Kaelin Tells About Evening of Murders

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

A new and subdued Brian (Kato) Kaelin on Wednesday painstakingly described his evening with O.J. Simpson in the hours before a pair of grisly murders, and banged his fist on the witness stand to demonstrate the three mysterious thumps that authorities believe are linked to the killings.

In contrast to his demeanor Tuesday, when Kaelin fidgeted and stirred restlessly on the stand, the prosecution witness reined himself in Wednesday as Deputy Dist. Atty. Marcia Clark guided him through a methodical recitation of his actions on the night of the murders. Nevertheless, the process was a mixed bag for prosecutors, as Kaelin's testimony was sometimes disjointed and his recollections were occasionally fuzzy, particularly when he was asked about events and meetings that took place after the murders.

Simpson has pleaded not guilty to the June 12 stabbings of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Lyle Goldman.

Kaelin spent the evening making a series of phone calls to friends, and Clark presented phone records to establish when Kaelin was in his room. Impressed by the prosecutor's precision, Kaelin whispered to her: "You guys are good."

Kaelin's appearance on the witness stand drew a record number of trial watchers to the Downtown Criminal Courthouse, where the line of 90 or so people topped even the draw for the much-anticipated testimony of Los Angeles Police Detective Mark Fuhrman. But where Fuhrman dreaded his appearance on the stand, Kaelin, an aspiring actor, appeared to relish it, capitalizing on chances to crack jokes.

When Clark asked him whether Simpson "seemed real excited" when Kaelin invited himself to join the football great on a trip to McDonald's on the night of the murders, defense attorneys objected and Superior Court Judge Lance A. Ito sustained the objection.

Arching his eyebrows in merriment, Kato answered anyway: "Wouldn't you?" he asked, smiling at his own joke and drawing loud laughter from the courtroom audience and a few jurors.

Kaelin's occasional jokes lightened his testimony, but Clark struggled to keep him on track. Using the phone records at times, Clark traced Kaelin's steps through the evening, beginning with a conversation between him and Simpson after Simpson returned from his daughter's dance recital.

Kaelin, who lived in a guest house at the estate, said Simpson complained that he had not been able to spend more time with his daughter Sydney after that recital and added that the defendant had noted his ex-wife's tight dress.

"He wanted to talk to Sydney, and, I don't think, Nicole wasn't going to give him time to talk to Sydney," Kaelin said. "And I think they went off somewhere."

Simpson did speak with his daughter that evening, and the defense has produced a photograph of the two of them together after the recital. But prosecutors have sought to show that Simpson was largely excluded from the family gathering that evening, sitting apart from his ex-wife and her family at the recital and not joining them for dinner afterward.

Later that evening, Kaelin said, he and Simpson went out for hamburgers at a nearby McDonald's, returning to Simpson's Rockingham estate about 9:40 p.m. After that, Kaelin said, he went back to his room, ate his food and made some calls, including one to his friend, Rachel Ferrara.

"During that phone call, sir," Clark asked, "did something unusual occur?"

"Yes," Kaelin responded.

"And what was that?" the prosecutor asked.

"I heard a thumping noise," Kaelin said.

"How many thumps did you hear?" she continued.

After an objection, Kaelin said he had heard three thumps so loud that he feared an earthquake. Clark asked him to demonstrate the sound he had heard, and Kaelin leaned around the microphone in front of him, balled up his right fist and pounded three times on the witness stand.

Those three thumps are among the most important elements of the prosecution case, as Kaelin estimated that he heard them between 10:40 p.m. and 10:45 p.m. Authorities believe that Simpson was skulking around his estate at that hour, trying to enter without being noticed and possibly seeking to dispose of evidence.

The timeline for the murders and their aftermath is extraordinarily important in the Simpson case because Simpson has an alibi after about 11 p.m., when he headed to the airport in a limousine. Thus, prosecutors need to show that the killings occurred early enough for Simpson to have committed them, changed clothes, rushed home and still meet the limousine.

It was Simpson's haste, the prosecutors contend, that caused him to make mistakes and drop evidence that linked him to the crimes.

Kaelin told police about the thumps when they arrived the next morning. One officer, Fuhrman, said he went to search the area where the thumps occurred and while investigating came upon a bloody right-hand glove resembling one found at the crime scene. According to prosecutors, DNA tests of that glove reveal that the blood on it contains genetic markers suggesting it could be a mixture of blood from both victims and Simpson.

A few minutes after hearing the noises, Kaelin said, he went to investigate. He said he circled around the house and walked a few feet up the pathway that leads along the south side of the estate. But Kaelin, who said he ventured twice down the pathway, added that he stopped both times because he only had a small flashlight and was scared to go any farther.

Kaelin testified that after returning to the front of the house, he saw Simpson and a limousine driver as Simpson was rushing to catch a flight. Kaelin asked both of them for a flashlight, and followed Simpson into the house in search of one.

But before they could find a larger flashlight, Simpson glanced at a clock and saw he was late for his flight, Kaelin said. With that, Simpson dashed out, pausing first in the foyer to ask Kaelin to set the alarm once he had gone.

Kaelin said he helped load Simpson's golf bag into the limousine. But when he went to pick up another bag, Simpson said that he would get it himself. That bag, a small knapsack at the edge of the driveway, has never been recovered, Clark said in her opening statement, suggesting that it might have contained evidence in the case.

Throughout her questioning, Clark asked Kaelin whether he had noticed any cuts or injuries on Simpson's hands during the evening prior to the murders. Kaelin said he had seen the hands several times and that neither appeared to be injured. When Simpson was questioned by police, he did have two cuts on the middle finger of his left hand--cuts his lawyers have described as having been suffered either while scrambling to get ready for his trip or after being called in Chicago and told of his ex-wife's death.

Prosecutors believe those cuts were inflicted during a struggle with Goldman, and Clark again asked Kaelin if he had noticed any injuries after the killings, when Simpson was preparing to leave for the airport.

After Kaelin described the conversation as Simpson was preparing to leave, Clark asked: "And you had that conversation while you were standing with him in the foyer?"

"In the foyer, yes," Kaelin responded.

"And did you happen to notice whether his, he had any injury to either hand at that time?" she asked.

"I didn't notice,," Kaelin said. "No."

"You did not notice?" the prosecutor asked.

"Did not," he said.

Over defense objections, Clark returned to that question a few minutes later, eliciting a similar response from Kaelin.

Some legal observers were surprised by that line of questioning, as it did nothing to strengthen the prosecution case and may even bolster Simpson's contention that he was not seriously cut when he left for Chicago.

"Marcia must have known that Kaelin saw no wounds," said Deputy Dist. Atty. Sterling Norris, a veteran homicide prosecutor. "That's the first question you would ask him when you interviewed him. If she knew the answer, why did she keep coming back to it?"

Kaelin did testify later, however, that he saw several blood drops in the foyer on the morning after the killings.

Kaelin's testimony posed other potentially problematic issues for lawyers on both sides. According to sources, friends of Kaelin have told prosecutors that he has relayed more incriminating statements about Simpson than the version he presented at the preliminary hearing and during the trial.

Questioning Kaelin about those statements is a tricky business for both sides, however, because prosecutors have little incentive to show that Kaelin might be lying while defense attorneys are not eager to elicit any statement that might make their client look guilty.

Clark approached that problem gingerly. She asked Kaelin whether he had cooperated with defense attorneys and investigators and whether he considered himself a friend of Simpson.

"I'm still a friend," Kaelin responded, looking over at the defense table. "I know my job is to be 100% honest and that's what I'm going to do."

That could explain any effort by Kaelin to shade his testimony on Simpson's behalf, although he told the jury that Simpson and his attorney had urged him to tell the truth.

Clark also elicited Kaelin's acknowledgment that he had received more acting jobs since the murders than he had in the previous 10 years and she carefully asked him about some of the alleged statements that his friends have repeated. She asked whether he had ever told anyone that Simpson clenched his fists and teeth when saying that he and Nicole Simpson would never reconcile. She also questioned whether Kaelin had ever said that Simpson looked extremely frazzled in the minutes before he left for the airport.

Kaelin denied making either comment.

One friend allegedly said that Kaelin told him Simpson wanted his house guest to supply his alibi. "Oh, thank God, you can tell them I was home all the time," Kaelin allegedly quoted Simpson as saying. Kaelin denied ever telling anyone that Simpson made that specific comment. But Kaelin did say that Simpson asked whether his house guest could corroborate his whereabouts on the night of the murders.

Kaelin testified that he told Simpson that he could not. "I didn't see (him) go in the house," Kaelin said, "because I went to my guest room."

Clark also touched briefly and obliquely on widely circulated tabloid accounts suggesting that other witnesses could contradict Kaelin's testimony that he and Simpson went to the McDonald's on the night of the murders. Those witnesses, who have attempted to interest journalists nationwide in their story, allege that they met the two at a Burger King. But their credibility is suspect, in part because at least one is an admitted drug dealer and the other hopes to write a book about selling methamphetamine, a powerful stimulant.

Kaelin appeared to be ready for the question about the Burger King and he emphatically insisted that his testimony was accurate.

Although the significance of some of Kaelin's testimony is obvious, other points may only become clear as other witnesses take the stand. For instance, he said Wednesday that as far as he knows, only three people had a key to the front door of Simpson's house--Simpson, his daughter Arnelle and the housekeeper.

When he takes the stand, limousine driver Allan Park is expected to say that he saw a large African American person striding across Simpson's driveway and heading in the front door a few minutes before 11 p.m. Park had been waiting for several minutes and ringing Simpson's bell without answer until that figure went inside.

Once the person entered, the bell was answered and, according to Park, the familiar voice of O.J. Simpson came on the intercom and apologized for having overslept.

Kaelin's testimony that only three people had keys to the front door would strengthen the prosecution contention that the figure darting across the driveway was in fact Simpson and not some other mysterious person.

Clark was nearing the end of her questioning Wednesday when the court day concluded so she is expected to finish with Kaelin this morning. Robert L. Shapiro will handle the cross-examination for the defense.

Times staff writer Henry Weinstein contributed to this article.

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