Tape recordings that allegedly include racist remarks by Detective Mark Fuhrman that O.J. Simpson’s lawyers would like to bring before the jury, will be the subject of a North Carolina court fight Friday.
The tapes contain interviews with several police officers by a professor who uses such interviews in writing screenplays.
Simpson’s lead lawyer, Johnnie L. Cochran Jr., hopes to persuade a Winston-Salem, N.C., judge to order the professor, Laura Hart McKinny, to come to Los Angeles to testify in Simpson’s double murder trial.
McKinny, 44, a professor in the filmmaking school at the North Carolina School of the Arts, is fighting the subpoena to turn over the tapes and is attempting to avoid testifying, according to her Century City attorney, Matthew H. Schwartz.
Schwartz declined to say why his client is resisting, but indicated in a telephone interview that her position is based on 1st Amendment grounds. “I’m duty-bound not to discuss the contents of the tapes,” he said. Schwartz said he and McKinny will explain her stance at a news conference in Winston-Salem today.
However, criminal defense lawyer Robert Craig of Burlington, N.C., who is serving as local counsel for Simpson’s attorneys, said Tuesday that Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Lance A. Ito had granted the defense request to subpoena McKinny, setting the stage for Friday’s hearing. Craig, calling McKinny “a material and necessary witness,” said she interviewed Fuhrman and other Los Angeles police officers about their jobs between 1985 and 1994.
“It goes without saying that there are statements in there that demonstrate that Mark Fuhrman has made racist statements in the past 10 years, contrary to what he said in court,” Craig said. He indicated that this conclusion was based on conversations he has had with Simpson attorney F. Lee Bailey, since Craig has not heard the tapes.
“I imagine this is information she [McKinny] wants to sell and doesn’t want in the public domain,” Craig said. “But Mr. Simpson’s 6th Amendment rights to a fair trial, including the fundamental right to compel people to testify,” should outweigh any 1st Amendment claims, Craig said.
Evidence that Fuhrman made racist comments could prove very helpful to Simpson.
For nearly a year, a cornerstone of Simpson’s defense has been that Fuhrman is a racist cop who may have planted evidence against the defendant, including a bloody glove the detective found at Simpson’s house several hours after the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Lyle Goldman. Blood with genetic markers that suggested it could have come from Simpson and the two victims was found on the glove, according to testimony introduced at the trial.
Bailey and private investigator Pat McKenna have been traversing the country in recent months, seeking to find anyone who could contradict Fuhrman’s denial on the witness stand that he had used the word nigger in the past decade. Sources said the existence of McKinny’s tapes was discovered during this process.
Fuhrman has alleged that he is the victim of a vicious smear campaign and has filed a libel lawsuit against defense lawyer Robert L. Shapiro and New Yorker magazine, in which a July 25, 1994, article by Jeffrey Toobin first raised the framing theory.
McKinny declined to return a call seeking comment. Officials at the college where she teaches referred a call to Schwartz.
Last week, McKinny told the Winston-Salem Journal that she uses her interviews as a basis for writing screenplays. Schwartz declined to state what screenplays McKinny has written. Officials at the Screen Writers Guild and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences said they have no record of any screen credits for McKinny.
Nonetheless, sources said Cochran also is trying to obtain one of McKinny’s screenplays, which allegedly bears on Fuhrman’s racial attitudes.
Prosecutors in the Simpson case have tried on numerous occasions, with some success, to limit evidence about Fuhrman. Ito has permitted the defense to call two witnesses--Kathleen Bell and Andrea Terry--who allegedly heard Fuhrman make racist comments. They have yet to testify.
Ito is scheduled to hear a prosecution motion today seeking to prohibit any other testimony on this issue. “Despite defense promises to the contrary, they have failed to come up with any evidence that Detective Fuhrman either had the opportunity to plant the glove or that he actually did so,” prosecutor Cheri Lewis contends in the motion. “Consequently, whether or not he is a racist is an issue with no probative value in this case. . . . Thus, to allow additional witnesses to testify that the detective used that inflammatory word . . . would add nothing of significant probative value . . . and would be highly prejudicial to the people.”