UCLA law professor Peter Arenella and Loyola University law professor Laurie Levenson offer their take on the O.J. Simpson trial. Joining them is Los Angeles defense lawyer Marcia A. Morrissey, who will rotate with other experts as the case moves forward. Today’s topic: Defense lawyer Peter Neufeld takes on Cellmark laboratory director Robin Cotton.
On the prosecution: Prosecutors were smiling and one can understand why. Two credible witnesses, Greg Matheson and Cotton, have put the Dennis Fung fiasco to rest by presenting very incriminating evidence of O.J.'s guilt. Cotton is one of those rare expert witnesses who knows how to communicate to the jury with both her words and her manner. Neufeld’s desperate suggestion of financial bias only reinforced the damage Cotton had done to the defense.
On the defense: Unable to undermine Cellmark’s test results, Neufeld offered innocent explanations by relying on ‘garbage in, garbage out’ and conspiracy theories. He used Cellmark’s rigorous testing procedures to suggest the LAPD lab’s more lax methods might have resulted in the contamination of the Bundy swatches with blood from Rockingham. An unknown person’s DNA in the Bronco became that of an LAPD conspirator wiping the Bronco with O.J. and Nicole’s blood.
On the prosecution: Cotton was exquisite. Because she is so smart and prepared, she made Neufeld’s job extremely difficult. For example, when he suggested that LAPD lab procedures were inadequate because they were not on a par with Cellmark’s, Cotton pointed out that her lab must be extra careful because it deals with amplified DNA. The only question Cotton stumbled on was whether her technicians change gloves, an issue she is likely to clarify on redirect.
On the defense: If Cotton charges $1,200 a day for her testimony, Neufeld extracted only about 50 cents of information from her. Question after question, he hit a dead end. Perhaps it was prophetic when the lights went out during his cross. Neufeld tried many different avenues of attack but ultimately he came back to the same theme as Thursday--'garbage in, garbage out.’ The defense theory rests on disappearing DNA and a conspiracy to contaminate swatches.
MARCIA A. MORRISSEY
On the prosecution: On cross-examination, Cotton demonstrated a degree of impatience and even incredulity with the questions from Neufeld. This sharply contrasted with the smooth, even slick presentation by the prosecution on direct. This contrast may demonstrate to the jury that Cotton is not the entirely impartial scientist that the prosecution seeks to present her as, but is rather a proponent of forensic DNA testing.
On the defense: The defense is mounting a broad challenge to Cotton’s testimony, based on contamination of samples, faulty collection procedures and by using a test result that showed a fourth party left blood on the steering wheel. The most important attack that the defense has to make is on the astronomical numbers Cotton offered Thursday, by showing the inadequacy and unreliability of the data base used by Cellmark to generate those numbers.
Compiled by HENRY WEINSTEIN / Los Angeles Times