Limo Driver’s Testimony Centers on Bronco, Luggage : Simpson trial: Park and another witness also offer confusing accounts involving piece of mystery baggage.
The limousine driver who took O.J. Simpson to the airport on the night of the June 12 murders conceded to a defense lawyer Wednesday that he cannot be absolutely sure the defendant’s car was not parked outside his home at a key time. But he also agreed with a prosecutor trying to downplay other elements of his testimony.
In addition, the driver, Allan Park, and another witness also offered a confusing account of the luggage that Simpson took on his way to Chicago shortly after the murders were committed. Park remembered seeing four or five bags go into the limousine, while a skycap said he saw only three at the other end. Prosecutors have suggested that at some point Simpson discarded one bag--which authorities believe contained a murder weapon and bloody clothes--but have not explained how or where that happened.
To further explain the luggage mystery, prosecutors said late Wednesday that they plan to call one of Simpson’s lawyers to the stand. Robert Kardashian, a longtime friend of Simpson and a member of his legal team, was seen walking away from Simpson’s house with a bag on the day after the murders. Another piece of Simpson’s luggage was recovered this week at the defense’s request from Kardashian’s garage.
Although prosecutors want Kardashian to testify, he has hired a lawyer and may fight the effort to put him on the stand.
Wednesday, in a day of mostly mundane testimony tracking Simpson’s movements on the night of the murders, prosecutors called Los Angeles International Airport skycap James Williams, who checked in Simpson’s bags about 11:30 p.m. June 12. Williams added little of substance to the case, but spent an hour or so on the stand and joked with the judge and lawyers about the water he was given to drink.
“Tastes like someone did a load of laundry in it,” Williams said of the water from a nearby drinking fountain. Jurors smiled, and Deputy Dist. Atty. Marcia Clark burst out laughing. When it came time for Williams to leave the courtroom, even Superior Court Judge Lance A. Ito joined in on the joke.
“Take the water with you,” the judge told him, again drawing laughter from the audience. Williams did, wandering aimlessly in the courtroom with his red plastic cup before a bailiff showed him the way out.
Before leaving, Williams told the jury that Simpson tipped him with a $20 bill at the airport, a tidbit that tends to corroborate the testimony of Simpson house guest Brian (Kato) Kaelin, who said that Simpson asked him for change to tip the skycap and that Kaelin gave him a $20 bill. Williams also said Simpson stood near a trash can at the airport, but said he did not look closely at Simpson and could not say whether the football great had dumped anything into that trash can.
Prosecutors offered no evidence that Simpson put anything in the can, but asked a number of questions about how often the trash was collected.
Simpson has pleaded not guilty to the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Lyle Goldman. Despite extensive searches in Los Angeles and Chicago, authorities have not recovered the murder weapon or the bloody clothes that they believe Simpson was wearing at the time of the slayings.
Williams’ appearance lightened the court day, but most of the session was devoted to the remaining testimony of Park, the limousine driver who picked up Simpson and took him to the airport. Testifying for the second day, Park gamely fielded repetitive questions from both sides. Despite their efforts, he stuck to the essentials of his testimony and refused to shade it to favor either side.
“You cannot tell this jury positively that a vehicle was parked there outside the Rockingham gate or not, can you?” Johnnie L. Cochran Jr., Simpson’s lead trial lawyer, asked Park.
“No,” he replied.
Whether Simpson’s white Ford Bronco was parked on Rockingham Avenue before 10:45 p.m. on June 12 is a potentially key question in the trial because prosecutors believe that Simpson killed his ex-wife and her friend about 10:15 p.m., then rushed home in the Bronco to meet his airport limousine.
Park has testified that he did not see the Bronco when he twice passed by the gate, once about 10:22 p.m. and again about 10:39 p.m., suggesting that Simpson could have arrived shortly after that and hastily parked his car in the street out of Park’s sight.
However, Park’s concession Wednesday that he cannot be absolutely sure of those observations either could dilute their significance or impress jurors with his meticulousness.
At the same time, Park agreed with Clark that he had looked in the area where the car was parked and has no memory of having seen it there. He also concurred with her attempts to dismiss the importance of some defense points from the day before.
In his earlier testimony, Park had said he did not see cuts or bandages on Simpson’s hands, an admission that bolstered the defense argument that Simpson was not cut in a struggle with Goldman.
Wednesday, however, Park testified that he had never looked closely at Simpson’s left hand and was not paying particular attention to it.
“How carefully were you trying to observe the defendant’s body and hands when he came downstairs finally to the limousine?” Clark asked.
“Not at all,” Park said.
“Did you pay any attention to his hands at all?” she continued.
“No,” he said.
Outside the jury’s presence, prosecutors reminded Ito that Simpson told police that he thought he had cut himself at his estate that evening, a contention that would make the dispute about his cuts irrelevant. But jurors still have not heard that statement and may not hear it unless Simpson chooses to take the stand and prosecutors use it to impeach his testimony.
Clark also used her questioning of Park to explain away other things that he did not observe while at the Simpson estate--not noticing, for instance, drops of blood on the driveway or in the foyer of Simpson’s house. Clark asked Park about the lighting in the area, which he said was dim, and about the focus of his attention, which he said was on delivering Simpson to the airport on time, not on taking account of his property.
The prosecution also hinted outside the jury’s presence that it may soon introduce new evidence regarding the mysterious missing bag.
“We hope to present more evidence tomorrow relative to what happened to the bag in which the bloody clothes were carried,” Deputy Dist. Atty. Christopher A. Darden said, adding that prosecutors would share that evidence with the defense as soon as it came into their possession.
Cochran dismissed Darden’s contention and accused him of playing to the television cameras. The prosecution case, Cochran said, is “based upon hopes and dreams, and they’re evaporating.”
But Darden, who is rarely shy about tangling with the defense, lashed back wryly.
“Nobody calls us the Dream Team, Mr. Cochran,” the prosecutor responded.
That confrontation took place outside the presence of the jury, as did a continuation of a dispute that erupted last week.
At issue was Clark’s contention that Simpson and his ex-wife had argued on the afternoon of the murders. After meeting with the judge at sidebar, Clark was allowed last week to ask Kaelin whether Simpson had told him that he argued with his ex-wife during a conversation on his cellular phone.
She was given permission to ask that question after telling Ito that a witness at Simpson’s country club overheard him yelling into the phone. Although that witness recalled the time of the conversation as about 4 p.m., Clark said phone records would show that it was earlier in the day and would demonstrate that he probably was talking to his ex-wife.
Wednesday, however, defense attorneys accused Clark of misrepresenting the evidence and asked Ito to sanction the prosecution. Douglas said the witness would only say that Simpson appeared serious, not that he was yelling. He added that the phone records show six other calls made about the same time and therefore any of them could have been the people to whom Simpson was speaking.
On behalf of the prosecution, Darden disagreed. He said that the witness would testify as promised by prosecutors and that she had contacted the prosecution Tuesday night to reiterate that her recollections had not changed since she initially was interviewed by authorities.
Ito did not immediately impose sanctions requested by the defense, but said he would take the matter under advisement and rule later. He then called in the jury to hear Park’s remaining testimony.
In contrast to Park’s earlier testimony, which unfolded quickly as he offered significant nuggets for both sides, Wednesday’s session bogged down, partly because of a long and puzzling dispute over items of luggage belonging to Simpson.
Prosecutors have made much of the small bag or knapsack that Park and Kaelin have testified was sitting on Simpson’s driveway when the limousine driver came to take him to the airport. Kaelin said he moved to pick up the bag, but Simpson interrupted him and said he would get it himself, a conversation that Park testified to overhearing.
The prosecution has said no one has ever seen that bag since and has implied to the jury that Simpson might have stuffed it inside one of his other pieces of luggage as the limousine sped to the airport.
Wednesday, Cochran presented Park with a number of pieces of luggage, some of which he recognized as bags from that night and others of which appeared unfamiliar to him. But their relevance was difficult to fathom because neither side maintains that any of those bags figured in the crime in any way, and defense attorneys did not produce the small bag that prosecutors have suggested is linked to the crime.
In the swirling debate over the bags, even a retired Superior Court judge, Delbert Wong, was called to the stand. Wong testified that he, acting as a special master for Ito, had recovered several bags this week. He identified each of them and explained where he had recovered them.
Again, however, the significance of those pieces of luggage--including a pair of duffels and a Louis Vuitton garment bag--was difficult to assess. In part, that is because no one has accounted for the whereabouts of those bags over the past several months, nor has anyone suggested that they were used to hold evidence in the case.
Prosecutors objected to the introduction of some of the bags, calling it an attempt to trick Park into misidentifying some of the luggage. When he was shown some of the bags, Park said he recognized some but not others.
He had some difficulty with a golf bag, saying that it did not appear to have the same emblem that he saw that night. The company that makes the bag, however, only manufactured a few of them for members of its board, and thus the one in court was in all likelihood the one that Simpson carried.
Cochran zeroed in on that point as well as one other possible area in which Park’s memory was faulty. The driver said he had seen two cars in Simpson’s driveway as he was leaving the property shortly after 11 p.m., but defense lawyers say there was only one at that hour.
One of the cars was Simpson’s Bentley, apparently parked in the driveway. The other belonged to Simpson’s daughter, Arnelle Simpson, who did not return home until after Simpson had left for the airport, according to her earlier testimony.
But those small discrepancies did little to undermine Park’s overall account, and both the defense and prosecution have reason to accept the driver’s credibility. His account is essential to the prosecution’s timeline for the murders, while his testimony about Simpson’s demeanor--his pausing to tip the driver and sign an autograph, among other things--may support the defense contention that Simpson was not behaving like a murderer just an hour after the killings.
In addition, Park has no known reason to shade his testimony. He did not know Simpson before his brief encounter with him June 12, he is not affiliated with the law enforcement agencies investigating the case, and he has no known financial stake in the outcome. Over the past few days, he has testified meticulously and without evident bias and appeared to enjoy good relations with both sides.
As Park left the courtroom Wednesday, he paused at the defense table and briefly spoke with Cochran. Both men smiled and laughed quietly before Park continued out of the room.
Wednesday’s testimony came as the current phase of the prosecution case was winding down. Today or tomorrow, the prosecution is expected to shift into the next part of its case, the collection and testing of evidence from the scene of the crime and from Simpson’s estate.
Prosecutors are expected to call a Westec security company employee today to testify about the night of the murders, when police called on Westec for assistance in getting information about Simpson’s whereabouts. In addition, they hope to call Kardashian, who may be asked to elaborate on the testimony about Simpson’s luggage.
Among the next witnesses are expected to be the Police Department employees who collected blood and hair samples. Defense lawyers have fiercely criticized the collection of evidence and have accused police of contaminating and corrupting the blood and hair samples to the point that jurors should not trust any scientific test results.