Detective Tells of Trail of Blood at Simpson Home
As yet another juror was dismissed Friday from the O.J. Simpson murder trial, a lead investigator in the case testified in dramatic detail about the bloodstained glove and trail of blood drops that led him to quickly zero in on the former football star as a “very strong suspect.”
The testimony of Los Angeles Police Detective Philip L. Vannatter ended on a visual note--as it often does on Fridays because prosecutors work to close out the weeks memorably. This time, the session concluded just after Vannatter identified a photograph of a cut on Simpson’s hand, a cut that authorities believe was the source of blood drops found at the scene of the double murder and in and around Simpson’s Brentwood estate.
The excused juror, a 52-year-old Amtrak employee named Tracy Kennedy, who sources said had clashed with his fellow jurors and bailiffs, is the fifth panelist to be dismissed, leaving only seven alternates for the duration of the trial. Sources said Kennedy’s personality conflicts were not the basis for his removal. Instead, they said an investigation of the juror’s hotel room turned up a personal computer that he allegedly was using to keep notes about the case, possibly for a book.
Superior Court Judge Lance A. Ito ordered the attorneys not to discuss the latest juror misconduct issue, but he displayed his irritation by noting that he had found “abundant good cause” to excuse the panelist. In previous juror dismissals, Ito has only announced that good cause existed.
Additionally, Ito had attorneys for both sides state in court that they agreed that the juror should go--a rare point of agreement, especially on an issue involving a juror. In earlier instances, the attorneys have not been asked for their positions in open court, but sources say prosecutors generally have been the ones to seek the ouster of jurors while defense lawyers usually have defended the embattled panelists.
As Kennedy arrived home, he sported a baseball cap with the word Fang imprinted on it. The former juror, a Glendale resident who displayed unusual curiosity during the recent jury tour of the crime scene and other Brentwood locations, would not comment in detail about being ousted and would not say whether he had been hoping to write a book.
“Evidently I did something wrong,” he said in a televised interview Friday evening. “And I don’t know what.”
He also released a short statement, which he drafted in the third person.
“There was no personal conflict, no physical confrontation, no race problem, no money offered or accepted,” Kennedy said in his statement. “He was notified at 9:30 a.m. that he was being excused from the jury. He describes himself as devastated and overwhelmed, but glad to be home, glad to be out of the situation, and glad to be able to go on with his life, as normal as it can be. And, finally, he is not at all comfortable with the media attention.”
The dismissed panelist was replaced by a 60-year-old white woman, who retired as a gas company clerk, who outspokenly protested being picked for the jury, and who was the lone holdout in a previous case in which she served as a juror.
In her juror questionnaire, that panelist said she was surprised when she learned that Simpson was a suspect in the June 12 murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Lyle Goldman--crimes to which Simpson has pleaded not guilty--but that she was withholding judgment on whether he committed the murders.
Questioned by the attorneys about her suitability for the Simpson jury, that woman described a difficult experience she had in a prior case as a juror. According to her, all her fellow jurors in that case were prepared to vote one way, and they convinced her she should reread the testimony of a witness. When she and the other jurors did that, however, they ended up coming around to her point of view.
“I found that a real disturbing situation,” she said, “that they were so sure.”
The new juror also said she considered DNA testing very reliable, a potentially significant opinion in the Simpson case because prosecutors intend to introduce a wealth of DNA evidence that they believe links Simpson to the crimes.
Partly because of that, UCLA law professor Peter Arenella said: “The new juror’s responses to the voir dire questionnaire suggest that the prosecution should be quite happy with her addition to the jury.”
The latest shift in the jury left just seven alternates for the remainder of the trial, which could continue through the spring and summer. It also once again altered the demographics of the Simpson jury. The panel now contains nine women and four men; it includes eight blacks, three whites and one Latino. The dismissed juror is half Native American and half white.
With the latest jury issue disposed of--and a bomb threat outside the courthouse defused after a 90-minute delay--Vannatter took the witness stand again Friday morning, this time to testify largely about how and when he concluded that Simpson was a suspect in the murder case.
The detective said his suspicions were raised when he was shown a bloody glove behind Simpson’s house that appeared to match one found at the murder scene. The craggy-faced veteran detective added that his conclusions were strengthened when, moments later, he spotted what he believed to be blood drops leading from Simpson’s car to the front door of his house and into the foyer.
By that time, Vannatter had toured the crime scene on Bundy Drive, and one of his colleagues had reached Simpson in Chicago to inform him of his ex-wife’s murder.
Exactly when officers decided that Simpson was a suspect is important because they have said they entered his property without a search warrant in order to rescue other possible victims inside the Rockingham Avenue estate. If they were searching for evidence against Simpson, their entry probably would have been illegal and the evidence they spotted deemed inadmissible.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Christopher A. Darden posed a series of questions to Vannatter intending to elicit the precise time that the detective came to the conclusion that Simpson was the person who committed the crimes.
“After your first walk-through at Bundy, was he a suspect?” Darden asked.
“No,” Vannatter said.
“And when you first arrived at Rockingham, was he a suspect?” the prosecutor continued, following the detective’s actions on the morning after the murders.
“No,” Vannatter responded again.
“During the time that you were ringing the buzzer at the front of the property, was he a suspect then?” Darden asked.
“No,” Vannatter said.
“And when you rang the front door at Rockingham, was he a suspect then?” the prosecutor asked.
“No,” he said again.
“At some point in time,” Darden then asked, “did you consider him a suspect?”
“Absolutely,” Vannatter answered this time, his voice low and his tone grave. “Yes . . . he became a suspect as soon as I saw the glove at the side of the house. After coming out into the driveway and finding the blood trail, he became a very strong suspect.”
Aided by a pair of colorful prosecution charts, Vannatter described the blood he saw, pointing to photographs of each of the spots or smears. The trail began in Simpson’s Ford Bronco, Vannatter said, adding that he could see several blood smears or drops by looking through the vehicle’s windows.
According to the detective, another drop was about three to four feet from the Bronco, and half a dozen more led to Simpson’s front door. Inside the doorway, several more drops were recovered from the foyer of the home.
Authorities believe Simpson dropped that blood from a pair of cuts to his left hand, particularly a relatively deep one on a knuckle of the middle finger. At the crime scene, five blood drops were found between the bodies and an alley behind the house; four of those drops were discovered to the left of a set of bloody footprints.
Prosecutors say DNA tests on those drops indicate that they contain genetic characteristics matching those of O.J. Simpson. The kinds of DNA tests performed on at least some of those drops are considered highly reliable--though all DNA tests are subject to some possible contamination--and authorities have long maintained that those drops form some of their most persuasive evidence linking Simpson to the crimes.
Simpson’s defense team has countered with two possible arguments: that police could have planted the blood at the crime scene or that their collection and analysis of the blood were so sloppy that the results of the subsequent DNA tests should not be trusted.
As the end of the day approached, Darden guided Vannatter toward describing the cuts on Simpson’s hand after first eliciting his explanation for how the defendant agreed to be questioned by detectives the day after the murders.
Simpson returned home from Chicago immediately after being told by police that Nicole Simpson had been murdered. When he arrived back at his home, one police officer briefly handcuffed him before Vannatter ordered that the cuffs be removed.
Although Vannatter said he had enough evidence to arrest Simpson at that point, he testified that he decided to wait until he received the results of tests that would help pinpoint the source of drops at the murder scene and Simpson’s house. Simpson was arrested four days later, on June 17.
On June 13, however, Vannatter said he asked Simpson to come with him to the LAPD’s Downtown headquarters, a request that Simpson granted even though he was not under arrest.
Defense lawyers nationwide were amazed to learn that Simpson had spoken to detectives after the murders, and questions have long swirled about how that could have happened when Simpson was represented at the time by Howard Weitzman, a well-known and highly regarded attorney.
Vannatter testified that Simpson had agreed to the interview and that Weitzman had elected to go out to lunch rather than sit in while it took place. According to Vannatter, Weitzman asked only that the interview, which lasted just over half an hour, be recorded.
As before, Weitzman vigorously denied that account Friday.
“Detective Vannatter’s recollection of what he thinks took place . . . did not happen,” the defense lawyer said. “When Mr. Simpson chose to interview with the police, contrary to my advice, he and I were told that there would be no interview if he wanted an attorney present. And he chose to speak with the detectives without lawyers being present.”
Weitzman added: “It is preposterous to believe that I would give a detective permission, in a situation such as this, to interview a client without my being present, let alone tell him I was too busy because I had a lunch appointment.”
Whatever the circumstances leading up to Simpson’s interview, both sides agree that afterward he also allowed police to take a photograph of his left hand.
With noon approaching, Darden displayed that photograph. It shows Simpson’s finger with one knuckle swollen and cut, and with another, smaller cut across a second knuckle. The photograph, marked “People’s Exhibit No. 123,” was displayed for the jury before the panelists retired for the weekend.
“It would appear he had the injury that caused the blood drops on the left side of the footprints,” Vannatter said of the cut on Simpson’s hand.
Friday’s session might have gone further, but the Simpson trial sometimes seems accident-prone, with one problem after another forcing postponements in testimony. The latest was a bomb scare, one of several that have forced partial evacuations of the Criminal Courts Building in recent weeks.
LAPD Officer Jim Amormino said a typed note was discovered near the apparent pipe bomb outside the building Friday morning. The device, which turned out to be a fake, did not appear connected to the Simpson case. The note appeared to refer to the Irish Republican Army and the device was left on St. Patrick’s Day.
The note, he said, was ripped in two pieces by a building janitor who was raking the area when he discovered it. The police officer briefly exhibited the top half of the note to reporters before putting it back in an envelope for further study by authorities.
The note was headed: “Fenian Statement.”
The statement began: “We the Fenians find the current situation intolerable. Both the IRA and the royalist paramilitary groups have called a cease-fire. England has continued to arm her imperialist occupation forces. . . .”
Testimony in the Simpson trial is scheduled to resume Monday morning, with Vannatter back on the stand. Once Darden has finished his questioning, Simpson attorney Robert L. Shapiro, who confronted Vannatter during last summer’s preliminary hearing, is expected to handle the cross-examination.
Times staff writers Henry Weinstein, Carla Hall and Paul Feldman contributed to this story.