Nearing the end of his exhaustive examination, a Los Angeles police detective acknowledged Wednesday that he had made some mistakes in the investigation of O.J. Simpson and that some drug killings are committed by knife-wielding assailants.
Johnnie L. Cochran Jr., Simpson's lead trial lawyer, also elaborated on one of the defense team's most controversial theories of the case: the notion that the intended victim of the attacks might have been Faye Resnick, the self-described best friend of Nicole Brown Simpson and an admitted drug user who was in a rehabilitation center at the time of the killings.
No evidence has surfaced supporting such a theory, but the defense has long suggested that it could explain the killings of Nicole Simpson and Ronald Lyle Goldman, who were murdered in Brentwood on June 12.
Simpson has pleaded not guilty to the grisly homicides.
Detective Tom Lange is one of two lead investigators in the Simpson case, and he has spent more time testifying than any other witness in the trial. Under questioning from prosecutors, he painstakingly laid out the steps that detectives followed as they pieced their case together and eliminated theories that they did not believe could explain the killings--including the notion that they could have been drug-related.
"This appeared to me to be an overkill or rage killing," Lange said in response to a question from Deputy Dist. Atty. Marcia Clark. "In my mind, it appeared to be motivated by rage and not narcotics-related."
But then Cochran got his turn. He used his questioning Wednesday to step up the intensity of his cross-examination and to suggest that the detective had overlooked possible indicators that the killings were drug-related.
Although much of Cochran's questioning covered ground already gone over with the detective, the defense lawyer extracted a few new concessions from Lange, a respected veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department's robbery-homicide division who said outside court that he has never undergone such prolonged questioning in his 26 years with the LAPD.
In response to questions from Cochran, Lange said that although most drug murders are committed with firearms, he is familiar with a kind of killing known as a "Colombian necklace," in which murderers slash the throats of their victims.
"It's true, is it not, that a Colombian necklace is a situation where drug dealers will slice the neck of a victim, including the carotid artery, in order to kill the victims and instill fear and send a message to others who have not paid for their drugs or have been informants to the police?" Cochran asked. "Isn't that what a Colombian necklace is?"
"I've heard that," Lange responded.
"Sir, isn't it true that you, in your experience, know about drug killings where knives have been used?" Cochran continued. "Isn't that correct?"
"I do have knowledge of knives being used, yes." Lange said.
(Later in the day, Cochran referred to a form of throat slashing known as the "Colombian necktie.")
In Lange's testimony earlier this week, he said he did not believe that the wounds on Goldman's hands suggested that he had struck his attacker with his fists during their struggle. Simpson's lawyers have displayed photographs showing that their client had few injuries to suggest that he had been through a violent struggle, and Lange's testimony threatened to undercut that. As a result, Cochran confronted Lange with testimony from a pathologist during the preliminary hearing.
When he testified, Dr. Irwin Golden seemed to suggest that Goldman had bruises on his knuckles. Lange said he did not observe those bruises, but Cochran's questioning suggested that the defense will return to that topic as the case continues.
Cochran, whose previous cross-examination has been mostly even-tempered, increased the pointedness of his approach Wednesday, peppering the detective with rapid-fire questions and sometimes chuckling sarcastically in response to Lange's answers. Simpson seemed to appreciate the tougher tone: During one particularly sharp line of questioning, the defendant rolled his eyes and shook his head as Lange refused to accept Cochran's interpretation of a crime scene photograph.
Superior Court Judge Lance A. Ito has granted both sides wide leeway in their questioning, but at one point Wednesday he intervened.
"It's argumentative," Ito said of one of Cochran's questions. "It's also badgering the witness at this point."
Despite the increasingly contentious tone, Lange rarely rose to Cochran's bait. Instead, the detective remained calm and never raised his voice, sticking with the flat monotone that has characterized his testimony since he began in mid-February. About the only sign that Lange gave of his irritation was to occasionally respond to Cochran by name and to sigh in exasperation.
"Can you answer the question, please?" Cochran asked at one point near the end of the day, Lange's seventh on the witness stand.
"I'm trying to," the detective answered.
The exchanges grew particularly spirited during one point of the cross-examination as Cochran tried to get Lange to describe each of the mistakes that he or others made in investigating the case. Lange acknowledged having incorrectly noted in one of his logs that two dimes and two pennies were recovered near the crime scene--there was actually one of each coin, Lange said.
"You do make mistakes?" Cochran asked.
"Just like everyone else," Lange answered.
"We're not talking about everyone else," Cochran responded icily. "We're talking about you."
"Mr. Cochran, I make mistakes," Lange said, peering over his eyeglasses in a mild gesture of frustration.
Among other mistakes that Lange acknowledged were the failure of coroner's officials to recover and test blood drops on Nicole Simpson's back and the three-week delay in recovering three blood drops found on the back gate to her condominium. Lange also said Nicole Simpson's stomach contents were discarded, though he added that he was not sure whether that was a mistake, emphasizing that what was important was that the stomach contents were first analyzed.
Even before opening statements in the case, defense attorneys were suggesting that they believed Resnick could have been the intended victim of the attacks, a theory that allows them to explore alternative explanations for the crime without smearing the reputations of either victim. Cochran briefly touched on that theory during his questioning of Lange earlier this week, but he elaborated Wednesday.
Cochran used a series of hypothetical questions to suggest that Resnick was living at Nicole Simpson's house in the days prior to the murders, that she was using freebase cocaine during that time and that she was not working. The combination, Cochran suggested, could have caused Resnick to run up debts to a drug dealer or dealers, who then might have come to Nicole Simpson's house seeking revenge or trying to send a message.
"If you found out that . . . (Resnick) had no job by which to pay for these drugs, would that be a factor that might bear upon the opinion you gave us yesterday?" Cochran asked, referring to Lange's testimony that he did not believe the killings were drug-related.
"If I had been pursuing that line, that certainly would be a factor I'd look at, yes," Lange said. But he repeatedly added that he had no information to back up those hypothetical assertions and insisted that no physical evidence suggested any reason to believe that the killings were drug-related.
"That wasn't the evidence that I had," Lange added. "And that wasn't the path that I pursued. I had nothing to lead me in that direction."
In previous testimony, Lange had said that he had never spoken at length to Resnick, which Cochran used to suggest that the detective had not seriously pursued the notion that the killings might have been drug-related. Cochran returned briefly to that theme Wednesday, asking Lange once again whether he had ever spoken to Resnick.
"Yes," Lange answered, adding that he had received a telephone call from her during the lunch break in the trial. Cochran, who apparently had not been expecting that answer, did not follow up.
Resnick's lawyer, Arthur Barens, said the defense attempts to link his client to the killings are absurd and untrue.
"Did you see any evidence of any debt of Faye Resnick?" Barens asked rhetorically. "Did you see any evidence of Colombians? Did you see any evidence of Ecuadoreans? Did you see any evidence of flying saucers? That's because there is no evidence."
Barens said his client believes the defense team is "grasping at straws" in its effort to present a plausible alternative to explain the murders.
"While the prosecution deals in facts and evidence," Barens said, "the defense deals in conjecture and hypothesis."
Of all the areas that Cochran and Lange have discussed during the detective's time on the stand, none has assumed the sometimes strange proportions of their long-running ice cream debate. In testimony last month, the officer said he spotted a partially melted cup of ice cream on a banister at Nicole Simpson's house in the early hours of June 13.
Defense attorneys said the fact that the ice cream was not totally melted suggests the murders took place late that evening, perhaps after 11 p.m., when Simpson was en route to the airport in a limousine. Rebutting that contention, Lange on Tuesday said he had asked members of Nicole Simpson's family to question her children about the ice cream flavors they ate on the evening of the murders.
One flavor was chocolate chip cookie dough, whose lumps of dough may have appeared as unmelted ice cream long after the ice cream itself had melted. That appeared to resolve the ice cream question, but Cochran returned to the topic Wednesday, suggesting that another witness remembered a different flavor, Rainforest Crunch.
Lange acknowledged that he had never studied the melting properties of Rainforest Crunch.
The sparring over the theories of the murders dominated the entire court day Wednesday, delaying again the much-anticipated testimony of LAPD Detective Mark Fuhrman, who is expected to testify either today or Friday.
As they prepare to question Fuhrman, defense attorneys are chasing every lead they can about the detective's past. Wednesday, they won a qualified victory by persuading Judge Lance A. Ito to allow them to review two internal LAPD files that deal with Fuhrman.
One is the investigation of an alleged comment that Fuhrman made regarding Nicole Simpson's breasts, and the other is the LAPD's internal probe of the allegation that Fuhrman might have taken a bloody glove from the murder scene and planted it at Simpson's house.
Police sources have said that Fuhrman was cleared of any wrongdoing in both inquiries, but the files nevertheless may help the defense cross-examine Fuhrman and other witnesses. Among other things, the file from the police investigation of the planted glove hypothesis includes interviews with more than a dozen police officers who were at the murder scene before Fuhrman arrived.
If any of those officers testify in the Simpson case and make statements contradicted by their earlier accounts to police investigators, the defense could raise questions about any discrepancy. In addition, if Fuhrman's testimony is inconsistent with the statements in the investigative files, that might form a basis for the defense to impeach his credibility.
Ito allowed the defense to review the files, but ordered both sides not to divulge their contents.
In other business Wednesday, Cochran raised yet another potential juror misconduct issue with the judge. He did not explain the allegation in open court, but when he mentioned it guardedly, Ito summoned the attorneys to the bench to discuss the matter out of earshot of the press and jury.
Four members of the jury panel have been dismissed, reducing the number of alternates to eight and raising some concerns about whether the panel is large enough to stay together through the spring and even summer--depending on how long the trial lasts.
Lange returns to the stand this morning for what may be the last time. Once he has finished testifying, prosecutors say they intend to call Goldman's stepmother, who will probably be questioned briefly about a shopping list that is only tangentially connected to the case.
Fuhrman is scheduled to testify after Patti Goldman.