Simpson Jovial on Night of Murders, Jury Told

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

O.J. Simpson seemed depressed in the weeks after the end of his relationship with his ex-wife, but jovial and relaxed during a conversation less than two hours before she was murdered, a witness called by Simpson's lawyers testified Tuesday.

Christian Reichardt, a ponytailed chiropractor and friend of Simpson, spent less than an hour on the witness stand and returned the defense to a topic that has long produced mixed results: Simpson's behavior before and after the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Lyle Goldman.

Reichardt may have helped Simpson by saying that nothing seemed amiss with him on the night of the killings, but possibly hurt him with his description of the emotions that bubbled up in May, 1994, as the Simpsons attempted and eventually abandoned plans for a reconciliation.

Reichardt's testimony was part of a halting and occasionally tense day as defense attorneys tried to fill time until Superior Court Judge Lance A. Ito delivers his much-anticipated ruling on the admissibility of tapes and transcripts of interviews with recently retired LAPD Detective Mark Fuhrman. Ito groused openly about the delays in delivering material to him so that he can make that decision, and his temper flared in another debate, accusing the attorneys on both sides of posturing for the cameras and threatening, albeit halfheartedly, to pull the plug on the courtroom camera.

The Fuhrman ruling, Ito warned, will not come until next week, but one of the defense's most celebrated witnesses, criminalist Henry Lee, began testifying Tuesday afoernoon and could be on the stand the rest of the week.

In his initial testimony, Lee outlined his credentials and told jurors that faint shoe prints discovered at the crime scene seemed to come from a different type of shoe than those identified by an FBI shoe print expert. He did not testify at length on that topic, but his account could support the defense contention that two assailants were responsible for the bloody double homicide.

The day's first witness was Reichardt, who, smiling at Simpson, was briskly guided through an initial series of questions by Johnnie L. Cochran Jr., Simpson's lead trial lawyer. Ito had earlier precluded the defense from raising a potentially volatile topic with Reichardt by preventing the attorneys from questioning him about the drug use of his former girlfriend, Faye Resnick.

Defense attorneys had hoped to raise that issue in order to suggest that the June 12, 1994, murders--to which their client has pleaded not guilty--actually were committed by drug dealers who came looking for Resnick and found Nicole Simpson instead. Ito, however, ruled that the defense had never offered anything more than speculation in support of that theory.

As a result, Cochran limited his questioning essentially to the subject of Simpson's mood during a phone call that Reichardt said he received about 9 p.m. on the night of the murders.

"With regard to the tone of his voice, I want you to describe how Mr. Simpson's voice appeared during this conversation at 9 p.m. on Sunday evening, June 12, 1994." Cochran said. Deputy Dist. Atty. Christopher A. Darden objected, but Ito overruled him.

"He seemed a little more relaxed than in the recent months," Reichardt responded. "He seemed very jovial."

After another exchange, Cochran continued: "Did he seem downcast or sad at all during this conversation?"

"Not at all," said Reichardt, who wore an earring in one ear and a yellow pin with the enigmatic slogan: "Hampsters, U.S.A."

In his cross-examination, Darden focused on Reichardt's suggestion that Simpson had not seemed himself in the weeks before the murders. Bolstering his examination with interviews of other witnesses and Reichardt's statement to police, Darden aggressively bore down on the witness.

"During the week leading up to this phone call did the defendant, in your opinion, seem depressed over his failing relationship with Nicole Brown?" Darden asked.

"At times, yes," Reichardt answered.

"In fact," Darden continued, "he seemed upset? He was upset with Nicole Brown during the week leading up to that phone call, is that correct?"

"At times, yes," Reichardt said again.

The jury listened attentively during the initial part of Reichardt's testimony, but some panelists seemed to lose interest as Darden and Cochran sparred over increasingly minute points. The questioning concluded with a battle over the significance of Simpson's alleged reaction to the end of his relationship with his ex-wife.

After Darden elicited Reichardt's assessment that Simpson seemed occasionally depressed about it, Cochran asked: "Did you find it unusual after a 17- or 18-year relationship finally ending that both of the parties might feel a little bit down?"

Darden unsuccessfully objected, and Reichardt answered: "I don't find that unusual at all."

The combative prosecutor then rose again and sarcastically asked Reichardt whether he was professing to be "some doctor of love." Cochran objected, calling that question argumentative and silly. Ito agreed, ending the inquiry.

Ito Impatient With Pace

Tuesday's testimony and arguments were overseen by a newly determined Judge Ito, who vowed to speed up the pace of the case in what could be a far-fetched effort to send the case to the jury shortly after Labor Day.

In fact, after consulting with the attorneys, Ito backed off from that initial estimate and directed prosecutors to prepare to begin their rebuttal case after the Labor Day break. How long that part of the trial will take is unclear, but it seems likely to take at least a week or two, if not more.

Although many observers believe it could be late September before the jury gets the case, Ito made good on his promise to curtail the questioning, rejecting a defense request to bring back one of their witnesses so that he could tell the jury about Detective Philip L. Vannatter's refusal to shake his hand after Monday's court session.

According to Simpson attorney Robert Blasier, that witness, former Orange County crime lab director Larry John Ragle, said Vannatter called him a traitor. Blasier asked Ito's permission to recall Ragle on the theory that Vannatter's alleged comments demonstrated his bias and belief that police officers should cover for each other.

But Deputy Dist. Atty. Marcia Clark ridiculed that argument so angrily that Ito had to steer her back to the legal arguments raised by it.

"This is ridiculous," Clark said, sputtering with indignation. "Detective Vannatter is entitled to his opinion. He's a human being and a citizen of this country. And he is entitled to his opinion. And if he wants to tell Mr. Ragle after he's completed his testimony what he thinks of him, he's entitled to do so. And if Mr. Ragle feels the need to go and cry to his lawyers about it, he can do that too."

As she made her point, Clark suggested that Ragle had lied on the witness stand, a remark that drew a sharp rebuke from the judge. She quickly apologized, but it clearly agitated Ito, even though he ultimately upheld Clark's objection to recalling the witness.

Ito, who has sharply criticized the lawyers in writing and in court this week, chastised Clark for suggesting that Ragle had lied on the witness stand and upbraided both sides for the referring to the nationwide audience following the televised proceedings.

"Attorneys from both sides have referred to what other people around this country may think," Ito said, glowering at Clark from the bench. "That causes me to believe that the lawyers are pandering to the cameras, and that causes me to believe that probably I ought to pull the plug on the cameras. I'm contemplating doing that. I'm tired of this kind of argument."

Ito has previously threatened to pull the plug on the courtroom camera and then relented. But his previous threats have been prompted by the behavior and reporting of news organizations; Tuesday marked the first time that he linked the presence of the camera to his concern about the lawyers' conduct.

His warning seemed to be enough. Blasier and Clark both sat down without further comment and Ito called in the jury to begin hearing testimony. Outside court, Kim Goldman, the sister of Ronald Goldman, whispered to Vannatter and draped a sympathetic arm around the white-haired LAPD veteran.

Ito has wide latitude and could end the television coverage if he found that it was undermining the dignity of his court or disrupting the orderly conduct of the trial. Nevertheless, legal analysts said it was unlikely that he would take that step in the wake of Tuesday's flare-up.

"I would hope that he would reflect on the fact that the prosecution and the defense initially sought televised coverage of this trial," said Los Angeles attorney Douglas Mirell, a 1st Amendment specialist. "Nothing has occurred that I'm aware of that has caused either party to believe their respective interests are not still served by continuing live television coverage of the case."

More Details From Tapes

With that problem disposed of, testimony resumed, but Ito's hopes of moving the trial along quickly were confounded still further by the ever-expanding issue of the tapes and transcripts of interviews with Detective Mark Fuhrman.

That controversy has infuriated prosecutors, who see it as a diversion from the question of Simpson's guilt or innocence. But almost every day seems to bring new nuggets of information from the interviews that Fuhrman granted to a North Carolina screenwriter.

Tuesday's revelation came in the form of a courtroom comment by Cochran, who announced outside the jury's presence that further examination of the tapes revealed 10 more instances in which Fuhrman uses the so-called "N word."

"There were some tapes she had not transcribed," Cochran told Ito. "There are now 10 additional N word references. There are 40 instead of 30."

On the witness stand in March, Fuhrman denied using the word at any time during the past 10 years. The defense wants the jury to hear the tapes in order to show that Fuhrman cannot be trusted to tell the truth.

But Ito bitterly complained about the quality of the defense's motion seeking admission of the tapes, and on Tuesday added his irritation about having waited until late Monday for a revised version, only to have the material handed over on Tuesday morning instead.

The result: Ito said his ruling on the long-awaited and anxiously contested issue will not come until next week.

Interrupted Testimony

As has become increasingly common in recent weeks, Tuesday's court day was often interrupted by legal arguments and by the defense team's shifting strategic decisions. The defense lawyers had said they intended to call Howard Weitzman, a prominent Los Angeles attorney who initially represented Simpson, in order to testify about the circumstances surrounding his client's discussions with police on the day after the murders.

Weitzman, who recently was named to a top post at MCA Inc., was in court Tuesday morning, but a last-minute decision by Simpson's team kept him off the witness stand.

Standing uncomfortably before Ito and represented by another attorney, Barry Tarlow, Weitzman seemed relieved to be allowed to leave without having to testify. He smiled thinly and, as he turned to leave, gestured to a few of the reporters in the front row.

"See ya later," said Weitzman, whose many celebrity clients have long made him a familiar face to the Los Angeles press corps.

That ended, at least for now, one line of defense inquiry and cleared the way for a Chicago police detective to take the witness stand. That detective, Ken Berris, told jurors he had found a bloody towel in Simpson's hotel room, evidence that the defense says supports its contention that Simpson cut his hand in that room--as opposed to the prosecution belief that the cuts and scratches on his left hand were suffered during the commission of the double homicide.

Cochran questioned the detective carefully about his observations--eliciting the detective's detailed description of the various towels in the hotel room, for instance--and his pace concerned Ito, who has grown increasingly concerned about the stamina of the long-sequestered jury.

With a slight smile, Ito reminded Cochran that the jurors, who have been ensconced in a hotel for more than eight months, do not need testimony on the towels that are provided to guests.

"They give you three kinds of towels in a hotel: washcloths, hand towels and bath towels," he said.

"These," he added, nodding to the jurors, "are experts on hotel towels."

Like Reichardt's, the detective's testimony was a mixed bag for the defense. He established that Simpson's hotel room had a bloody towel and a broken glass--observations that all 14 jurors and alternates noted in their pads. But under questioning from Darden he also noted that two laundry bags were missing from the room, that he did not see any blood on the glass and that other areas of the suite showed no signs of blood.

The missing bags were of particular interest: Authorities have never located the murder weapon or the clothes that they believe Simpson wore on the night of the killings, but they conducted extensive searches in Chicago. Berris testified that police never found the bags from Simpson's room.

The final witness of the day--and one of the most anticipated of the defense case--was Lee, director of the Connecticut State Forensics Science Laboratory and perhaps the nation's premier expert on the analysis of physical evidence. Lee's testimony was delayed twice by a long and still-unresolved dispute over the prosecution's contention that defense attorneys improperly withheld notes and reports by the criminalist.

Most of the rest of the session was taken up by Lee's recitation of his background, beginning with his upbringing in China and touching on such far-flung subjects as his numerous awards, his expertise in Kung Fu and his recently assigned role as an investigator in the Whitewater affair--a topic Lee said he could not discuss in open court. Lee delivered his resume modestly under deferential questioning by Simpson attorney Barry Scheck.

Although Lee said he almost always testifies for prosecutors, the scientist enjoyed an easy rapport with the defense lawyer, correcting him only once, when Scheck mistakenly described one of Lee's awards as recognition for his work as a "distinguished criminal."

"Distinguished criminalist," Lee responded with a smile and gentle laugh. "Not criminal."

Lee is scheduled to return to the witness stand today.

Times legal affairs writer Henry Weinstein contributed to this story.

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