THE O.J. SIMPSON MURDER TRIAL : Cochran Queries Officer on Simpson's Reaction

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Seeking to undercut the impact of a detective's testimony that O.J. Simpson did not appear curious when informed of his ex-wife's death, Simpson's lead trial lawyer elicited the officer's acknowledgment Friday that people react in different ways when confronted with news of a killing.

"You've had this task before to give information to people who have lost a loved one, have you not?" defense attorney Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. asked the officer, Detective Ronald Phillips.

"Far too many times, yes," Phillips responded, adding that it is always a difficult assignment.

"Different people react differently, don't they?" Cochran continued.

"Yes, they do," the detective acknowledged.

Phillips also said that Simpson said, "What do you mean she's been killed?" during a brief phone call made to Simpson to notify him of his ex-wife's death just a few hours after her body and that of Ronald Lyle Goldman were found in Brentwood. That question, Cochran suggested, indicated precisely the curiosity that prosecutors had implied that Simpson lacked when learning of Nicole Brown Simpson's death.

Phillips' testimony occupied the bulk of the court day, but he was followed to the witness stand by the Los Angeles Police Department's lead investigator in the Simpson case, veteran detective Tom Lange. Lange only testified for about an hour, but as court ended for the week jurors got their first look at two of the most talked-about pieces of evidence in the case: a bloodstained glove found at the murder scene and a blue knit cap discovered near Goldman's feet.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Marcia Clark, wearing white rubber gloves, removed those items from a pair of paper bags, gently laying them in front of Lange. Jurors showed no reaction when the items were displayed. Later, after the jury left, Simpson was allowed to examine the evidence before it was repackaged and stored away.

Outside court, meanwhile, defense attorneys said Rosa Lopez, a potential defense witness who they feared had fled the country for El Salvador, is still in Southern California.

"I believe that she is still available," Simpson attorney Robert L. Shapiro said of Lopez, a maid who lived and worked next door to Simpson and who defense lawyers have said may be able to bolster their client's alibi.

Lopez was located and interviewed in northeast Los Angeles by a reporter for Spanish-language television station KMEX. She was shown on the air Friday leaving her daughter's apartment with a representative of Cochran's office and an interpreter.

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As Phillips continued for his third day on the witness stand, he also insisted that he did not consider Simpson a suspect when he called to notify him of the deaths. That testimony is important to the prosecution case because officers have long said that they only entered Simpson's property on Rockingham Avenue without a search warrant because they believed something might be wrong on the estate, a fear based largely in the discovery of a small blood spot on Simpson's car parked outside the fence.

According to the officers, they only began to consider Simpson a suspect after Detective Mark Fuhrman found a bloody glove on a pathway behind the house.

Simpson, who was in Chicago when reached by Phillips, returned immediately to Los Angeles, where he was questioned by police. He was arrested five days later. He has pleaded not guilty.

Cochran completed his cross-examination Friday, and Clark used her next round of questioning to shore up the prosecution's portrayal of the conversation between Simpson and Phillips and to reiterate that he and other detectives did not violate LAPD policy by failing to notify the coroner until almost seven hours after the bodies were discovered. The bodies were removed from where they lay about nine hours after they were found, witnesses have said.

Phillips stressed that although prompt notification is desirable, crime scenes vary widely, calling for differences in how and when detectives alert the coroner's office.

"You have several things you have to do at the crime scene first," said Phillips.

Still, the issue of notifying the coroner has cropped up over and over in recent days, and Cochran continued to hammer away at it Friday.

Noting that an order from Police Chief Willie L. Williams calls for "immediate notification," Cochran asked Phillips whether the detective considered nine hours an immediate response.

Phillips conceded that it was not, but he accused Cochran of oversimplifying. "Each case is a story of its own," the officer said.

Questioning Phillips about his conversation with Simpson after the murders, Clark attempted to limit any damage that Cochran's cross-examination may have done.

"Was it common in your experience for next of kin to ask questions about how the homicide had occurred?" Clark asked, referring to Phillips' many years as a detective.

"Usually it occurs that way," Phillips answered after a defense objection to the question was overruled.

"And so did you find the defendant's response to be unusual in your experience?" Clark asked. Superior Court Judge Lance A. Ito, however, would not allow Phillips to answer that question.

Legal experts said that the exchange about the phone call may not have netted either side a conclusive advantage: On one hand, it allowed jurors to hear that Simpson was apparently distraught, while at the same time, it may have planted some suspicion about whether his reaction was appropriate.

"People react in a wide spectrum of ways, most often irrationally in the first few minutes," said Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer Leslie Abramson. "They only ask questions later."

Gerry Spence, a nationally known defense attorney who is observing the trial, agreed that it is wrong to infer too much from Simpson's reaction to the news of his ex-wife's death.

"How do innocent people who are faced with utterly shocking news react?" Spence asked. "Well, innocent people react in a variety of ways and they have a variety of defenses."

Spence added: "I don't think it (the issue of Simpson's reaction) can be argued with any efficacy either way. They were making music in an empty teacup."

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The presentation of the glove and hat Friday marked the opening shots in the prosecution's physical evidence case, and both sides are gearing up for a battle over the scientific significance of blood, hair and fiber samples. One newly tested sample is a blood drop from a gate at the murder scene, a drop that prosecutors say DNA tests have shown is consistent with Simpson's blood.

But a defense source told The Times on Thursday that the test of the drop had been interrupted by a fire alarm and that the results might include Simpson's children as possible sources of the blood as well. Friday, outside the jury's presence, Shapiro made that argument in court, accusing prosecutors of overstating the significance of the drop--which was not recovered until about three weeks after the murders--in an effort to spin their case to the public.

Clark, however, said the tests performed so far were accurate and pointed to Simpson as a likely source.

"The stains were tested," Clark said. "Results were obtained. The results were consistent and accurate. . . . The results are consistent with Mr. Simpson's blood."

As Deputy Dist. Atty. Rockne Harmon said earlier this week, the drop has been subjected to further testing that may produce more definitive results.

But Cochran also signaled another anticipated defense attack on the latest blood evidence implicating Simpson in the crimes. As he questioned Phillips, Cochran asked: "If evidence . . . was collected, let's say three weeks later, on July 3rd, there is a good chance, is there not, that that evidence may have been compromised by people who were free to come and go on those premises?"

Ito sustained an objection to that question, but it offered the jury its first hint about how the defense may respond to the introduction of the blood drop from the gate--results of which the panel still has not heard about.

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As the Simpson case unfolds, rare is the day that does not bring a strange development at the margins. Friday was no exception, as Deputy Dist. Atty. William Hodgman, who has recently rejoined the prosecution team after a stress-related hiatus, announced that prosecutors are investigating a bogus subpoena sent to a woman who testified before the grand jury.

That onetime witness, Jill Shively, told the grand jury that she had seen Simpson fleeing the scene of the crime, but her testimony was tainted by the fact that she had sold her story to a tabloid. When Clark learned that Shively had sold her account--and had lied to prosecutors about selling it--she asked the grand jury to disregard the witness's account.

That was the last time Shively appeared in the Simpson case until Friday, when Hodgman announced that she had received a subpoena ordering her to testify in an investigation of Brian (Kato) Kaelin. There is no such investigation, however, and the subpoena is a fake, Hodgman said.

In another mysterious development late Friday, Ito summoned one of the jurors to a sidebar to confer with him and the lawyers for both sides. She spoke for several minutes to the group and then returned to her seat, looking slightly uncomfortable.

According to sources, Sheriff's Department deputies have investigated a number of allegations of juror misconduct in recent weeks. But those sessions have always been held in chambers, not in a sidebar where the courtroom audience can watch, though not hear.

Ito did not explain the reason for the conference, nor did the attorneys.

As the court session ended Friday, Cochran and Shapiro were summoned upstairs for an upbraiding by Supervising Judge James Bascue, who reminded them of the court order governing press conferences at the Criminal Courts Building. The attorneys were reminded that they may not pause to address the hordes of reporters, photographers and television camera operators who gather downstairs in that building. They may give interviews, but they have to keep moving as they do.

Court is in recess until Tuesday, when Lange will return to the stand. As the lead investigator in the case, his testimony is expected to be lengthy, perhaps stretching until Wednesday or Thursday.

Times staff writer Henry Weinstein contributed to this story.

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