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THE O.J. SIMPSON MURDER TRIAL

UCLA law professor Peter Arenella and Loyola Law School professor Laurie Levenson offer their take on the Simpson trial. Joining them is defense attorney Gerald L. Chaleff, who will rotate with other experts as the case moves forward. Today’s topic: No harm, no foul?

PETER ARENELLA

On the defense: Nicked and scratched but still standing, John Gerdes survived his first day of cross. He has not wavered from his bottom line that improper LAPD handling of evidence created a significant risk of cross-contamination that could not be detected by subsequent tests. Though he conceded that his interpretation of DNA tests that implicated Simpson did not conclusively establish that contamination occurred, he has created a foundation for reasonable doubt.

On the prosecution: Woody Clarke’s fine-grained cross made several important points. Life-and-death decisions are made on the basis of PCR test results. Gerdes interpretations of ambiguous data always favor the defense. His charts showing a high incidence of contamination failed to note that the LAPD identified these events and re-ran the tests. Clarke’s message to the jury--Gerdes may speak softly, but he is a zealous hired gun in the DNA wars.

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LAURIE LEVENSON

On the defense: In anticipation of cross, Barry Scheck had Gerdes admit that some of the DNA results were not because of contamination. Of course, those results were on evidence the defense claims was planted--the socks and the gloves. Scheck also had Gerdes admit that he never has gone to a crime scene or worked with forensic DNA tests. Even so, he is more than willing to criticize the work of others who have far more experience than he does.

On the prosecution: It’s harder to clean up a mess than to make it. Clarke did a great job of showing that Gerdes has no experience in forensic DNA and has built his career--since he abandoned pineapple work--by testifying for defendants. Clarke then used Gerdes to re-establish the general reliability of DNA tests. Finally, he attacked each contamination finding by showing that Gerdes bent over backward to find errors by the LAPD. The big question: Can the jury follow it?

GERALD L. CHALEFF

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On the defense: Scheck concluded his direct with a review of the most damaging blood evidence and made it all appear as the product of contamination or conspiracy. Then, unfortunately, he had to turn Gerdes over to the prosecutors. A witness who had been open and affable suddenly became quarrelsome and defensive, which could undermine his credibility with the jury and support the prosecutors’ theory that he came to the case with his mind made up.

On the prosecution: From the beginning, prosecutors have had to bear not only the burden of proof, but the burden of the LAPD. Clarke sliced away at that burden little by little, showing that Gerdes always testifies that PCR testing is bad, that he held LAPD’s lab to a higher standard than his own, that he labels any questionable result contamination and didn’t review all LAPD testing. Clarke ended by showing that Gerdes was unable to tell hairs from errors.

Compiled by Tim Rutten/Los Angeles Times


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