Stains Not From Preserved Blood, Simpson Jury Told
In a contentious round of questioning with the lawyer who called him to the stand, an FBI agent testified Tuesday that a pair of blood samples introduced by prosecutors in the murder trial of O.J. Simpson did not come from preservative-laced test tubes, as the defense has alleged.
“My data has been misinterpreted by someone else,” Special Agent Roger Martz told the jury, referring to the testimony of Fredric Rieders, a defense expert who testified Monday that the preservative was found in the samples. “And I want to correct that.”
The agent’s testimony, however, also included his acknowledgment that at least one set of his results was consistent with the presence of the preservative. Defense attorneys said that admission bolstered their conspiracy theory and was especially telling coming from a law enforcement agent brought into the case at the request of the prosecution.
The issue is important because the preservative is contained in test tubes used by the LAPD to store blood taken from victims, suspects and others. If the blood on Simpson’s socks and on a gate near the scene of the crimes contained that preservative, it could suggest that the blood was planted on those items rather than splashed there during the murders of Ronald Lyle Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson.
Simpson has pleaded not guilty. Faced with evidence that blood on a sock discovered in his bedroom had genetic markers identical to those of his ex-wife--and that blood on a back gate near the crime scene contained markers that matched his own--Simpson’s lawyers have suggested that the evidence was planted.
They have not offered an explanation for the presence of other blood samples, including drops leading away from the scene, smears from inside his car and drops from a glove found outside his house. Those blood samples also contained genetic markers suggesting that they came from Simpson and the two victims.
On Monday, Rieders said tests of the bloodstains from the gate and sock led him to the conclusion that those drops came from test tubes, not from Simpson or his ex-wife. That was the strongest testimony to date of the defense’s alleged conspiracy theory.
Martz was the analyst who actually performed the tests, however, and prosecutors have long argued that he did not find evidence of the preservative in the samples. When he testified Tuesday, Martz at first seemed to back away from that, telling the jury that some of the results were consistent with the presence of the preservative, known as EDTA.
“Is it consistent with the presence of EDTA?” Simpson attorney Robert Blasier asked of one set of results that Martz produced.
After a brief pause and a deep breath, the agent responded: “Yes.”
Defense attorneys crowed about that testimony, suggesting to reporters during a morning break that the agent essentially had backed up their version of the test results. But when court resumed, a stern and determined Martz repeatedly went out of his way to disabuse the jury of that impression.
“Everyone is saying that I found EDTA,” Martz said, speaking firmly but with a touch of defensiveness. “I have never said that. . . . I am not convinced that EDTA is present on that sock, and I want to make that perfectly clear.”
During one dramatic six-minute stretch, Martz repeated versions of that testimony four times, going out of his way to reiterate it even when the questions were not directly on that point. Before the day was over, Martz would state that point another half-dozen times, sometimes illustrating it with visually compelling charts and graphs.
Jurors, who had followed all of the witness’ testimony with great apparent interest, homed in on that point, which Martz delivered so forcefully that he was leaning almost out of the witness chair as he stared directly at the jurors.
“Those bloodstains did not come from preserved blood,” Martz said. “I was able to prove that on the first day.”
A Suggestion of Bias
Even before the agent had offered that unequivocal testimony, Blasier had tried to suggest that the agent was biased against the defense. The defense lawyer, for instance, elicited Martz’s testimony that the FBI does not assist defense lawyers and drew out his acknowledgment that Tuesday was only the second time he has ever been called to testify by lawyers for a criminal defendant.
The only other time, it turned out later, was when Martz had testified on behalf of police officers charged with murder.
To bolster the suggestion that Martz was predisposed to favor the prosecution, Blasier showed the jury a copy of the letter that prosecutors wrote to the FBI requesting its assistance in the Simpson case.
In that letter, prosecutors asked Martz to perform analyses on blood samples to “refute” allegations that the blood could have come from preservative-laced test tubes. Blasier displayed the letter and suggested that it demonstrated the determination of law enforcement authorities to skew tests against the defendant.
During her cross-examination of Martz, however, Deputy Dist. Atty. Marcia Clark embarked on the unusual task of shoring up the credibility of a defense witness, again confronting him with the letter and asking him directly whether he had felt pressure to report certain results consistent with the prosecution case.
“Did you take that to mean that we were demanding a particular result from you?” Clark asked.
“No,” Martz responded with a short, snorting chuckle. “I did not.”
“Would it have mattered if you thought we had been?” the prosecutor continued.
“No, it would not have,” he said.
After another exchange, Clark continued: “Did you take that to mean anything more than the prosecution’s confidence that such items were not planted?”
“No,” the agent said again. “I did not.”
“And so,” she concluded, “when you went to conduct your test, did you go into it with any bias as to what you would or would not find?”
“No,” he said firmly. “I did not.”
A Change of Roles
Martz’s testimony represented a strange departure for both sides. Defense lawyers put him on the stand, but questioned his credibility and expertise from the start; prosecutors cross-examined him, but he spent his breaks consulting with the government lawyers, and during his time on the stand was clearly more comfortable fielding questions from the prosecutor.
The odd juxtaposition reflects Martz’s unusual place in the case. He performed the tests that a defense expert interpreted favorably for Simpson, but he reached conclusions that go against the defendant.
Given the choice, defense lawyers might have chosen not to call Martz because they knew his findings were not favorable to their case. But the defense expert did not perform his own experiments, so the only way Simpson’s lawyers were allowed to elicit Rieders’ opinion that the preservative was on the sock and gate was if they were willing to put on the FBI agent as well.
And because Rieders’ opinion is so central to their conspiracy theory--in fact, it is the only physical evidence introduced so far to support it--the defense was forced to endure Martz’s testimony to advance their argument that police tampered with evidence in the case.
The role reversal was striking to observers and lawyers alike; at one point, Clark even joked about it with one of Simpson’s attorneys. As Clark and Simpson lawyer Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. emerged from a meeting with Superior Court Judge Lance A. Ito, the prosecutor glanced at another member of the defense team, and both yawned simultaneously.
“I’m having trouble keeping myself awake, but don’t blame me,” Clark joked out of the jury’s earshot. “They did it. They called him.”
Although Blasier never accused Martz of tampering with evidence--the FBI agent has never worked for the Los Angeles Police Department, and the rivalry between those two agencies has a long history--the defense did suggest that the agent stopped doing tests after quickly concluding that the evidence favored the prosecution’s position.
Blasier, a methodical lawyer with a scientific bent, suggested one test after another that he said Martz could have performed to learn more about substances in the blood samples. Each time, the agent conceded that he had not performed the analyses.
Undaunted by the technical nature of the questioning, jurors paid close interest. Many took notes as Blasier fired questions, pausing only to slip on his reading glasses and refer to his pad before again plunging ahead.
They seemed particularly intrigued when Martz acknowledged that he had destroyed his original data after conducting his experiments.
“I had made my opinion, a very careful opinion,” the agent said. “I did not need to look at that data again.”
Clark again tried to repair any damage from that statement--Martz is the second FBI agent to testify in the Simpson case, and the defense has attacked both for not turning over material related to their work. In her questioning, the prosecutor pointed out that while Martz had not performed additional experiments, neither had experts retained by the defense.
Repeating each test cited by the defense, Clark asked each time whether the agent had any knowledge of defense experts performing the same analyses that Simpson’s team faulted him for failing to perform. Each time, Martz said that, as far as he knew, the defense had not performed those analyses either.
Nine of the jurors seemed to jot down that testimony in their note pads, and the entire panel watched with close interest.
Moreover, Martz testified that although he had destroyed his data because he did not consider it important, he added under cross-examination that he could re-create it if asked.
“Has anyone asked you to do that?” Clark asked.
“No, they have not,” he answered.
“When Mr. Blasier visited you in Washington, D.C.,” the prosecutor continued, “did he ask you to do that?”
“No,” Martz said again. “He did not.”
Blasier, sitting a few feet away, appeared nonplussed by that remark. He chewed silently on the stem of his eyeglasses and did not object.
Testimony About Gloves
Testimony was cut short Tuesday because a juror had an appointment. After the jurors left for the afternoon, however, Ito turned to the first of several motions that will significantly affect the conduct of the defense case over the coming few weeks.
Ito previously had curtailed the proposed testimony of a defense expert, Herbert MacDonnell, whom Simpson’s lawyers wanted to question about blood found inside the socks. Defense lawyers were angered by that ruling, but they still want MacDonnell to tell the jury about an experiment he conducted on leather gloves to determine how long they took to dry after they were smeared with blood and to discern how much they shrunk.
Simpson’s lawyers said the experiment was relevant because two Los Angeles police detectives testified that the glove appeared wet when they found it the following morning. And the issue of shrinkage was important, they said, because prosecutors elicited testimony about how much leather gloves shrink after conducting a courtroom demonstration in which Simpson tried on the bloodstained gloves and proclaimed to the jury that they did not fit.
Prosecutors countered by saying that the portion of the experiment regarding the time it took for the gloves to dry was irrelevant because the detectives only testified that it appeared wet but that they did not touch it. And they protested the testimony about shrinkage because they said the defense expert had not replicated all the conditions to which the glove was subjected.
Peter Neufeld, one of Simpson’s lawyers, passionately protested the prosecution effort to curtail MacDonnell’s testimony.
When the defense began its case, Neufeld said in a loud voice, “one member of the prosecution staff made a statement that it was time now for the defense to put up or shut up. We’re trying to put up. But every time we want to put forward [a scientific witness], they move to preclude that evidence.”
Ito, who has ruled in favor of the prosecution on several recent motions, this time split the difference. MacDonnell will be allowed to present the evidence about shrinkage but not about how long it would take the glove to dry.
Outside court, Deputy Dist. Atty. Hank Goldberg shrugged off the decision.
“It’s a discretionary call, and the judge exercised his discretion,” the prosecutor said. “That’s all I have to say.”
When court resumes this afternoon after the funeral of a deputy who was killed last week, the agent will return to the stand. MacDonnell is expected to testify today or tomorrow.
Ito has yet to rule on two other motions before him: One involves the proposed testimony of witnesses on the question of Detective Mark Fuhrman’s alleged racial animus, and the other deals with the defense’s desire to question a police official about an inaccurate story run by a local television station on DNA tests in the case.
The station reported last September that two DNA tests on the socks had found genetic markers matching Nicole Simpson’s. But no DNA tests had been completed at that point, and the defense argues that the station’s sources must have had advance knowledge of how the tests would turn out--evidence, it says, of a conspiracy to plant evidence.
Prosecutors do not want the defense to be allowed to ask a police official if she was the source of that false report. Defense lawyers are protesting, and Ito--who was fiercely critical of the KNBC report and publicly denounced it from the bench--may take that issue up as early as today.
* TOWING FIRM PUNISHED: A towing firm’s license was suspended over its handling of O.J. Simpson’s Bronco. B6
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