Prosecutors Say Hair, Fibers Link Simpson to Scene
On the verge of resting their case against O.J. Simpson, prosecutors Wednesday presented hairs and fibers that they contend link Simpson to the scene of the crimes as well as offer clues about how the killings were carried out.
Among other things, FBI Special Agent Douglas W. Deedrick testified that hairs resembling Simpson’s were found on the body of Ronald Lyle Goldman, that fibers resembling those from Goldman’s shirt were found on gloves discovered at the scene and at Simpson’s estate, and that carpet fibers that could have come from Simpson’s vehicle were found at the crime scene and on the glove found outside Simpson’s house.
The fibers that resembled those from Simpson’s Ford Bronco, the agent said, were an unusual shape and reddish-beige color and could not have come from a nearly identical Bronco belonging to Simpson’s friend Al Cowlings.
“His carpeting was blue,” Deedrick said of Cowlings.
In addition, the agent said a set of bluish-brown fibers--some from Goldman’s shirt, one from Simpson’s socks and more from the glove found on Simpson’s Rockingham estate--also resembled one another, suggesting that they could have come from the same fabric. Deputy Dist. Atty. Marcia Clark suggested that that fabric could have been a dark-colored sweat suit, one that she contends Simpson wore to carry out the attacks on his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Goldman.
Simpson has pleaded not guilty to the double murder. An earlier witness, Brian (Kato) Kaelin, testified that Simpson was wearing a dark sweat suit a few hours before the murders were committed.
Seeking to debunk that evidence, Simpson attorney F. Lee Bailey suggested that the fibers could have been left by any of the uniformed LAPD officers at the scene. Los Angeles police officers wear dark blue uniforms, and Deedrick acknowledged that he had never compared the samples to those uniforms.
In her questioning, Clark paid special attention to the mysterious blue-brown fibers and to the fibers from Simpson’s Bronco--threads so unusual that the expert said he had never seen any like them before. Because of a court order last week, Deedrick was not allowed to tell the jury a potentially compelling detail--that the fibers found on the glove and on a blue knit cap at the crime scene could only have come from Ford Broncos built in 1993 or 1994. Simpson’s is a 1994 model.
Deedrick had failed to turn over to the defense a report on that topic, and when Simpson’s lawyers brought the matter to Superior Court Judge Lance A. Ito’s attention last week, the agitated judge ruled that prosecutors would be precluded from using that evidence.
Instead, Deedrick only was allowed to testify about the similarities between the fibers--which were found on items inside Simpson’s vehicle as well as the glove and knit cap.
“All these fibers . . . from the towel, the shovel, the plastic bag, the Rockingham glove and also the knit hat could have originated from that Bronco,” Deedrick said.
The hairs and fibers that the agent described Wednesday do not allow scientists to draw conclusions as precise as DNA tests performed on blood samples. But unlike the relatively dense science of DNA analysis, hairs and fibers are easily understood by laymen, and the scientific instruments used to study them are hardly more complicated than a microscope.
Moreover, Deedrick said that not only the appearance of the trace evidence but also its distribution can shed light on how the crimes were committed. The presence of Nicole Simpson’s hairs on Goldman’s body, for instance, suggests that the killer may have grabbed her during the attack, picking up some of her hairs, then turned to Goldman--a scenario consistent with testimony from the coroner.
As a result, prosecutors hope that their so-called trace evidence will help them erase any lingering doubt from jurors’ minds before resting their case. Only one scheduled witness remains after Deedrick completes his testimony: Nicole Simpson’s mother, Juditha Brown. But sources said late Wednesday that prosecutors were debating the merits of summoning Brown and might elect to rest their case without her.
With the prosecution presentation winding down, defense attorneys are rushing to firm up their case, one that has changed shape markedly in recent weeks. On Wednesday, sources said the defense turned over a witness list that included Simpson’s mother, daughter and sister, as well as friends of the defendant and others.
Simpson’s attorneys have declined to discuss publicly their precise order of witnesses, but sources say some of their early witnesses may attempt to rebut the prosecution’s contention about the precise time of the murders and others will describe Simpson’s demeanor before and after the crimes. Outside the jury’s presence Wednesday, Deputy Dist. Atty. Christopher A. Darden said prosecutors objected to a number of the defense’s proposed witnesses, saying some were irrelevant and that defense attorneys have yet to turn over statements about others.
Jurors arrived for Wednesday’s session in unusually good spirits, animatedly chatting, smiling at one another and enthusiastically nodding when the judge asked how they had enjoyed their Fourth of July.
“It was great,” one panelist said brightly. Although some jurors have expressed impatience with the pace of a trial they originally had believed would be over by now, the panel enjoyed a number of diversions over the weekend.
Among other things, the group visited Universal Studios and enjoyed a rare family picnic. So it was a rested and apparently relaxed jury that returned to court, where they seemed to pay close attention as Clark questioned the FBI agent about the hair and fiber evidence.
When the prosecutor presented photographs of microscopic analysis of the fibers, all the jurors craned forward to examine the pictures closely. Moments later, when the proceedings were interrupted by a short conference at Ito’s sidebar, at least half the panelists took advantage of the break to write copious notes in their blue and silver pads.
As the afternoon session began, some of the panelists seemed more distracted, glazing over as the trace evidence testimony continued. Some members of the audience--which included Simpson’s mother and University of Oklahoma law professor Anita Hill, who was a guest of the district attorney’s office--also seemed to grow weary with the examination, stirring restlessly during the session.
But when prosecutors displayed a photograph of Goldman’s body slumped near a fence at the crime scene, some spectators gasped audibly. Jurors flinched as well, and when Clark reached the portion of the testimony devoted to the bluish-brown fibers, the panelists seemed to pay close attention.
Near the end of the day, Ito, in a rare comment on the panel’s work, took a moment to thank the jurors for their hard work and resilience over the duration of the long trial.
“You all are doing a great job,” he said. “We appreciate your stamina.”
Prosecutor Struggles, Makes Points
Although the session Wednesday gave jurors a look at compelling and easily understood prosecution evidence, Clark occasionally struggled with her questions, attempting to ask them in a way that Ito would accept.
She did succeed in eliciting the results that favor the prosecution case and in attempting to head off one potential line of questioning that the defense has signaled it might attempt.
In questioning police witnesses, Simpson’s attorneys have suggested that the LAPD compromised trace evidence by covering Nicole Simpson’s body with a blanket taken from inside her house. That blanket, they have said, could have had hair or other fibers deposited by O.J. Simpson because he visited his ex-wife’s house. But Deedrick said that using the blanket probably would not have interfered with the evidence, particularly the hairs and fibers found on the body of Goldman.
Throughout Clark’s questioning, Simpson’s lead trial lawyer, Johnnie L. Cochran Jr., aggressively sought to derail his counterpart. Bailey was the defense lawyer assigned to handle the cross-examination of the agent, but Cochran sat near his colleague and repeatedly urged him to lodge objections.
After one prosecution question, Bailey sat motionless until Cochran barked at him in a stage whisper: “Asked and answered.”
Bailey quickly rose and objected--although on different grounds.
Ito sustained most of the defense objections, forcing Clark to re-craft her questions in sometimes convoluted language. Her struggles also forced a number of sidebar conferences, some of them animated sessions in which the lawyers could be seen arguing vigorously just a few feet from the jurors, who watched with interest.
A newly released set of transcripts revealed that Clark’s difficulties Wednesday were not her first in questioning the FBI witness. According to the transcripts, Ito last week upbraided Clark for suggesting that fibers from the various samples “matched.”
“Miss Clark, you’re flirting with contempt,” Ito told the prosecutor.
“Not intentionally, your Honor,” Clark responded. “I did not mean to say that.”
“You’re warned,” Ito said. “Consider yourself warned. If I hear that word again, it’s going to be--somebody is going to be in jail over the weekend.”
Clark avoided further use of the offending word, and she remained out of custody for the holiday.
Bailey began his cross-examination Wednesday afternoon with a scattershot of challenges to the FBI agent’s credibility. Bailey suggested that Deedrick was inflating his lab experience--a charge he attempted to back up with an exhaustive series of questions about the agent’s work habits--and tried to suggest that the FBI’s lab testing standards for its employees were not rigorous enough.
Deedrick deflected both attacks without apparent difficulty. Ultimately, Bailey dropped both subjects without eliciting any significant admissions from the witness. Instead, the attorney shifted gears, suggesting that the entire area of hair analysis was not scientifically valid.
After acknowledging that various efforts at quantifying hair analysis had not worked out, Deedrick said: “We’re still relying on the old eyeball.”
Bailey then attempted to undermine the agent’s credibility with a scientific study performed by employees of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in which those scientists attempted to quantify aspects of hair analysis. Again, however, Deedrick rebuffed the lawyer by simply rejecting the study’s conclusions.
“I don’t buy that,” he said of the journal report. “I wouldn’t agree with that.”
Deedrick is an experienced law enforcement witness, and at one point he seemed to outsmart the nationally renowned defense attorney. As Bailey tried to suggest that the agent had been forced to devote unusual time and attention to the Simpson case--preparing more charts, for instance, than in any previous case--Deedrick crisply responded: “Not often do we have this many associations” between fibers and a defendant.
Bailey crossed his arms and stood still for a moment. He then moved on to another topic.
As the day drew to a close, Bailey seemed to make better progress, focusing on various ways in which fibers could innocently have found their way onto the victims. Simpson often visited his ex-wife’s home and Nicole Simpson was occasionally at her ex-husband’s, Bailey noted in questions to the witness, which could account for some transfer of hairs and fibers.
Deedrick said he had assumed that the victim and her accused killer had some contact but said it did not affect his conclusions, only the weight others might attribute to them.
Bailey’s cross-examination will continue today. Prosecutors hope to rest their case this week.