A somber, stony-faced Detective Mark Fuhrman asserted his 5th Amendment rights against self-incrimination three times Wednesday, refusing to answer questions posed by defense lawyers who charge that he framed O.J. Simpson.
"Was the testimony that you gave at the preliminary hearing in this case completely truthful?" defense attorney Gerald F. Uelmen asked in a quick, pointed confrontation with Fuhrman, who has told jurors he found a bloody glove at Simpson's estate. "Have you ever falsified a police report?"
And most strikingly, "Did you plant or manufacture any evidence in this case?"
After each question, Fuhrman leaned over, whispered to his attorney and then sat stiffly straight to answer: "I wish to assert my 5th Amendment privilege."
As Fuhrman's testimony ended, Simpson hunched over the defense table, buried his face in his hands and appeared to cry.
Jurors, who waited in an upstairs lounge during Fuhrman's brief but electrifying appearance, did not get to hear the exchange. But Uelmen said he would ask Superior Court Judge Lance A. Ito to instruct the panel today that Fuhrman had taken the 5th Amendment.
Defense sources said it is unlikely that Fuhrman will appear in front of the jury.
Fuhrman's decision to keep silent means that he will not rebut other witnesses' statements that he repeatedly used racial slurs and boasted of inventing charges against suspects. Nor will he attempt to explain any of the comments he made in a series of taped interviews--comments that contradict his sworn testimony that he never used the word "nigger" in the last decade.
On the advice of his lawyer, Darryl Mounger, Fuhrman said that he would take the 5th Amendment on any question regarding the Simpson case.
Fuhrman then strode briskly to the door and left the courthouse through a private hallway, flanked by his attorney and three men who appeared to be bodyguards. Aware that his tape-recorded comments about beating black suspects and manufacturing evidence have inflamed many in Los Angeles, Fuhrman took extraordinary security precautions from the moment he arrived at the courthouse in a tan van with blacked-out windows.
Defense attorneys trumpeted Fuhrman's refusal to testify as a major victory. Prosecutors have long argued that Fuhrman had no chance to plant the bloody glove at Simpson's estate and no reason to risk such a dangerous gambit. But in a hasty news conference Wednesday, Simpson's lawyers insisted they have proved that Fuhrman had both the opportunity and the motive.
"You saw a lead detective . . . refuse to answer questions on the grounds that the answers he made there would tend to incriminate him," defense lawyer Robert Shapiro told a crowd gathered on the first floor of the courthouse. "It's unprecedented in the history of jurisprudence."
Legal analysts said Fuhrman was compelled to take the 5th Amendment, even in response to the provocative question about planting evidence, because breaking his silence would leave him vulnerable to wide-ranging questions. The 5th Amendment offers blanket protection against self-incrimination; witnesses cannot invoke its shield on some questions and then answer others, UCLA professor Peter Arenella said.
Fuhrman, who may eventually face charges of perjury, chose to not answer any question that could open the door to further queries about his actions or prior testimony.
By invoking his constitutional right, Fuhrman in no way admitted wrongdoing. But he gave the defense a psychological boost and left prosecutors looking demoralized.
"It was one of the great moments in courtroom history," Santa Monica defense lawyer Gigi Gordon said. "To see Mark Fuhrman found out and compelled to take the 5th on the witness stand is perhaps the ultimate vindication for all those people who were the subjects of 20 years of racism, harassment and abuse."
Underscoring the raw emotions that Fuhrman's remarks have generated, demonstrators gathered twice outside the Criminal Courts Building on Wednesday to shout their belief that jurors should hear all of the brutal, racist comments captured on tape.
"No justice, no peace!" a noontime group of protesters from the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People yelled.
Earlier in the day, another crowd, angry over Ito's decision to keep the most explosive comments from the Fuhrman tapes out of court, picked up the cheer, "Ito must go. Ito must go."
Protesters Call for Simpson to Be Freed
Trial-watchers surged around lead defense attorney Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. as he left the courthouse, shouting "Free the Juice! Free the Juice!"
At an impromptu news conference, Cochran Jr. said: "For those who have said this has become the Mark Fuhrman trial, [we respond] that O.J. Simpson is the one who is still in custody, 15 or 16 months after his arrest for crimes he did not commit. Mr. Fuhrman will soon be on a plane home to Idaho."
Meanwhile, Simpson's younger sister, Carmelita Durio, told reporters: "If that had been a black man up there taking the 5th, they would have lynched him. You tell me who's telling the truth. If he's telling the truth, he has nothing to hide."
The furor over Fuhrman's testimony capped another emotional day in court.
Simpson's lawyers, speeding toward the conclusion of their case, riveted jurors with brief testimony about police cover-ups--a previously taboo topic that prosecutors fought to keep panelists from hearing.
The defense team also presented a black witness who testified that Fuhrman hurled a racial slur at him during an arrest in January, 1987. Roderic Hodge, a soft-spoken communications technician, offered the predominantly black jury the first evidence that Fuhrman insulted African Americans to their faces, as well as disparaging them in casual conversation.
Jotting notes throughout, jurors looked intent and serious--and in at least one case, deeply troubled--by the racist comments attributed to Fuhrman.
The jurors had arrived in court early Wednesday to complain to Ito about the trial's plodding pace, and two of them sighed audibly when legal wrangling forced a midmorning delay. But they paid careful attention to the day's testimony, sometimes studying spectators as though seeking to gauge public reaction to the racist remarks described in the courtroom.
They seemed especially animated when aspiring screenwriter Laura Hart McKinny testified that during her decade of research on sexism in the LAPD, she had heard about a practice of male officers covering up misdeeds.
"Sexism is inextricably related to certain cover-ups that some men on the police force are doing," McKinny told jurors in an earnest, slightly wavering voice. "Some women are not able to agree with [the cover-ups] . . . and that was a huge schism."
Although Ito ruled last week that McKinny must restrict her testimony to Fuhrman's use of racial slurs, she blurted out a mention of the cover-ups during cross-examination, catching prosecutor Christopher A. Darden by surprise.
Cochran seized on that remark and questioned McKinny further about the cover-ups. In her response, McKinny hinted at the code of silence that defense lawyers contend blocked colleagues from informing on Fuhrman or other LAPD officers possibly involved in framing Simpson.
"Some women were having a difficult time being accepted into the Police Department in certain male circles [because] some officers didn't trust their confidentiality," McKinny said.
McKinny and Darden Challenge Each Other
In a sharp-edged cross-examination, Darden tried to undermine McKinny's credibility. But while she looked shaken, McKinny was steadfast--and even challenged Darden in an unusual rebuke from the witness stand.
"Why are we having this adversarial relationship?" she asked him at one point, drawing an admiring look from a white woman juror.
McKinny's family members have said she finds compelling the evidence that Simpson murdered his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and Ronald Lyle Goldman; she seemed bewildered to find herself sparring with the prosecutors trying to convict the football great.
"I don't understand," she told Darden. Later, she added: "I don't feel adversarial toward you, but I felt there was something negative coming from some of your questions."
Indeed, Darden repeatedly attacked McKinny.
He first suggested that McKinny's attorneys were trying to peddle the Fuhrman tapes and transcripts for profit. Bristling, she denied it. Darden also sought to belittle McKinny's credentials as a screenwriter by asking whether one of her pieces that made it to film--a short segment produced by Playboy Productions and directed by her husband--could be characterized as soft porn. "That's not relevant," Ito snapped.
Finally, Darden asked McKinny whether her relationship with Fuhrman was "only professional." After she responded that they had "a business relationship," Darden followed up with a sarcastic, "And that's it?" Softly but emphatically, McKinny answered, "Yes."
Ebullient after Darden's cross-examination of McKinny, which most analysts said damaged the prosecution much more than the defense, Cochran strolled through the courthouse cafeteria during the noon lunch break and told reporters, "We've traded and Darden is on our side."
Referring to the prosecutor's much-maligned decision to have Simpson try on the crime scene gloves in front of the jury--and pronounce them too tight--Cochran said: "It's another glove day."
Defense lawyers also emerged pleased from their brief, two-minute examination of Hodge. Hodge testified that after his arrest in January, 1987, he was sitting in the back seat of a police car when Fuhrman turned around and said: "I told you we'd get you, nigger" in a tone of "anger, hatred, [coming] from deep inside."
Hodge, who answered most questions with a snappy 'Yes, sir' or 'No, sir,' was arrested in 1987 on suspicion of assaulting a police officer and on drug charges. He was tried only on the narcotics charges, and was acquitted.
Ito had barred Hodge from telling jurors about his other complaint against Fuhrman: that the former detective forced him to bend over and drop his pants, and then said, "You all look alike." Nonetheless, Hodge's testimony riveted jurors.
Many took notes. And a white woman in the back row, who had looked shocked during Tuesday's testimony about Fuhrman's racist remarks, covered her mouth with her hand, clutching her pen and looking disturbed.
On cross-examination, Darden showed Hodge a copy of the 17-page complaint he filed with the LAPD, and asked him whether the document mentions the racial slur. But while Darden clearly hoped to undermine Hodge's testimony, the question backfired--after a brief break, Hodge returned to the stand to report that 10 pages were mysteriously missing from the copy of the complaint prosecutors had handed him.
Many jurors scribbled notes at that revelation. And Hodge emphasized that he was certain about Fuhrman's comment. He could not forget, he said, an insult that made him feel "belittled, scared [and] very, very angry."
After the lunch break, Ito reassured antsy jurors that "we are making progress," and predicted that the defense would wrap up its case this week. Still, he had to excuse jurors at 2 p.m. to clear the courtroom for some legal tussling.
Defense attorney Uelmen argued in a spirited speech that the court should toss out all evidence police collected at Simpson's estate--including a bloody glove on the walkway, blood drops in the foyer and a blood-splashed sock in his bedroom.
Fuhrman led the search that netted that evidence, and Uelmen said the tapes cast serious doubt on his reasons for vaulting over the locked gate of Simpson's home and scouring the premises without a warrant. Fuhrman had testified in the preliminary hearing that he decided to conduct a search after spotting a speck that looked like blood on the door of Simpson's Ford Bronco.
Defense lawyers have argued from the beginning that the search was illegal and ridiculed Fuhrman's explanations.
Charges That Fuhrman Ignored the Rules
Bolstered by the tapes, Uelmen on Wednesday suggested that Fuhrman was in the habit of ignoring legal standards when making arrests or conducting searches. In his flat but vehement voice, Uelmen quoted Fuhrman as saying on the tapes: "This job is not rules, this is a feeling. F--- the rules, we'll make them up later."
Fuhrman, he said, even boasts on tape about scratching a scab to make it look fresh and bolster the case against a suspect.
"What confidence can you have in his credibility, knowing what you now know?" Uelmen asked Ito.
In a rare light moment in a tension-filled day, Uelmen paused in his argument to question the judge about why he was staring so fixedly. "What's the matter, is my zipper down?" the white-haired attorney asked.
As it turned out, however, Ito had been watching a cockroach scurry over the prosecution's table. Deputy Dist. Atty. Cheri Lewis scraped it off with a piece of paper, stomped on it and announced with a flourish: "Got it."
Lewis took center stage again to respond to Uelmen's argument.
She noted that Detective Philip L. Vannatter bolstered Fuhrman's account of the search of Simpson's estate. Even if the defense impeaches Fuhrman's credibility, Lewis said, Vannatter would remain e unchallenged--and thus evidence obtained during the search should be admitted, she argued. Furthermore, she said, a municipal judge already determined during a preliminary hearing that the search was valid.
Ito took the matter under submission. He did not say when he would rule.
Meanwhile, outside the court, criticism of Ito's ruling on the Fuhrman tapes intensified.
"We want Judge Ito and [Dist. Atty.] Gil Garcetti to understand if they can railroad O.J. Simpson and his million-dollar dream team, we know what you can do to anybody," Danny Bakewell, president of the Brotherhood Crusade, said during the NAACP protest.
Lawyers return to court this morning for another hearing outside the jury's presence, this one involving the defense contention that prosecutors withheld information about Fuhrman.
"We're going to move forward on this case," Cochran vowed outside court Wednesday, "and get what we believe we richly deserve--an acquittal."