Vannatter Offers Explanations for Glove Questions

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Clearing the way for O.J. Simpson's colorful house guest to take the stand, a lead detective in the murder case concluded his testimony Tuesday by detailing how authorities explain two enduring mysteries: why there was no cut on a glove at the murder scene and no blood leading up to a similar glove at Simpson's estate.

Detective Philip L. Vannatter, the last of the prosecution's key police witnesses, also acknowledged that he had misstated information in obtaining a search warrant for Simpson's house. That admission came as he completed two days of cross-examination at the hands of defense lawyer Robert L. Shapiro, whose questioning took on additional intensity and focus as he neared his conclusion.

After Vannatter finished, jurors were treated to their first look at Brian (Kato) Kaelin, the Simpson house guest whose testimony during the preliminary hearing made him a minor celebrity in a murder case overrun with them. Before he was called Tuesday, a jittery Kaelin waited in an anteroom, shifting from foot to foot; once he was summoned into the courtroom, he bounded to the front, nearly running into Deputy Dist. Atty. Christopher A. Darden in his haste to take the witness stand.

When Deputy Dist. Atty. Marcia Clark asked him if he was nervous, Kaelin responded: "Feel great." Laughter trickled through the courtroom, and he then added: "A little nervous."

Kaelin--whose testimony was punctuated by the wide array of verbal and facial tics now as familiar to Simpson case aficionados as the aspiring actor's shaggy mop of hair--was only on the stand briefly Tuesday. Before the day ended, Kaelin said Simpson told him that he had given up attempting to reconcile with his ex-wife but that he had turned down his new girlfriend's request to join him at his daughter's dance recital on the night of the murders.

Simpson has pleaded not guilty to killing his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Lyle Goldman, who were slashed and stabbed to death on June 12.

Before Kaelin moved to the trial's center stage Tuesday afternoon, defense attorneys and prosecutors traded barbs over Vannatter's account, each seeking to extract a few more benefits from the testimony of one of the two lead investigators in the case.

Vannatter is the 10th Los Angeles police officer to testify in the case, as prosecutors have sought both to introduce the evidence against Simpson and to debunk the defense suggestion of a conspiracy by showing that many officers, some who did not even know each other, participated in the investigation.

Shapiro raised several questions about the police investigation of the Simpson case: He asked Vannatter, for instance, whether a household blanket used to cover the body of Nicole Simpson could have contained trace evidence, such as hairs from O.J. Simpson--which could have been left behind innocently on an earlier visit to his ex-wife's home. Vannatter reluctantly agreed that it could, a potentially important concession for the defense because a hair resembling one of Simpson's was found on Goldman's body.

Shapiro also subtly returned to the defense argument that a glove allegedly found outside Simpson's house might have been planted by police, and the lawyer concluded by raising an issue that has long occupied amateur sleuths following the Simpson trial.

Reminding the detective that he had testified that Simpson's finger was cut when police interviewed him--and also noting that authorities believe the assailant wore gloves, Shapiro asked: "Was a cut found on the left-hand glove at Bundy that would be in the area of the cut on O.J. Simpson's left hand?"

"No," Vannatter responded.

"Nothing further," Shapiro announced brusquely, yielding the lectern to Darden.

But Darden took up where Shapiro left off, seeking the detective's explanation for the lack of a cut in the glove and getting it over Shapiro's objections.

"I believe during the struggle the left-hand glove was lost and dropped on the ground," Vannatter said. "And that's when the cut occurred, when the hands were not protected."

"So, is it significant," Darden asked, "significant at all that there was no cut on the left-handed glove as described by Mr. Shapiro?"

"No," Vannatter replied. "There's no significance to that."

Darden's retort may have blunted the defense attack on that point, but Shapiro chipped away at a number of points. He questioned, for instance, why no blood was found on the walkway or fence near where Detective Mark Fuhrman said he found a bloody glove.

A trail of blood running between Simpson's car and the front door of his house helped convince Vannatter that Simpson was a suspect in the double homicide two miles away. But no similar trail linked the glove to the car, a point Shapiro explored during his questioning, forcing Vannatter to concede that no mention of the glove's discovery appears in any of the detectives' notes or in the chronological log that spells out key developments in the investigation's early hours.

Darden attempted to clear up that mystery when it was again his turn to question Vannatter.

He asked the detective how the assailant entered the estate. "I believed he used a key to come through the Rockingham gate after parking the vehicle in the street there just north of the gate," Vannatter replied.

Then Darden posed a series of questions, all of which drew objections but which nevertheless had the effect of floating the prosecution's various explanations before the jury.

"The person that dropped the glove at Rockingham, do you know whether or not that person was actually bleeding as they walked along the south side of the house?" Darden asked. Shapiro objected, and Superior Court Judge Lance A. Ito sustained that objection, so Vannatter did not answer.

"Do you know whether or not the person that dropped the glove was bleeding at the time?" Darden asked again, drawing another sustained objection.

"Do you know whether or not the person that dropped the glove at Rockingham had his left hand in his pocket at some point?" the prosecutor then asked. Ito, smiling slightly, sustained the third objection in a row.

"Do you know whether or not that person was carrying something?" Darden asked. Again there was no answer permitted, but Ito declined Shapiro's request to strike the litany of questions from the record.

Defense lawyers have suggested that Vannatter is not trustworthy, an assessment they base in part on the request for a search warrant that the detective prepared on the morning after the murders. Ito ruled that Vannatter displayed "reckless disregard" for the truth in preparing that warrant, and highlighted two misstatements: one in which Vannatter said Simpson had left unexpectedly for Chicago and another in which he said a spot on Simpson's car had been determined to be human blood.

In fact, Simpson's trip was planned. Although the blood later did turn out to be human, tests had not confirmed that at the time the warrant was prepared.

"Isn't it true at the time that that was not a test to determine whether or not this was human blood?" Shapiro asked.

"That's true," Vannatter responded. "I, I misstated that. I guess based on my experience, I believed it was human blood."

Vannatter also acknowledged that Simpson's trip to Chicago was planned in advance, not unexpected as the detective said in asking for the warrant. But Vannatter insisted that the mistake was inadvertent and was based on his interpretation of comments that Kaelin and Simpson's daughter allegedly made after detectives awoke them in the early morning hours of June 13.

In questioning Vannatter about the warrant, Shapiro was not allowed to tell the jury that Ito had ruled that the detective's statements were reckless. Clark objected to any question that would adopt Ito's legal conclusion, and Ito agreed such questions would be improper.

As a result, the discussion of the warrant was limited, and occupied only a few minutes out of Vannatter's four days on the witness stand.

As he has before, Shapiro sought to portray his client as having cooperated entirely with the police investigation, returning from Chicago voluntarily, allowing police to search his bag and agreeing to speak to the detectives, without a lawyer present, on the day after the murders. But while that line of questioning established that Simpson had indeed returned and met with police, it also allowed Vannatter to volunteer his impressions of the former football star's credibility.

"He was (as) cooperative as anybody could be, wasn't he?" Shapiro asked at one point.

"If being truthful is being cooperative, then that's very subjective," Vannatter responded. "His demeanor was cooperative, but I don't believe the information was truthful."

Vannatter completed his testimony shortly after lunch Tuesday and was followed by a brief return appearance from Detective Tom Lange, Vannatter's partner and the other lead investigator in the case.

But the day's most-talked-about witness was Kaelin, a 36-year-old small-time actor who first captured the public imagination last summer when he testified at the preliminary hearing. He began his testimony Tuesday by spelling not just his first and last names, but also his nickname, Kato.

Dressed in black jeans and a blazer, Kaelin was a demonstrative witness. He gestured profusely with his hands while describing the layout of Nicole Simpson's condominium, and he sipped water, brushed back his hair and nodded as questions were posed to him.

At one point, Clark asked whether he had hoped that living with Simpson would help steer acting parts his way.

"I didn't think that," Kaelin responded, stumbling for words. "I just, I never asked, I was getting things on my own. But I, if it did, it came up on its own."

After a pause, Kaelin smiled slightly and added, in a reference to Simpson's acting career: "I don't think we were going for the same parts."

That drew loud laughter, which Kaelin soaked up, twisting back and forth in his chair and licking his lips appreciatively. Even jurors broke their characteristic impassivity and joined in the laughter this time.

As he did last summer, Kaelin was asked to recount his friendship with Nicole and O.J. Simpson, beginning with his first meeting with Nicole--at a party in Aspen in late 1992--and continuing up to the day of her murder.

A month after meeting Nicole Simpson, he moved into her guest house--though he said Tuesday, as he did during the preliminary hearing, that the two never had a romantic relationship. Still, he said, when Nicole and O.J. Simpson attempted a reconciliation, O.J. Simpson asked him to move out of Nicole's house, offering him free accommodations at the Rockingham Drive estate.

Clark questioned Kaelin about Simpson's insistence on that point, suggesting that the former football star--whose jealousy and history of domestic abuse are central issues in the murder trial--was being irrationally possessive of Nicole Simpson.

"Did he indicate to you in some way that he thought it was inappropriate for you to be in the same house as her or that he didn't like it?" Clark asked.

"Well," Kaelin responded, "not didn't like it but probably wouldn't be right."

"And why wouldn't it be right?" she asked.

"I don't know the answer," he said.

"Were you lovers?" she asked.

"No," Kaelin said.

"Just friends?" Clark continued.

"Friends," Kaelin said, nodding vigorously and arching his eyebrows.

"Did you tell the defendant that?" she asked.

"He knew we were friends," said Kaelin, who sneaked short glances at Simpson throughout his time on the stand.

"But he still didn't want you living in that house?" Clark concluded.

"I guess," Kaelin answered, shifting in his seat uncomfortably. "I mean I didn't, and I guess not."

As he reached the end of his testimony Tuesday, Kaelin was describing the last day of Nicole Simpson's life. Kaelin said Simpson had told him that he and his ex-wife had abandoned all plans to reconcile--identical testimony to that which he gave during the preliminary hearing.

But this time, Kaelin added a potentially significant new detail: that Simpson's girlfriend had asked to join him at his daughter's dance recital a few hours before the murders. According to Kaelin, Simpson said he had rejected that idea because he considered the event a family occasion.

Defense attorneys objected to that testimony as hearsay, and the day ended with that dispute unresolved. If jurors are allowed to consider it, it could bolster the prosecution contention that Simpson saw the recital as a family event and thus was infuriated by Nicole Simpson's unwillingness to allow her ex-husband to join the rest of the relatives.

Previous witnesses have testified that Simpson sat apart from the rest of the family at the recital that evening and that he did not join them for dinner when they traveled to Mezzaluna, a popular Brentwood restaurant where Goldman worked as a waiter.

Kaelin is scheduled to return to the stand this morning, when he is expected to offer the most important part of his testimony--his description of hearing noises at about 10:45 p.m. on June 12 and then seeing Simpson a few minutes later. Police believe that those noises, which Kaelin previously has described as three thumps so loud he thought they were an earthquake, were the sounds of Simpson sneaking behind Kaelin's room and bumping into an air conditioner, dropping a bloody glove in the process.

While testimony continues in the case, defense lawyers have not abandoned their efforts to limit the DNA evidence presented against Simpson. In a motion filed Monday but unsealed Tuesday, the defense team asked for a hearing on the admissibility of any DNA tests performed after Jan. 4, when the Simpson lawyers agreed to forgo a special hearing on DNA tests conducted up to that point.

Among other things, that could affect blood stains recovered from a back gate at Nicole Simpson's condominium. Prosecutors have said DNA tests of that blood contain genetic characteristics similar to O.J. Simpson's.

Times staff writer Andrea Ford contributed to this story.

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