there is not a perfect human being,” Cochran said. “He, like all of us, has made mistakes. Of course, we know of only one perfect person that ever walked the Earth.”
In its presentation of the abuse evidence, the prosecution will call to the stand dispatchers who handled emergency calls for help by Nicole Simpson in 1989 and 1993. In each case, prosecutors also hope to play tapes of the calls to the jury.
The 1989 tape, they say, includes sounds of Nicole Simpson screaming and being slapped. They played the tape in court Monday, but while a woman’s yelling and wailing are easily heard, observers disagreed on whether they can hear the sound of slaps.
As the tape played, Nicole Simpson’s sister, Denise Brown, stood up and hurriedly left the courtroom, one of the few emotional moments in an otherwise largely low-key day.
The prosecution’s early list of witnesses also includes Keith Zlomsowitch, a restaurateur who dated Nicole Simpson and who told the grand jury that Simpson interrupted them when they were at dinner and once spied on them as they had sex on a couch at Nicole Simpson’s home. Zlomsowitch said he was frightened and intimidated by Simpson’s behavior, although defense attorneys have said they believe Simpson showed restraint upon seeing his ex-wife in an intimate moment with another man.
As Monday’s hearing progressed, both sides showed signs of testiness and even giddiness. At one point, Ito threatened to hold the lawyers in contempt if they continued to interrupt each other. That warning seemed to suppress their interruptions for a while, though by day’s end, the lawyers were back at each other again.
Later, when Cochran was attempting to make a point about the unreliability of a videotape of Simpson appearing on ESPN and discussing the 1989 incident, he reminded Ito that television programs can distort interviews by gently alluding to Ito’s own six-part interview with KCBS television--an interview that subjected Ito to a wave of criticism in the legal community.
“That tape is cut after an interview,” Cochran said. “The court’s aware, when you do an interview--well, I shouldn’t use that as an example. When one does an interview, sometimes it lasts like five days or something.”
The courtroom erupted in laughter, and Ito shrugged in resignation. “Oh, Mr. Cochran,” he responded, “you really know how to hurt a guy.”
* PICTURES, GRAPHICS, COCHRAN TEXT: A14-A15
The Trial on TimesLine
* To hear excerpts from Monday’s hearing, including Judge Lance A. Ito’s admonition to the jury regarding defense attorney violations, call TimesLine at 808-8463 and press *1950. Updates from this morning’s court session will be available at *1950 after 3 p.m.
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