First Officer at Scene Ends Long Simpson Testimony
The first police officer to find the bodies of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Lyle Goldman concluded a long stint on the witness stand Tuesday with prosecutors seeking to shore up his testimony in the face of meticulous cross-examination by one of the lawyers for murder suspect O.J. Simpson.
The testimony of that officer, Robert Riske, came amid new developments about jurors who are hearing evidence in the case. A newly released transcript from Sunday’s jury tour of Brentwood revealed that prosecutors had raised questions about a juror who lingered over photographs in Simpson’s house. Sources, meanwhile, said sheriff’s deputies were investigating allegations of possible misconduct by two jurors but had disposed of concerns raised in recent weeks about yet another.
Riske spent a day and a half testifying despite the fact that he played little part in the investigation of the June 12 killings. Johnnie L. Cochran Jr., Simpson’s lead trial lawyer, gently but persistently questioned Riske about photo graphs suggesting that some evidence had been moved and about other evidence that never was photographed.
Under Cochran’s questioning, Riske acknowledged that no photographs ever had been taken of a cup of melting ice cream and that evidence such as a bloody glove, watch cap and envelope was disturbed when the bodies of the victims were moved.
When it was her turn, however, Deputy Dist. Atty. Marcia Clark forcefully pointed out that patrolman Riske’s job in responding to the crime was not to collect evidence, take photographs or direct the investigation in any way.
“Is it part of your duties to observe and make sure that all of these things we have just mentioned are done?” Clark asked.
“No,” Riske answered, adding that he was charged with responding to the radio call for police and, once there, assessing what was wrong and calling for backup if needed.
Riske’s testimony, in which he also detailed steps taken to secure the scene and prevent evidence from being contaminated, was backed up by his supervisor, Sgt. David Rossi. The 25-year LAPD veteran said he arrived at the scene at 1:30 a.m. June 13, before any of the detectives were there; by that time, Rossi said, yellow police tape was stretched across the area and streets had been blocked off.
The testimony of those two officers is an important element of the prosecution’s effort to rebut the suggestion that detectives, particularly Mark Fuhrman, could have moved evidence from the murder scene to Simpson’s Brentwood mansion. Clark returned to the theme often Tuesday and ended her questioning by focusing on the most hotly contested piece of evidence--a bloody glove the defense attorneys have suggested that Fuhrman might have picked up at the murder scene and planted at Simpson’s house.
“Officer Riske, you were the first officer on the scene, right?” Clark asked.
“My partner and I . . . " Riske answered.
“How many gloves did you see?” Clark continued.
“One,” Riske said.
Riske was followed to the stand by Rossi, a tanned, silver-haired sergeant called to bolster his officer’s recollections and to further establish the security of the crime scene. Like Riske, Rossi testified in even tones, never raising his voice despite a vigorous cross-examination by Simpson attorney F. Lee Bailey, a nationally renowned criminal defense lawyer who has played almost no courtroom role thus far in the Simpson case.
Flowery and sarcastic where Rossi was flat and unemotional, Bailey tried to trap the sergeant in mistakes. At one point, Rossi said he had approached the bodies of the two victims by walking through some plants alongside a walkway. When Rossi said he chose that approach because there were no footprints in the dirt, Bailey reminded him that another officer already had walked that way, suggesting that Rossi had not looked carefully for footprints.
That is consistent with the entire defense approach in the Simpson case--that the investigation was sloppily handled or worse. The defense attack on the police handling of the case has drawn sharp responses from prosecutors and others: At Tuesday’s meeting of the Los Angeles City Council, many members followed the lead of Councilwoman Laura Chick and wore blue ribbons signaling their support of the Police Department.
In court, however, Bailey and other defense lawyers continued their attack. Bailey and Cochran both accused the officers of failing to record evidence that might have helped establish the time of death--another important element in the case because it bears directly on whether Simpson had an alibi for the time of the murders.
While Bailey raised some questions about the police handling of the case, his elaborate questioning occasionally appeared to leave even the judge mystified.
“Would you tell the court and jury how many possibilities you saw for an exodus by the killer or killers after the homicides were done and before the police arrived?” Bailey asked Rossi at one point.
“Objection,” Clark interjected. “Exodus?”
“You want to rephrase that?” Ito asked Bailey. Later, Ito posed his own objection to one of Bailey’s questions and sustained it.
Some legal experts questioned the effectiveness of Bailey’s approach, noting that his theatrics might play well on television but could leave the jury puzzled.
“Bailey could get up and ask 10 subdued questions that would help O.J. Simpson’s case immensely and then sit down,” said Harland W. Braun, a noted Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer. “Tonight, all the commentators would go on television and say the guy’s a has-been. On the other hand, he could do this incredibly rigorous cross-examination that turns the officer into a sympathetic figure and hurts his client in the eyes of the jury. Tonight, those same commentators will get up and say Bailey is back and the lion he used to be.”
One piece of evidence that both Bailey and Cochran suggested could have helped their case was a cup of partially melted ice cream that Riske said he saw on a banister inside Nicole Simpson’s condominium. The defense maintains that the LAPD’s failure to photograph that ice cream denied them a tool that might have indicated when the deaths occurred if they could establish how fast the ice cream melted.
In questioning Riske, however, Clark sought to debunk that theory.
“Do you know of any way to tell the difference between ice cream that’s been melted for two versus 2 1/2 hours?” Clark asked, speaking rapidly and with a note of sarcasm.
“No,” Riske responded.
“Or 2 1/2 hours and two hours and 15 minutes?” she then asked.
“No,” the officer said. “I don’t.
Testimony in the Simpson case Tuesday resumed after a four-day layoff and came amid new allegations of possible misconduct by members of the Simpson jury. Three panelists already have been excused, one for failing to disclose an earlier contact with Simpson and another because she had recently been the victim of domestic abuse. A third juror was dismissed because her arthritis doctor also treats Simpson and may be called to testify for the defense.
Those issues were resolved, but new allegations crop up consistently and continue to dog Ito and the attorneys.
According to a variety of sources, a number of jurors have come under scrutiny in recent days, including two who allegedly have made statements about how they think the case will turn out. One of them faces an allegation that he told a co-worker before the case began that he believed that Simpson would be acquitted, the sources said, adding that the juror’s alleged comments were disclosed to prosecutors in recent days, and sheriff’s deputies are investigating.
But sources added that another Sheriff’s Department inquiry has been resolved. That investigation, reported last month by The Times and KNBC, involved a juror who allegedly was found with a map of case landmarks in his room after a conjugal visit. That inquiry has been concluded and that juror has been allowed to remain on the panel, the sources said.
In addition, transcripts from the weekend jury field trip released Tuesday reveal that prosecutors raised an unrelated concern about one juror, charging that he had lingered over a photograph in Simpson’s home despite Ito’s order that they move along.
That juror wore a San Francisco 49ers cap during the tour Sunday. Simpson finished his storied football career with the 49ers.
According to the transcript, prosecutors accused the juror of studying “each and every photograph very carefully in direct violation of the court’s orders.”
“Right after he got the admonition, he walked in the foyer and immediately started staring at the pictures in the foyer, walked upstairs and stared at each and every picture up the stairs and in the bedroom,” Clark said, according to the transcript. Ito took no action against that juror or another whose picture-gazing was brought to his attention by the defense.
During Tuesday’s session, Ito thanked police, sheriff’s deputies and even the media for their efforts in coordinating and covering Sunday’s unusual trip to the crime scene. “I think it went like clockwork,” Ito said.
But the transcript reveals that prosecutors objected all along to the part of the tour that took jurors inside Simpson’s home, arguing that the interior of the house was irrelevant and describing the trip inside as “a sympathy play.” Ito denied that objection, but he ordered that fires in the fireplaces be extinguished and directed jurors to ignore any photographs.
As the trial unfolds, prosecutors are presenting the portion of the case that focuses on the events immediately surrounding the murders and laying the groundwork for the presentation of their scientific evidence. With that showdown nearing, the two sides renewed the spirited argument about scientific testing of samples late Tuesday.
Among other things, prosecutors are proposing to subject blood samples to a special test that may reveal whether samples recovered from the murder scene or from Simpson’s home and car were tainted with a preservative. Defense attorneys have suggested that officers could have used samples from Simpson and his ex-wife to stain evidence, an allegation that prosecutors vehemently deny.
Prosecutors say they can rebut that argument by submitting the samples for another round of testing, this time for the presence of the preservative known as EDTA. The blood samples from O.J. and Nicole Simpson, as well as those from Goldman, contain that preservative. If the blood samples from the scene, car and home do not have the preservative, that will show that officers could not have stained those items with the samples taken from Simpson and the victims, prosecutors argue.
But the new round of testing threatens to delay the defense’s access to the samples just as the prosecution is preparing to begin presenting its scientific evidence. Robert Blasier, one of Simpson’s lawyers, complained about the delay, but Ito granted prosecutors permission to go ahead, as long as they act quickly.
“They get to do EDTA testing, but they have to do it as soon as possible,” Ito said. “It’s going to get done by the end of this week.”
The FBI will conduct at least some of the testing, and Ito offered to call U.S. Atty. Gen. Janet Reno to speed the process along. “Not that that will do any good,” he added to the chuckles of the courtroom audience.
Before shifting to that portion of the case, however, prosecutors must present more police witnesses who will testify about the crime scene and the collection of evidence, among other things.
In some ways, Tuesday’s session was intended to set the stage for what is expected to be a fierce attack on Fuhrman, the investigator who testified during the preliminary hearing that he found a bloody glove on Simpson’s Brentwood estate.
Simpson’s lawyers have accused Fuhrman of racism and have said he may have taken a glove from the crime scene and planted it at Simpson’s house to frame him. In response, prosecutors are attempting to show that no other officer ever noticed a second glove at the crime scene and that Fuhrman was not left alone while there.
Both sides are braced for an intense battle over Fuhrman’s testimony, with Deputy Dist. Atty. Christopher A. Darden preparing to take the reins for the prosecution and Bailey expected to handle the cross-examination. When that confrontation will take place remains unclear, but lawyers predicted that it could come by the end of the month.
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