In a meandering conclusion to her time on the witness stand in the murder trial of O.J. Simpson, criminalist Andrea Mazzola fended off suggestions Thursday that she lied, and she told the jury she made no mistakes that could have contaminated evidence in the case.
Defense attorney Peter Neufeld, whose questioning of Mazzola took far longer than even he anticipated, drifted through an array of subjects in his final chance to grill her. By day’s end, Neufeld had exasperated both the prosecution team and Superior Court Judge Lance A. Ito, whose expressed desire to move the trial along was thwarted by the attorney’s looping, repetitive style.
Ito repeatedly interrupted him, chastising him for raising one issue “over and over and over,” and cutting off one line of questioning by saying: “You’ve made your point.”
During one particularly pointed moment, Ito halted Neufeld in mid-sentence.
“Are you about to finish with your cross-examination?” Ito asked angrily. “Do you have anything new because cross-examination is about to end.”
Despite that testy upbraiding in front of the jury, Neufeld plowed ahead, accusing Mazzola of exposing blood samples to cross-contamination in the Los Angeles Police Department laboratory and suggesting that she intentionally had tailored her testimony to cover up for her negligence and that of her colleagues. Neufeld also highlighted Mazzola’s failure to initial certain items of evidence, despite earlier testimony in an August hearing in which she said she had.
Mazzola admitted that her earlier testimony was wrong, but denied Neufeld’s suggestion that her failure was part of a larger LAPD cover-up of wrongdoing in the Simpson case.
Five days after the June 12 murders of Ronald Lyle Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson, police arrested Simpson and he was charged with the crimes. He has pleaded not guilty, and his attorneys have aggressively attacked the integrity of the investigation against their client.
Trying to repair any damage to Mazzola’s credibility during her prolonged cross-examination, Deputy Dist. Atty. Hank Goldberg used his opportunity Thursday to suggest that even if the criminalist had made mistakes, they would not have affected the integrity of the evidence.
“Are there any mistakes that you can think of that you could have made that could have caused the blood at that location to somehow change into the defendant’s blood?” Goldberg asked, prompting Neufeld to object.
Rephrasing his question slightly, Goldberg then asked: “Are they any mistakes that you can think of that you could have made that could have caused those stains to become contaminated in such a way that they . . . had the same genetic markers as the defendant’s blood?”
Neufeld also objected to that question, so Goldberg continued: “Are you aware of any mistakes that you made, or could have made, to contaminate those stains?”
“No,” she replied simply.
In Mazzola’s waning hours on the stand, she disclosed one potentially important new tidbit of information: The criminalist said she had seen one of her colleagues take a vial of Simpson’s blood out of a black plastic garbage bag on the morning of June 14, the day after the two criminalists collected much of the evidence in the case.
That observation is important because it bolsters the testimony of Mazzola’s supervisor, Dennis Fung, who said he received that blood vial on the afternoon of June 13, placed it in the garbage bag and then removed it the following morning. Defense attorneys have tried to suggest that Fung actually received the blood on the morning of June 14, potentially important timing because it would have allowed a police detective a full night with Simpson’s blood sample--time the defense alleges could have been spent tainting items with that blood.
The defense has not offered any evidence to support that allegation, and prosecutors have attempted to rebut it in two ways: by offering testimony that the transfer actually took place on June 13 and by conducting tests on the blood samples to determine whether they contain a special preservative. That preservative, known as EDTA, is added to samples drawn by the LAPD, so if it is present in the samples collected from the crime scene and Simpson’s home, it would strengthen the defense’s contention that those samples were stained with Simpson’s blood sample.
Sources have said that tests performed so far have found no traces of the preservative, suggesting that the sample was not used to stain evidence.
More Juror Concerns
Despite a few new nuggets of information from Mazzola, the defense and prosecution themes presented Thursday were familiar, and Ito sustained objections by both sides objecting to the repetitive testimony.
The redundancies have worn Ito’s patience, and apparently have risked losing the interest of some jurors as well.
A transcript of a sidebar conference released Thursday revealed that defense lawyers and Ito were concerned that one of the alternate panelists seemed uninterested in the testimony.
“I just wanted to point out,” defense lawyer Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. told Ito during the conference, “she seems like looking--just looking ahead and hasn’t taken any notes all day and preoccupied.”
Ito responded: “I have been watching.” Thursday, however, she was back in her seat, attentively taking notes and appearing to follow the proceedings closely.
In recent weeks, two jurors have raised concerns about remaining on the panel. One, a young flight attendant, begged Ito to be allowed to leave the panel, saying she was fed up with the sheriff’s deputies assigned to guard it. Ito resolved that problem when he removed three of the deputies.
But another juror, a 38-year-old Pacific Bell employee who led support for the deputies, has since said she may need to be excused to care for her ill husband. Ito has not announced a decision about that juror.
Despite the uproar that has engulfed the jury in recent days, the panel has not lost a juror or alternate for more than three weeks, a period of relative stability for a group that lost six members between late January and early April. Six alternates remain for a case that is expected to last through the summer.
When she first took the stand last week, lawyers on both sides of the Simpson case predicted that Mazzola would be a relatively minor witness. She was the junior criminalist involved in the murder investigation, her work supervised by the thoroughly questioned Dennis Fung.
Indeed, Mazzola’s initial questioning by Goldberg was brief, as the prosecutor guided her through her credentials and her actions during the investigation. She admitted that criminalists occasionally make mistakes, but defended her performance and that of Fung.
During her cross-examination and subsequent rounds of questioning, however, the queries have gone further and further afield.
Some analysts said the prolonged questioning had not helped either side.
“There is a point of diminishing returns,” said Santa Monica defense attorney Gigi Gordon. “When you do a cross-examination, you’re not doing it for yourself. You’re doing it for the 12 jurors. You’re not doing it for formality or because this is an endless tennis match with endless volleys going back and forth. They don’t seem to have a stop button.”
By the time Thursday’s session was over, Mazzola was testifying on such arcane topics as the importance of initial evidence samples and on the type of key used to unlock doors in the LAPD lab.
Given the opportunity to question her last, Goldberg attempted to ridicule the defense’s attack on Mazzola by allowing her to defend the quality of her work and by implying that any mistakes she might have made had no effect on the evidence itself. In response to the defense suggestion that blood samples were left unguarded overnight, for instance, Goldberg asked sarcastically whether Mazzola had seen “anyone scurry into the room and hide” before she and Fung left.
“No,” she said, contemptuously glancing in the direction of the defense table. When she and Fung left, she added, “the door was closed . . . and locked.”
The issue of precisely when Mazzola and Fung received Simpson’s blood vial from Detective Philip L. Vannatter has been a source of particularly prolonged debate, and it surfaced Thursday in a variety of ways. Following up on Mazzola’s testimony that a bag she carried away from Simpson’s house on June 13 had discernible weight to it, Neufeld confronted her with a test tube full of water and an evidence envelope.
As his co-counsel grinned smugly, Neufeld handed that envelope to one of the jurors, who in turn passed it to the rest of the panel. Each juror held it briefly, testing the weight before passing it along.
When Mazzola finally finished her questioning on a day that Ito extended so that she could conclude, she left the witness stand with her characteristic reserve. As the lawyers haggled over a few legal issues, she quietly gathered up her things and left the courtroom.
Police Scientist Next
Mazzola’s longer-than-anticipated questioning forced the postponement of the prosecution’s next anticipated witness, Gregory Matheson, a supervising criminalist from the LAPD’s Scientific Investigation Division.
Matheson is expected to describe conventional tests run on bloodstains collected from the scene of the June 12 murders--tests that he said during the preliminary hearing pointed to Simpson as the likely source of drops leading away from the bodies. In his testimony at that hearing, Matheson said that 99.57% of the population could be excluded as the source of one of those blood drops, but that Simpson was in the remaining portion of the population that could have left that blood.
Although the tests that Matheson described are less precise than the DNA analysis later run on those and other blood samples, they nevertheless mark one element in the prosecution’s body of physical evidence.
It is that evidence--combined with Simpson’s alleged history of domestic abuse and the witnesses who cast doubt on his whereabouts on the night of the killings--that the government lawyers contend will prove Simpson is a murderer.
Matheson will not take the stand today, however, because Ito canceled the court session in order to accommodate the lawyers’ schedules. Instead, Ito plans a relatively brief session outside the jury’s presence to determine whether a courtroom artist should be punished for producing drawings of the jury that are too accurate and thus might make them identifiable.
The artist, Bill Robles, has said that he did nothing wrong and that he has always left off facial features in his jury drawings.
Trial will resume Monday, and as the jury left for the weekend, Ito promised them “a full week of testimony” next week.
Times legal affairs writer Henry Weinstein contributed to this story.