2nd State Scientist Backs DNA Results : Simpson case: Criminalist Renee Montgomery says a new, more sensitive type of test corroborates earlier evidence. But it gives the defense another area to attack.
The pace of O.J. Simpson’s double murder trial quickened Tuesday, as prosecutors presented a 12th consecutive day of testimony on the DNA tests that they say delineate a trail of blood linking the former football star to the bodies of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Lyle Goldman.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Rockne Harmon led Renee Montgomery, a second criminalist from the state Department of Justice laboratory in Berkeley, through a crisp morning of testimony.
But the relatively rapid pace of Tuesday’s testimony probably was an anomaly. Sources close to the prosecution now say their side may not rest its case until sometime in July, later than previous estimates have indicated.
In just over two hours of direct examination, the 29-year-old Montgomery said the relatively new variety of DNA testing in which she specializes--called D1S80--corroborated testimony the jury previously had heard from her colleague, criminalist Gary Sims, and molecular biologist Robin Cotton, who directs the private Cellmark Laboratory.
D1S80 “is a newer and more powerful technology,” which is particularly useful in measuring small or degraded DNA samples, according to Eric Swenson, author of “DNA in the Courtroom.”
“The state [Department of Justice] lab was one of the first to use it,” he said.
The novelty of D1S80 testing makes it more vulnerable to attack than other forms of measurement, and that formed the basis of defense attorney Robert Blasier’s cross-examination.
Montgomery testified that her tests found DNA consistent with O.J. Simpson’s in swatches of blood collected from the Bundy Drive walkway, where the victims’ bodies were discovered, as well as from three samples lifted from the back gate leading to the alley behind his ex-wife’s condominium. The scientist, who processed 34 of the blood samples in the case, also testified that she found mixtures consistent with DNA matching that of Simpson and the victims in the defendant’s white Bronco and on the right-hand glove discovered on the grounds of Simpson’s Brentwood estate. She also said the socks recovered from O.J. Simpson’s bedroom contained DNA consistent with his and that of his ex-wife. DNA derived from blood swatches collected in the driveway of Simpson’s home also was consistent with the defendant’s, Montgomery said.
Finally, the state criminalist testified that samples of scrapings taken from under Nicole Simpson’s fingernails yielded DNA matching the victim’s, rather than that of an unknown attacker, as the defense has alleged.
None of these results were new, but jurors seemed to pay close attention and many took notes.
Outside the courtroom, Harmon confirmed that prosecutors had not intended to call Montgomery. They did so, he said, only after Judge Lance A. Ito ruled that unless she took the stand, Sims would have been precluded from testifying on the tests she conducted. Still, said Georgetown Law School professor Paul F. Rothstein, Montgomery “was a dynamite witness. Her manner is so unflappable. She seems to have an answer for everything.”
In fact, when defense DNA lawyer Blasier launched his cross-examination, Montgomery’s cool demeanor withstood a painstakingly detailed, afternoon-long interrogation concerning the Department of Justice’s proficiency tests and her subjective interpretation of many of the DS180 tests she conducted on specific items of evidence in the Simpson case. In evidentiary terms, Blasier’s questioning amounted to house-to-house fighting and legal analysts were divided on its effectiveness.
“It’s hard to imagine the jurors are following all this,” said Los Angeles defense lawyer Marcia Morrissey. “The DNA lawyers on both sides are very knowledgeable and very good. But they perhaps lose sight of communicating with the jury.”
Other experts, however, thought that by forcing Montgomery to display the actual films from which she drew her conclusions, Blasier may have dented the aura of scientific authority that has surrounded this sequence of prosecution witnesses.
“Given that the prosecution had to put her on, she provides a real plus for the defense,” said Southwestern University Law School professor Myrna Raeder. “Since she’s the hands-on person, they were able to get into the questions of subjectivity and contamination at a level that wasn’t possible for Sims. The more questions of that type that get raised, the better it is from the defense perspective.”
Georgetown’s Rothstein agreed. “The thrust of the defense attack on Montgomery was to show that there is subjectivity in reading these DNA results,” he said. “She keeps saying you can ignore this bar or that dot. You begin to wonder what is counted as a significant bar and what isn’t. It isn’t a black-and-white science where a bell goes off and tells you O.J. did it.”
Next Up for the Prosecution
Both Harmon and Blasier are expected to finish their re-examinations of Montgomery sometime today. The prosecution then plans to call Los Angeles Police Department criminalist Colin Yamauchi, who performed blood and DNA tests on some of the evidence samples.
When his testimony concludes, prosecutors will recall Sims of the Department of Justice, whose testimony was interrupted Monday so he could return home on family business.
After his appearance, prosecutors will call Deputy Coroner Irwin Golden and his boss, Lakshmanan Sathyavagiswaran. After weeks of scientific testimony, which the defense has assailed with great difficulty, Simpson’s lawyers are looking forward to getting the case back to ground on which they feel more confident.
“Yamauchi will be a key witness,” Raeder said. “The defense theory about degradation and cross-contamination of the Bundy blood drops goes right back to the LAPD lab. So, they’ll come out with guns blazing at Yamauchi.” For their part, prosecutors already have admitted that Golden’s initial autopsy of the victims contained a number of errors, though they also contend they were inconsequential.
Once the coroner’s officials have concluded their stint on the stand, prosecutors plan to call University of North Carolina population geneticist Bruce Weir, who will testify on the statistical basis for DNA analysis. He will be followed by molecular geneticist Brad Popovich, whom prosecutors plan to use to help jurors distinguish between clinical and forensic DNA analysis.
Ito’s Other Deliberations
Ito still has two important issues awaiting his decision. The first is the prosecution’s request to show 40 to 50 grisly crime scene photos, which it contends will assist the jurors in understanding how the crimes occurred. Simpson’s lawyers vigorously oppose such a display. They maintain that there is no debate about the brutality of the crimes, and insist that showing the photos will inflame the jurors in a way that will unfairly prejudice them against Simpson.
Court spokeswoman Jerianne Hayslett said Tuesday that Ito is carefully reviewing each of the photos while preparing a ruling on the question.
The transcript of a sidebar conference released Tuesday revealed that Simpson asked to return to his jail cell rather than attend last Friday’s hearing on the admissibility of the photos.
Before the hearing began, lead defense lawyer Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. told Ito: “I have discussed it with Mr. Simpson, and it’s his desire to not be present. He waives his appearance. And he has asked that those photographs, if they’re going to be displayed, that the court would cut the [TV] feed, which I’m sure you will be doing anyway. But he would like to go back to the jail at this point.”
Ito complied with the request.
Court spokeswoman Hayslett said the judge also is researching issues related to the jurors’ unusual request that he extend the amount of time during which they hear testimony. It was disclosed last week that the jurors have asked Ito to lengthen the half-day sessions on Fridays to full days and to convene court on Saturdays too.
Ito has done a number of things in an attempt to placate the increasingly restive jury, which has been sequestered since Jan. 11 and faces the prospect of being sequestered at least through the summer.
As Ito contemplates the jury’s request, he also may be weighing the trial’s mounting cost to the cash-strapped County of Los Angeles. On Monday, County Supervisor Mike Antonovich announced that through April 30, the net cost of the trial to the county has been $4,986,167, including $1,085,905 for jury sequestration. That is already one-third of the total cost of the McMartin Pre-School molestation case--the longest criminal trial in California history--which cost $15 million over seven years.
The five county departments involved in the Simpson case have spent $5,160,970. The county has recouped $174,803 in rental revenue from various broadcast and cable television networks and stations using the Hall of Justice parking lot.
Antonovich noted pointedly that $4.9-million net cost of the Simpson case has now exceeded the $4.7-million net combined cost of four of the highest-profile trials in Los Angeles’ history: the Night Stalker murder trial, $1,811,260; the Hillside Strangler case, $1,535,830; the Charles Manson murder trial, $768,838; and Sirhan Sirhan’s trial for assassinating Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, $592,806.
But James A. Bascue, supervising criminal courts judge, said in an interview Tuesday that there may be significant financial impediments to conducting a court session on Saturdays.
“If a judge considered holding court on Saturday, lawfully it could only be done on Saturday morning. That’s because from noon to midnight Saturday is considered a holiday under California Government Code 6702.”
So, even if Ito began the day at 8 a.m., no more than four hours of testimony could be heard.
“You have to balance a lot of considerations,” Bascue said. “It takes about $10,000 a day just to operate one Superior Court room.”
On Saturdays, Bascue said, the county would have to reopen closed parking lots, and arrange security and transportation for the defendant and the jurors.
“The question is would it not be wiser to extend your normal court days and would that not be a greater net gain?” Bascue said.
Times staff writer Tim Rutten contributed to this story.