Simpson Dreamed of Killing, Witness Says : Courts: Ex-officer says he is a longtime friend of the defendant. His account is attacked in cross-examination.
A former police officer and self-described friend of O.J. Simpson testified Wednesday that the defendant said he dreamed about killing Nicole Brown Simpson, an explosive allegation that Simpson’s lawyers vehemently denied and that legal experts fiercely criticized the judge for allowing into evidence.
Late in the day, defense lawyer Carl E. Douglas began his cross-examination of the former officer, Ronald G. Shipp, portraying him as a liar with a drinking problem and suggesting that he had manufactured the conversation in order to boost his acting career. Douglas also questioned whether Shipp really was a close friend of Simpson, and at one point Shipp admitted that he considered himself more of a “servant” than a confidant.
That cross-examination still was under way at the end of the court day, and it capped an electrifying session in which Shipp infuriated members of Simpson’s family even as he held the jury spellbound. Speaking softly and often looking directly at Simpson, Shipp said his friend of 26 years had spoken to him about the murders on June 13, the day after the bodies of Ronald Lyle Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson were found slashed and stabbed in Brentwood. Simpson has pleaded not guilty.
“He kind of jokingly just said: ‘You know, to be honest, Shipp . . . I’ve had some dreams of killing her,’ ” the former officer recalled Simpson saying.
Under questioning from Deputy Dist. Atty. Christopher A. Darden, Shipp said Simpson did not specify how often he had had such dreams but stressed that Simpson had used the plural “dreams.” According to Shipp, that conversation occurred after 10 p.m. at Simpson’s house on June 13; although Douglas suggested that other witnesses will testify Simpson was asleep by that time, Shipp did not budge from his testimony.
Throughout his time on the stand, Shipp sought eye contact with Simpson, who mostly avoided him, huddling with his attorneys or jotting notes as Shipp answered questions posed by the attorneys. Once, when one of Simpson’s lawyers suggested that Shipp told Simpson where a bloody glove had been found by police, Shipp directed his answer directly at the defendant: “This is sad, O.J. . . . really sad.”
Superior Court Judge Lance A. Ito interjected at that, warning Shipp not to speak to Simpson and asking the jury to disregard the comment.
As the court day began, it was not even clear whether Shipp would get the opportunity to testify, at least about the alleged conversation regarding Simpson’s dreams. Defense lawyers argued that the testimony should not be admitted, but they were overruled by Ito.
That cleared the way for Shipp to take the stand. Once he took the oath, Shipp began by telling the jury that he considers himself a friend of Simpson even though he was appearing as a prosecution witness.
“I still love the guy,” said Shipp. “But I don’t know, I mean, this is a weird situation I’m sitting in here.”
Despite his alleged devotion, however, Shipp spent three hours on the stand, first describing events related to a 1989 incident in which Simpson beat his wife--the former officer said he tried to intercede between O.J. and Nicole Simpson in the wake of that incident, at one point meeting with O.J. Simpson to describe for him the characteristics of a batterer.
After detailing those conversations, often over defense objections, Shipp then told the jury about the alleged conversation on the day after the murders. His testimony was all the more powerful because it was delivered by someone with a long relationship to the defendant who nevertheless now believes Simpson is guilty.
But Shipp was subjected to a pointed, sarcastic and confrontational cross-examination in which Douglas wrested from the former officer an admission that he was not a close friend of Simpson. At one point, Shipp referred to himself more as a “servant” who ran police errands for the former football star. As the day ended, Shipp also acknowledged once having suffered from a drinking problem.
“You drink a lot, don’t you?” Douglas asked.
“I used to,” Shipp said.
“You’ve had a drinking problem, haven’t you?” Douglas continued.
“In the past I have,” Shipp replied.
Shipp also acknowledged that he had failed to mention the conversation between him and Simpson during his initial meeting with police and prosecutors, as well as in an interview with Simpson’s attorneys. Douglas repeatedly characterized Shipp’s failure to disclose that information as a lie, a description that Shipp resisted but nevertheless acknowledged was at least partly true.
At one particularly gripping moment, Shipp brusquely shrugged off defense suggestions that he was testifying in order to energize his acting career.
“I’m doing this for my conscience and my peace of mind,” he said. “I would not have the blood of Nicole on Ron Shipp. I can sleep at night--unlike a lot of others.”
Darden himself occasionally was gruff in his treatment of Shipp, his own witness, especially as Shipp described the years in which he said his friendship with Simpson grew at the same time that Shipp was working for the Los Angeles Police Department. Shipp testified that in the late 1970s and early 1980s he used to stop by Simpson’s house about twice a week, sometimes while on duty and with other officers from the Police Department’s West Los Angeles Division.
LAPD officials have launched their own inquiry to determine whether anything like that occurred.
Shipp’s appearance on the stand came after a debate between the lawyers about whether he should be allowed to testify about the alleged “dream” conversation with Simpson on the day after the killings. After not disclosing that conversation to authorities for months, Shipp told police and prosecutors in January that Simpson had made the remark.
The comments, Shipp said, came during a conversation in which Simpson asked him about police procedures for handling evidence. Near the end of that conversation, which Shipp said occurred in Simpson’s bedroom, Shipp alleged that his friend told him he was reluctant to take a lie-detector test because he feared his dreams of killing his ex-wife would cause the machine to interpret his denials of murder as a lie.
Polygraph results are not admissible in California criminal trials, nor is any reference to them allowed. Acknowledging that, prosecutors argued that they should be allowed to excise the references to the lie detector and present the rest of the statement, which they said shed light on Simpson’s state of mind and bolstered the prosecution theory of the case--that Simpson murdered his wife as the final act in a controlling, obsessive relationship, and that Goldman was killed because he got in the way.
“What we have said is that the defendant had a fatal obsession,” Deputy Dist. Atty. Hank Goldberg told Ito. “What (Simpson) said is powerful evidence of that fatal obsession.”
Despite that argument, few legal experts expected Ito to allow the testimony about the alleged dreams. Many were stunned by the judge’s decision, which they said provides Simpson’s team with a ready-made appellate issue if Simpson is convicted of the double homicide.
“There is no question that Ito’s ruling is wrong,” said former Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner. “Before you can put on any evidence about the significance of our dreams, you have to deal with the question of do our dreams truly reveal our thoughts and feelings. . . . Maybe they do, maybe they don’t. There is nothing approaching general agreement in the scientific community on this.”
In cases where proposed evidence is subject to significant debate within the scientific community, judges may hold a so-called Kelly-Frye hearing to determine whether the evidence should be admitted. Neither side asked Ito for such a hearing regarding the alleged dreams, and he did not order one.
Harland W. Braun, a former prosecutor and experienced defense lawyer, was among those who said Ito’s ruling raised not only legal questions but also common-sense ones.
“People dream about sexual things, people dream about violent things,” he said. “What’s relevant is what people do, not what they dream.”
Dream evidence has been admitted in criminal trials, at least in other states.
In a 1985 Florida case, for instance, a state court judge permitted the prosecution to introduce a defendant’s statement to police officers that he had dreamed of killing his wife in an attempted murder case where the defendant had hit his wife on the head with a hammer.
According to Loyola Law School professor Laurie Levenson, a Florida appeals court upheld the trial judge’s decision, saying this was relevant information in a circumstantial evidence case because it showed “consciousness of guilt.”
In 1992, a Kansas trial court allowed in dream evidence. An appeals court ruled that this was abuse of discretion by the judge because such evidence is too speculative to show “consciousness of guilt.” But the appeals court also ruled it harmless error, declining to overturn the defendant’s conviction.
Even among legal experts who faulted Ito’s decision to let the jury hear the evidence about the alleged dream, many added that reversals by California appellate courts are extremely rare these days. As a result, they said, Simpson’s chances of capitalizing on Ito’s decision in the event of a conviction are slim.
“I don’t know if anything is reversible error anymore in California,” said Gerald L. Chaleff, a Los Angeles defense attorney who has handled a number of high-profile cases involving complex psychological evidence. “But if anything is, it would seem like this is it. . . . Discussions of a defendant’s dreams or nightmares are prejudicial by their very nature because they suggest that merely dreaming about something means you’re going to do it. Common experience tells all of us that isn’t true.”
The debate over Shipp’s testimony and his captivating appearance on the stand highlighted Wednesday’s court hearings, but there were other developments:
* Judge Ito told the attorneys that he has decided to take the jury on two field trips to the Brentwood spots that figure prominently in the case: the Mezzaluna restaurant, where Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman were last seen alive; the Brentwood condominium where their bodies were recovered, and Simpson’s home, where a bloody glove and other evidence was found.
* One of Simpson’s lawyers complained that members of the Goldman family were openly indicating their support for Shipp during a break in his testimony, giving him a thumbs-up sign. Ito said he would today repeat his admonition to the courtroom gallery, reminding members of the audience that they are required to refrain from any public reaction to testimony while the jury is present.
* Asked by Ito when Deputy Dist. Atty. William Hodgman, stricken last week by chest pains, would return to the government team, Deputy Dist. Atty. Marcia Clark said she did not know. Prosecutors had hoped he would be back by Monday.
When court resumes today, Douglas is expected to continue his cross-examination of Shipp, who is a distant cousin of lead Simpson trial lawyer Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. Because of their relationship, Cochran is not conducting the questioning himself, but he consulted regularly with Douglas and other Simpson lawyers during Wednesday’s session.
Outside court, Douglas called Shipp’s testimony “vicious lies,” and said the defense would call a number of other witnesses who were at Simpson’s home on the evening after the murders. Those witnesses--including Simpson’s sister and brother-in-law--will offer a far different account, Douglas said, adding that some will say that Simpson and Shipp never went into Simpson’s bedroom alone, as Shipp testified.
“They are going to blow Mr. Shipp out of the water as to whether there was any occasion he was alone with Mr. Simpson,” Douglas said.
Carmelita Durio, one of Simpson’s sisters, would not comment on the specifics of Shipp’s account, but she too said he was making up his story.
“I’m in shock,” she said outside court. “I think he has a vivid imagination.”
Once Shipp has finished testifying, prosecutors expect to continue building their case against the football hall of famer by offering more details about the 1989 fight between him and his wife and by then moving to other instances of alleged domestic abuse and stalking. Among the witnesses included in their initial batch are Denise Brown, Nicole Simpson’s sister, and Keith Zlomsowitch, a former boyfriend of Nicole Simpson who told the grand jury that Simpson had spied on him and Nicole and intimidated him.
Times staff writers Henry Weinstein and Tim Rutten contributed to this article.
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