Advertisement
Share

Simpson Jury Hears 911 Calls of ‘93 Incident

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Lawyers for O.J. Simpson continued their attack on the character of a potentially important prosecution witness Thursday, but government lawyers rose to the witness’s defense and played for the jury a pair of emotional 911 calls in which Nicole Brown Simpson pleads for help as a man she identifies as her ex-husband yells in the background.

The 911 tapes had been widely aired after Simpson’s arrest June 17, when he was charged with the murders of Nicole Simpson and Ronald Lyle Goldman. But jurors had been carefully questioned about their exposure to the 1993 tapes and only those who had relatively little knowledge of them were picked for the panel.

In the first tape, Nicole Simpson seems relatively calm, asking that police be dispatched to her Brentwood home and answering questions from the operator. But in the second call, made 10 minutes later, she is sobbing and her voice is trembling as she desperately asks for help as soon as possible.

Advertisement

“He’s O.J. Simpson,” Nicole Simpson says at one point. “I think you know his record.”

As the tapes were played Thursday, Simpson followed along with a transcript, occasionally whispering comments to his lawyers and, at one point, gazing toward the ceiling. Members of the jury listened intently--setting aside their note pads and occasionally glancing at Simpson, some with heads cocked to one side, others straining toward the speakers that broadcast the recording into the otherwise silent courtroom.

As they listened to the voice on the tape, the man recorded on it sat less than 20 feet away, his impassive demeanor in stark contrast to the agitated yelling captured on the recording.

*

In presenting the tape to the jury, Deputy Dist. Atty. Christopher A. Darden called Terri Moore, a 911 operator who spoke with Nicole Simpson during the calls. Moore said that when the first call came in, she dispatched police to the scene, telling them it was urgent but not life-threatening.

But in the second call, O.J. Simpson had arrived and kicked in a door, Nicole Simpson was hysterical, and the operator said she felt the situation had grown dire. “I upgraded it to life-threatening,” Moore testified.

The tape of the 1993 calls marked the first time that jurors have heard testimony about a violent incident other than a 1989 fight in which Simpson struck his wife and later pleaded no contest to beating her. In the 1993 incident, however, O.J. Simpson did not hit Nicole Simpson, which defense lawyers have cited in arguing that it sheds no light on the murders with which Simpson is charged.

Simpson’s attorney, Johnnie L. Cochran Jr., seized on that point in his brief cross-examination of Moore. “You were able to determine, were you not, that during this entire tape and during the entire episode, she was not struck by the gentleman who was in the background, is that right?” Cochran asked.

“Yes,” she answered.

The tape’s emergence in the courtroom drama highlighted Thursday’s session, but most of the day was devoted to questioning a former Los Angeles police officer who has known Simpson for 26 years. That officer testified Wednesday that Simpson told him on the day after the murders that he had dreamed of killing his ex-wife.

According to Ronald G. Shipp, he and Simpson were speaking about the police investigation June 13 when Simpson told him he was worried about taking a polygraph test because he thought his dreams about killing his ex-wife would cause him to fail.

“He kind of jokingly just said: ‘You know, to be honest, Shipp . . . I’ve had some dreams of killing her,’ ” the former officer said Simpson told him. Shipp did not testify about the polygraph test but did repeat the alleged comment about the dreams for the jury.

Seeking to undermine that testimony, defense lawyers launched a two-day assault on his character, hammering away at his admitted drinking problem, suggesting sexual infidelity and even hinting that he was attracted to Nicole Simpson. Carl E. Douglas, a Simpson attorney whose cross-examination Wednesday had been delivered in sarcastic, disbelieving tones, scaled back his rhetoric slightly Thursday, but he continued the onslaught.

At one point during Thursday’s session, Douglas questioned Shipp about an evening when the former officer allegedly used Simpson’s Jacuzzi with a woman other than his wife.

Shipp, who seemed at times to grow exasperated with the defense attack, lashed back: “Mr. Douglas, why don’t you get your facts straight, OK?”

When Judge Lance A. Ito tried to intervene, Shipp turned to him and said, “He’s attacking me.”

Douglas returned to that same topic later in his cross-examination, asking Shipp if Simpson had gotten him a bottle of wine “when you were at his home in the dark with the blonde who wasn’t your wife.”

That was not the only personal attack on Shipp during the defense presentation. At one point, Douglas suggested that Shipp, who is married, might have longed to have a relationship with Nicole Simpson.

“Isn’t it true, sir,” Douglas asked, “that you have in the past told Mr. Simpson’s friends that if Mr. Simpson were not around, you might have a shot at Nicole Brown Simpson, yourself?”

“No, I did not,” said Shipp, whose wife was in court.

“You’ve never said that to any of Mr. Simpson’s friends?” Douglas continued.

“Excuse me for smiling,” Shipp said. “But, no, I did not.”

*

Douglas also tried to suggest that Shipp’s memory of the conversation with Simpson could have been clouded by alcohol on the evening of June 13. But Shipp, while acknowledging past problems with alcohol--including a 15-day suspension from the police force in 1989--vigorously denied that he had anything to drink that day.

“I had no drinks whatsoever on the 13th, none,” Shipp said, his voice hardening.

Douglas’ insinuations were intended to sully Shipp’s credibility, but some legal experts said the defense attorney overplayed his hand.

“Douglas ended up looking like a mean-spirited lawyer up against a straightforward witness,” said Los Angeles defense attorney Albert De Blanc. “Making these personal attacks on Shipp without tying them into the homicide is a terrible idea. Raising these issues without showing the jury in any way that Shipp had a motive to lie has been a mistake.”

By the time Darden was allowed to question Shipp, the defense had spent hours assailing the former officer’s credibility. Attempting to repair any damage from the cross-examination, Darden rose late in the morning session and immediately asked: “You’ve been called just about everything in the book so far, haven’t you?”

Defense lawyers objected, and Ito did not allow Shipp to answer that question. But Darden went on to bolster the prosecution’s contention that Shipp was, as he has said, Simpson’s close friend, not the hanger-on that defense attorneys maintained.

Under questioning from Darden, Shipp said he had attended Simpson’s wedding reception in 1985, as well as Simpson’s 40th birthday party. Shipp produced a photograph taken at that event, and also said he was a guest at Simpson’s home every day during the week after the deaths of Nicole Simpson and Goldman.

All of that, Darden pointed out, suggested a close friendship--a point that could bolster Shipp’s credibility with the jury because it could indicate that Shipp had no motive to tear down a man to whom he professes loyalty.

During one break in the proceedings, Shipp mouthed the words “I love you, man” to Simpson, who ignored him and whose attorney, Robert L. Shapiro, complained to Ito about the attempted contact.

Darden said Shipp actually had mouthed, “Tell the truth,” and asked for permission to question Shipp about it. But Ito denied that request, instead telling the jurors to disregard any communication they observed between the witness and Simpson.

*

Under questioning from Darden, Shipp also said he passed up chances to make money on his story and stressed that he has never lied on the witness stand.

“What was the most basic thing you were taught in the Police Academy with regard to how to testify?” Darden asked.

“Never tell a lie,” Shipp responded.

“And,” Darden continued after another set of questions, “are you telling us the truth today, Mr. Shipp?”

“The absolute truth,” Shipp replied.

Shipp’s testimony added a few potentially damaging nuggets to the case against the man he says he still admires. Among other things, Shipp said Simpson did not appear to be grief-stricken over his ex-wife’s death on the day after the murders. Instead, Shipp said, Simpson appeared more angry with news coverage identifying him as a suspect.

The confrontation with Shipp occupied most of the court day and came in the wake of one of the most controversial developments of the trial: Ito’s decision to allow Shipp to testify about the alleged conversation involving the dream. Many legal experts were surprised by that decision, and lawyers from the two sides traded opinions about it Thursday.

Predictably, prosecutors applauded it while Simpson’s lawyers characterized it as mistaken.

In Boston, Simpson attorney Alan Dershowitz said Ito’s decision would give the defense grounds for an appeal because it falsely assumes that dreams illuminate a defendant’s motives for committing a crime. But in court, Deputy Dist. Atty. Marcia Clark said Ito’s decision was the correct one, emphasizing her point with a quote from a Walt Disney movie: “A dream is a wish your heart makes.”

In allowing the testimony about the dream into evidence, Ito stripped the remark of part of its context, refusing to let the jury hear that Simpson allegedly said he was afraid of taking a polygraph test because he thought his dreams of killing his ex-wife would cause him to fail it. All reference to polygraph tests is prohibited in California criminal trials.

But one result of taking the remark out of its context was that jurors heard a clipped version of the conversation when Shipp initially testified. After defense lawyers complained that the result was an unfair depiction of the conversation, Ito allowed Shipp to be questioned further--a delicate process in which the former officer said he had omitted a portion of the exchange but had done so because he had been told to.

Neither side uttered the words polygraph or lie detector , and Ito instructed jurors that they were not to speculate on the confusing questions and answers.

In other testimony Thursday, prosecutors called to the witness stand a senior district attorney’s investigator who told the jury he had drilled open Nicole Simpson’s bank safety deposit box in December and taken out photographs showing her with injuries, letters from Simpson apologizing and taking responsibility for a 1989 fight, and a copy of her will.

The investigator, Michael Stevens, was called to the stand as part of the prosecution’s effort to show that O.J. Simpson abused Nicole Simpson throughout their 17-year relationship, trying to control her and ultimately killing her when he failed.

The photographs seized from the safety deposit box could help the prosecution’s case, but prosecutors already have other photographs of Nicole Simpson taken in the wake of the New Year’s Day beating. Potentially more important are three letters written by Simpson in which he apologizes for his behavior during the altercation--apologies that stand in contrast to his public pronouncements that the fight was a “mutual-type wrestling match” that he described as “no big deal.”

In the letters, riddled with spelling and grammatical errors, Simpson calls the fight a “crazy drunken incident,” and writes: “I’ve never been more disappointed in myself than I am now.”

His attorneys cite the same documents as evidence of his remorse, however, and say there is no evidence that Simpson ever struck his wife again, much less that he killed her five years later.

*

During a break in the proceedings Thursday, Ito met privately with Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies who were involved in an earlier probe into allegations of juror misconduct. According to sources, those investigators are looking into new allegations that some panel members may have been found with written material such as maps that could have a bearing on the case.

Lawyers were ordered not to discuss the issue, but sources said no conclusion had been reached as to whether there was misconduct. Jo-Ellan Dimitrius, a jury consultant for the defense, would only say that “it’s serious enough that the judge has thought that it needs to be evaluated by another agency.”

The domestic violence part of the prosecution case will continue to unfold today, as government lawyers are expected to call two Los Angeles police officers who responded to the 911 call in 1993. If all goes according to plan, their appearance on the stand will be followed by that of Denise Brown, Nicole Simpson’s outspoken sister, who has made no secret of her belief that Simpson is the killer.

According to Darden, Brown will testify about a range of incidents between O.J. and Nicole Simpson and will tell the jury about the nature of the relationship. Brown’s testimony, though likely to have emotional impact, is also problematic to the prosecution’s case.

In the days immediately after the murders, Brown told reporters that she did not believe her sister was the subject of prolonged abuse by O.J. Simpson. Those comments could be used in cross-examination to raise doubts about her credibility as a witness.

Members of the Brown family have said they only realized the full extent of abuse by O.J. Simpson after Nicole Simpson’s death.

Times staff writer Tim Rutten contributed to this article.

* RELATED STORIES: A14

More Trial Information

* To hear testimony from Thursday’s O.J. Simpson murder trial, call TimesLine at 808-8463 and press * 1950. To hear Nicole Brown Simpson’s 1993 call to police, press * 1911. And for an update of today’s hearing, available by 3 p.m., press * 1960. For up-to-the-minute news of the trial, 24 hours a day, sign on to TimesLink and “jump” to keyword “Simpson.”

Details on Times electronic services, B4


Advertisement