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THE O.J. SIMPSON MURDER TRIAL : Plumbing the Secret World of Media Leaks

Rooting out the source of an unauthorized leak is a frustrating business, as O.J. Simpson defense attorney Peter Neufeld learned Tuesday.

In an effort to find out the source of leaks of confidential blood test results, Neufeld put Michele Kestler, head of the Los Angeles Police Department crime lab, on the witness stand.

Neufeld bored in on Kestler, a calm, composed woman with the look of a strong boss who knows everything going on in her laboratory. She probably knows the lowdown on the entire LAPD since her husband is a Los Angeles police detective. But her answers were minimal, often monosyllables.

Still, before the morning had ended, the relentless New York lawyer appeared to be zeroing in on a target. But he also was learning how hard it was to crack the secret world of leak-givers and leak-takers who are responsible for so much of the news you read and see.

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Some leak for friendship. More do it to curry favor with an important journalist, television station, network or publication. Others do it to right wrongs, to redress an injustice. But most leakers have a more principled motive--to blow the whistle on corruption or mismanagement or to influence the outcome of a business deal, a political campaign or a criminal trial.

Many readers and viewers take leaks at face value. When they read or hear a story based on “authoritative sources,” they assume it to be true. Amazingly, this misconception was reflected by Judge Lance A. Ito, who said in court Tuesday that a leak “must be something that is in fact” correct.

Defense attorney Neufeld corrected him, pointing out that a leak can be “misinformation.” He knows that leakers frequently plant erroneous stories to destroy governments, politicians, business leaders and entertainers. They hope gullible or unethical reporters will run the bogus story and inflict heavy damage before the truth catches up with it. Other times erroneous stories are leaked simply because the leaker got it wrong.

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Neufeld concentrated Tuesday on two stories.

One, appearing in The Times last Sept. 15, quoted sources close to the case as saying that final DNA tests showed Simpson was the source of at least some of the blood drops found near the bodies of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman.

The other, by KNBC reporter Tracie Savage, reported on Sept. 21 that Simpson’s socks had been subjected to DNA analysis, which detected Nicole Simpson’s blood. The journalist quoted what she termed “knowledgeable sources,” even though the DNA tests had not yet been made. It was a less-sophisticated test that Savage incorrectly reported as a DNA analysis.

Neufeld punched away at Kestler, the crime lab chief. When did the lab get the blood reports? Who received them? Who outside the lab were told of the results?

The homicide detectives investigating the case, she answered, and the district attorney’s office.

Neufeld asked about The Times’ story. When did her police lab receive the test results indicating Simpson’s blood was found near the bodies? Sept. 12, she said. When were they sent to the district attorney? Sept. 16, she replied.

That left a four-day gap in which the test results were in the exclusive custody of the LAPD. Neufeld seemed to feel that this was proof that someone in the LAPD did the leaking.

Neufeld then turned to the Savage story, and the test on which it was based.

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And who was the leaker? Neufeld singled out an influential cop named Dave Gascon, now a deputy chief but then the commander in charge of press relations.

Without warning, Neufeld asked a surprise question: Is Dave Gascon a friend of Tracie Savage?

The prosecutors objected vigorously and Ito sustained them. But the implication was clear: Dave Gascon was the leaker.

Gascon vigorously denied leaking when the allegation came up in the past, and was promoted to deputy chief after it was investigated by the Police Department’s internal affairs division.

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The defense team filed a motion in court Tuesday to obtain the results of the internal affairs investigation. And defense lawyers are trying to force Savage to reveal the source of her story.

The defense also is trying to question another writer, book author Joe Bosco, about a story he wrote for Penthouse last July saying “a certain police officer” leaked the KNBC test results story.

Bosco and Savage have invoked the shield law--a provision of the California Constitution protecting journalists from having to reveal their confidential sources. “With all due respect to the court, I must invoke the reporters’ shield,” Bosco told the judge Tuesday.

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The defense will try to crack the shield. But the constitutional protection, along with the secretiveness of leakers, makes the undertaking all but impossible.


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