After 5 Months, Prosecution Rests in Simpson Trial : Court: Fifty-eight witnesses testified in a presentation that lasted twice as long as anticipated. Ito tells jurors they will begin hearing defense case Monday morning.
The prosecution in the murder trial of O.J. Simpson rested its case Thursday amid the same conflicts that have distinguished the landmark proceeding since it began more than five months ago: with testimony attempting to link Simpson to the crimes, with defense attorneys suggesting that evidence was mishandled and with the jury shadowed by yet another allegation of misconduct.
The prosecution’s long awaited announcement that “the people rest” concluded an exhaustive, detailed case that began in January and saw 58 witnesses testify before the jury.
In that effort, the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office portrayed Simpson as a possessive, jealous ex-husband who killed Nicole Brown Simpson in the final controlling act of their violent relationship. He murdered Ronald Lyle Goldman, the prosecutors alleged, because the 25-year-old waiter happened upon the scene at the wrong moment.
Government lawyers elicited testimony about previous violence by the football great and attempted to tie him to the crimes through physical evidence, particularly DNA tests performed on what the prosecutors described as a “trail of blood.” The telltale blood drops, they said, led from the two victims to Simpson’s car and, from there, directly into the master bedroom of his Brentwood estate--two miles from where the bodies were discovered just after midnight on June 13, 1994.
Originally, the prosecution had hoped to conclude its case in less than three months; instead, it ran nearly twice that, finally ending Thursday after Deputy Dist. Atty. Marcia Clark read three agreements with the opposing lawyers and briefly presented jurors once again with gruesome photographs of the slashed and stabbed victims. Then, with Simpson looking on and jurors taking notes, Clark quietly, confidently announced that the prosecution case-in-chief was over, pending the judge’s acceptance of the government exhibits.
Jurors, who had appeared jocular earlier in the day, showed no evident emotion at the announcement, but a few seemed mildly surprised to hear the prosecution case end. One man in the front row raised his eyebrows slightly. Two other jurors who had been writing jerked up their heads and looked at Clark.
The rest stared straight ahead, then turned to Superior Court Judge Lance A. Ito as he informed them that they would begin hearing the defense case Monday morning.
Prosecutors had weighed the idea of calling Nicole Simpson’s mother to the stand as their final witness, but instead concluded with the testimony of an FBI hair and trace evidence expert, Douglas W. Deedrick, who spent several days testifying and finished just before lunch on Thursday. Simpson followed the proceedings attentively, taking notes and talking with his lead trial lawyer, Johnnie L. Cochran Jr.
At one point near the end of the day, Ito asked Simpson directly whether he understood the stipulations that his attorneys were entering into with the prosecution. Among other things, those agreements told the jury that Juditha Brown would have testified that she last spoke to her daughter about 9:40 p.m. on the night of the killings, that the eyeglasses found near Nicole Simpson’s body were Brown’s and that the signature on a Bloomingdale’s receipt for a pair of gloves was her daughter’s.
“He does understand that, Your Honor,” Cochran said while the jury was out of the room.
“Is that correct, Mr. Simpson?” Ito asked.
“That is correct,” Simpson said, nodding and answering in a deep, slightly husky voice.
The final day of prosecution testimony featured points made by each side as they grappled with the FBI agent’s description of hair and fiber samples--strands that the government lawyers say back up their circumstantial case pointing to Simpson’s guilt.
Defense attorneys, however, have chipped away at the evidence at every opportunity, and they did so again Thursday, taking one last shot at the final prosecution witness. Under cross-examination, Deedrick acknowledged that his findings were dependent on the work of others, an admission that F. Lee Bailey, one of Simpson’s attorneys, sought in order to bolster the running defense contention that evidence of all types was contaminated by the LAPD. The FBI’s analysis, Bailey said, was only as good as the evidence it received.
“Right,” Deedrick agreed. “We are at the mercy of those that check and send the evidence to us.”
But Clark, whose halting questioning the day before gave way to a more powerful presentation Thursday, concluded her examination of the FBI agent by rebutting key defense points and reminding the jury of other evidence linking Simpson to the murders.
Perhaps the most provocative suggestion that Bailey raised during his cross-examination of the agent was the notion that mysterious blue-black cotton fibers found on several items of evidence could have come from Los Angeles police uniforms. Under cross-examination, Deedrick acknowledged that he had never received LAPD uniforms to compare to the fibers, which Clark had suggested could have come from a dark blue or black sweat suit such as one that Simpson was wearing on the evening of the killings.
Deedrick’s admission that he had never tested the uniforms seemed to help the defense suggestion that police officers--not Simpson--could have shed those fibers. But on Thursday, Clark asked him what fabric is used in LAPD uniforms.
“The ones I’ve seen are wool,” he responded, adding that fibers from them therefore could not have been the ones found at the crime scene. The fibers, he also said, would have appeared black when woven into a garment; LAPD uniforms are blue.
The result: Deedrick said the fibers he observed could not have come from LAPD uniforms.
Another Juror Inquiry
Just as prosecutors were preparing to conclude their case, Ito was faced with yet another allegation of juror misconduct, the latest in a series that has stripped the panel of 10 of its 12 alternate jurors. As a result of that alarming juror attrition, only two alternates remain for the defense case, which Simpson’s attorneys say could last four to six weeks.
Before Thursday’s session began, lawyers for both sides met behind closed doors with Ito for about 90 minutes. When he emerged, Ito provided sketchy details about what had transpired.
“This morning the court conducted an interview of each one of our jurors after the court received information that one of our former jurors, who had been dismissed for misconduct for communicating and writing notes to other jurors, had indeed communicated with one of the sitting jurors,” Ito said, apparently referring to a Latina juror who sources have said was excused after the judge concluded that she had not been truthful about passing a note to another panelist. “The court had to conduct an inquiry as to whether or not such communications were received and what the content was.”
Ito said he had interviewed each juror individually but did not make clear what he found.
“We will proceed,” was all he said.
Ito made those comments outside the jury’s presence, and when the panel was brought into the courtroom a few moments later, the interviews did not appear to have dampened their spirits.
In fact, they followed the Thursday session closely and in apparent good humor, sharing candy and even playing jokes with one another.
During one description of hair and fiber evidence, a white woman juror in the back row leaned forward as if to pick lint off the clothing of another panelist. Several jurors nudged each other at the gag and shared a quiet laugh.
And though some of the panelists have groused about the slow pace of the case, they did not appear angered when Ito told them the end of the prosecution’s case meant that they would be getting their second long weekend in a row.
“I’d like to trade places with you, frankly,” said Ito. “Anybody want to trade?”
Several jurors raised their hands, one with particular enthusiasm. Ito smiled and shook his head.
Before the prosecution could conclude its case, one witness remained, and both sides spent the morning trying to gain advantage through his testimony.
Bailey’s cross-examination of that witness, FBI Agent Deedrick, tackled several different missions with mixed success: For instance, he simultaneously attempted to question Deedrick’s truthfulness while also using the agent’s testimony in an effort to raise doubts about the prosecution case.
In a long series of questions that covered parts of two days, Bailey tried to show that Deedrick was inaccurately representing the number of cases he had handled during his tenure at the FBI. Deedrick had testified that he estimated he had worked on roughly 4,000 cases, but Bailey produced transcripts from other trials and said they showed that the agent had said the same thing as early as 1987.
That was intended to suggest the agent could not be trusted, but Deedrick deflected it without flinching.
“I got to the point where I stopped counting,” he said, nonplussed by Bailey’s accusatory tone. “I’m sure I’ve done more than that.”
Then, after insinuating that the agent had misrepresented his credentials, Bailey seemed to want to capitalize on the very expertise he had questioned, soliciting Deedrick’s expert opinion about the absence of fibers in areas where they might be expected had Simpson been the killer.
According to the lawyer and witness, there were no hairs that appeared to come from either victim in Simpson’s Ford Bronco, no fibers that resembled those from the gloves in the car or on Simpson’s socks and no hair or fibers on other items where they might have been logical to expect.
Bailey questioned Deedrick about each of those items individually, illustrating his questions with a series of graphics displayed above the witness.
Each time Bailey asked about the absence of hairs or fibers from various items, Deedrick responded with a crisp: “That’s correct.”
Clark did not address that final series of questions directly, instead using her closing rounds with Deedrick to dismantle several of the other suggestions that Bailey had raised on cross-examination. The defense attorney had noted, for instance, that hair in the knit cap found close to the bodies did not have dandruff, while hair taken from Simpson several weeks later did.
Clark asked Deedrick whether that was at all surprising, given that the sample from Simpson was taken after he had been in custody for roughly a month. It was not, Deedrick replied, noting that inmates often develop dandruff or other have other changes in their hair once they are put behind bars.
Similarly, the prosecutor attempted to knock down the suggestion that hairs found in a knit cap at the crime scene could have been in there long before the night of the murders. Unlike other hairs that showed evidence of decay, those did not, Deedrick said, suggesting they were deposited more recently.
Then, near the end of her examination, Clark slyly used a question to remind the jurors of the prosecution’s self-described “mountain of physical evidence.”
Speaking loudly and deliberately, Clark asked whether any of Deedrick’s conclusions about hair and trace evidence “take into account that blood drops to the left of bloody Size 12 shoe prints at Bundy match the DNA profile of the defendant?”
She had not even finished the question before Bailey was on his feet.
“I object,” he thundered. Ito sustained the objection, but Clark then posed a nearly identical question.
“Do your hair and fiber conclusions . . . take into account any of the DNA evidence that has been [introduced] into evidence?” she asked.
Ito this time overruled Bailey’s objection, and the witness responded: “No, I wasn’t even aware of any DNA results when I conducted my analysis. The conclusions I reached are independent of that.”
“OK,” Clark responded.
After one last brief exchange with Bailey--in which the lawyer implied that the agent had deliberately failed to record some of his hair and fiber observations with photographs--Clark finished off his appearance by asking whether anything he had heard on the stand had caused him to reconsider any of his testimony.
“None of the questions I have been given influence my opinions,” Deedrick said. “I stand by my results.”
Preparing for the Defense
A few housekeeping matters remain before the defense can begin its case on Monday, one of which theoretically could end the trial altogether.
Defense attorneys typically ask that the judge acquit their clients at the end of the prosecution case, arguing that the evidence could not possibly support a guilty verdict. On Thursday, Ito asked whether the Simpson team would be presenting such a motion, and Cochran responded that the defense attorneys “will be discussing that . . . tonight.”
Cochran told the judge he could go ahead and advise the jury that the defense would begin its case Monday, but as the attorney was speaking, Simpson muttered something to him. Cochran asked for a break and huddled with his client and the defense team.
Again addressing Ito, Cochran said: “Mr. Simpson’s only concern was . . . that if the motion were granted we don’t have to put on anything.”
“If I grant the motion” to acquit, Ito said, “then the jury won’t be here on Monday, will they?”
“That’s all right,” Cochran said. “He has no problem with that.”
Confirming, Ito asked whether that approach was indeed agreeable to Simpson.
“Yes, sir,” he answered.
Legal experts say there is virtually no chance that a motion for a directed acquittal would be granted. Simpson’s lawyers are gearing to put on their case.
Carl A. Douglas, one of Simpson’s attorneys, was in Chicago on Thursday, where he persuaded an Illinois judge to approve California subpoenas for six witnesses--all of whom the defense hopes will testify about Simpson’s demeanor going to Chicago on the night of the murders or returning the next day. Douglas said five had agreed to testify, and the sixth was being sought.
Simpson’s lawyers also have presented prosecutors with a list of 10 other witnesses--including Simpson’s mother, sister and grown daughter--who may be among the first it attempts to call. A few friends and others also are on that list, but prosecutors have objections to many of the witnesses.
Those objections are likely to be hashed out at today’s hearing, clearing the way for testimony to begin again on Monday.
Start your day right
Sign up for Essential California for news, features and recommendations from the L.A. Times and beyond in your inbox six days a week.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.