Prosecution, Defense Rest Cases; Simpson Addresses Judge Ito : Trial: Statement outside jury’s presence infuriates prosecutors. Defendant says, ‘I did not, could not and would not have committed this crime.’
The presentation of evidence in the O.J. Simpson murder trial concluded dramatically Friday as both sides rested their cases and Simpson delivered a bombshell statement proclaiming that he “did not, could not and would not have committed this crime.”
Deputy Dist. Atty. Marcia Clark pleaded with Superior Court Judge Lance A. Ito not to allow Simpson to speak in court, even without the jury present, for fear that his remarks might trickle into the jury room--perhaps through the twice-a-week family visits that represent the sequestered jury’s only direct contact with the outside world.
“It is inappropriate, and it is done very deliberately by the defense for a clear purpose,” she said forcefully after Simpson attorney Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. announced Simpson’s desire to address Ito to waive his right to testify. “Please don’t do this, Your Honor. I beg you, I beg you.”
Cochran shrugged off that objection, caustically reminding the judge that “this is still America, and we can talk.”
But Ito, while retorting that he had the right to control order in his courtroom, never explicitly ruled on Clark’s objection. Instead, he said good morning to the defendant and then sat silently as Simpson rose to his feet and began to speak.
“As much as I would like to address some of the misrepresentations made [about] myself and Nicole concerning our life together, I am mindful of the mood and the stamina of this jury,” Simpson began, his eyes darting around the silent, electrified courtroom, whose audience has never heard such a detailed statement from the defendant. Simpson has pleaded not guilty to the murders of Ronald Lyle Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson.
“I have confidence, a lot more, it seems, than Miss Clark has, of their integrity,” he continued, “and that they will find as the record stands now that I did not, could not and would not have committed this crime.”
Then, his voice suddenly tightening, Simpson added: “I have four kids, two kids I haven’t seen in a year. They ask me every week: ‘Dad, how much longer?’ ”
Ito started to interrupt, so Simpson hurriedly finished.
“I want this trial over,” he said. “Thank you.”
With that, Simpson sat down, never having waived his right to testify--the ostensible reason for being allowed to speak. Ito reminded him of that, and Simpson agreed to rest his case without taking the stand.
The bizarre episode infuriated Clark, who dared Simpson to take the stand so that she and he could “have a discussion.”
“Since he would like to make these statements to the court,” said Clark, her voice hard with exasperation and exhaustion, “I would like the opportunity to examine him about them. May he take a seat in the blue chair and we’ll have a discussion?”
Simpson did not flinch. Ito, his expression flat but his voice tinged with frustration, did not respond except to say “thank you.”
‘In Jail Where He Belongs’
Outside court, members of the victims’ families expressed anger--and legal analysts voiced disbelief--at Ito’s decision to allow Simpson to deliver the short speech.
“It’s disturbing, and it’s outrageous,” said Fred Goldman, who had clenched his jaw and stared hard as Simpson spoke in court, muttering to himself and to his wife, Patti. “I want this man convicted and in jail where he belongs.”
Noting that Simpson had declined to testify in his own defense, Goldman blasted the man accused of killing his son. “If he had a statement to make,” Goldman said, “he should have gotten on the damn stand and said something and not been a coward.”
Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti, who has become increasingly vocal in his criticism of Ito in recent weeks, said he, too, was unhappy with the decision to let Simpson speak on his own behalf.
“In my opinion, it was grossly inappropriate to permit Mr. Simpson to, in effect, testify without taking the stand and without subjecting himself to cross-examination.”
That view was echoed by several legal analysts, including Peter Arenella, a UCLA law professor, who said he was stunned by Ito’s latest move.
“What is Judge Ito thinking about?” he asked. “Marcia Clark gave him fair warning as to what was about to happen, and Ito nevertheless let O.J. make his public appeal, both to this jury--through pillow talk--and to the next jury, if this jury hangs.”
Cochran was unapologetic. At a brief news conference after the session, Cochran insisted that Simpson’s remarks were unscripted.
However, a defense source said late Friday that Simpson’s remarks were rehearsed. The source said the idea of such a statement began gestating nearly two weeks ago after the state Court of Appeal overturned Ito’s ruling on whether to inform the jury that former LAPD Detective Mark Fuhrman was unavailable for further testimony.
The source disclosed that when the defense “struck out” with the Fuhrman instruction, Simpson’s team started thinking about how they “could get O.J.” to, in essence, testify outside the jury’s presence if the opportunity arose.
Cochran waved away a question asking him to respond to Clark’s obvious distress at Simpson’s comments.
Cochran said: “We’re not worried about angering Miss Clark.”
One last detail remained before the jury could be brought in Friday: Cochran formally moved for Simpson to be acquitted, a motion typically brought at the end of prosecution and defense cases. The motion often is perfunctory, and both sides treated it as such in this case, submitting it without argument.
Ito dismissed it with one sentence: “Motion will be denied.”
Members of the jury were smiling and laughing as they entered the courthouse Friday morning. Shortly after 10 a.m., they came into the courtroom for the first time since Wednesday, when a Los Angeles police commander was the last witness of the trial to take the stand.
The panelists took their seats quickly, reaching for their note pads and settling into the chairs they have occupied since January.
Wasting no time, Ito immediately turned to Cochran and asked whether the defense had more evidence to present.
“Your Honor,” Cochran said after genially smiling and welcoming the jury, “I’m very pleased to say we have no further testimony to present at this time. And, as difficult as it is, the defense does rest at this point.”
Clark then stood and announced that prosecutors also were finished: “We ask the court to receive all of the People’s exhibits, and the People rest.”
All told, the two sides called 126 witnesses to the stand since the first one testified Jan. 31. Initially promised that they would get the case in April or May, the jurors instead weathered one broken pledge after another. Attrition shrunk the panel from its original 24 members to the 14 still on board, and the restlessness of the remaining jurors has become the source of considerable concern in recent weeks.
With the case nearly over, jurors Friday showed little emotion as the two sides rested. The sense of relief in the courtroom was palpable, however. Lawyers, many of them hollow-eyed and exhausted, slumped in their chairs, and a few members of the audience whispered to one another.
The schedule for next week has created a quandary for the judge and lawyers, as they try to press forward with as much of closing arguments as possible. The problem is that Ito has scheduled only three court days next week. Monday is Rosh Hashanah, and the judge is scheduled to be out of town Friday.
Although Ito told the lawyers that he would try to rearrange his schedule to allow for a Friday session, he also asked the jurors what they would think about holding long sessions next week, meeting well into the evening.
“I know . . . that would disrupt your schedule,” Ito said to the 12 jurors and two alternates. “But I would like your input to see whether or not you would be willing to stay for an additional evening session each day until we have concluded the arguments.”
As Ito spoke, two jurors in the front row began to nod vigorously, and others quickly followed suit. Within a few seconds, every member of the panel was nodding--and many were grinning enthusiastically--except for an older man who serves as an alternate.
Ito apparently did not notice that man’s lack of response because he took the jury’s reaction as unanimous.
“I see smiles,” Ito said, encouraged. “Everybody? Well, we have one unanimous decision already.”
Ito still has not made a final decision about the lengthened court sessions, an idea that the prosecution opposes and that requires special arrangements with the court staff. But, barring a last-minute change of mind, Tuesday’s session is set to go into the evening.
With both sides rested, the motion for acquittal denied and the scheduling issues at least temporarily resolved, Ito then turned to the main business of the day: the reading of the jury instructions to the panel.
In contrast to the fireworks before the jury was brought in, the process was handled with the tedium that generally accompanies it. Ito announced at the outset that he would give them printed copies of the instructions so there was no need for the jurors to take notes.
As a result, most sat with their hands folded in their laps or with their chins resting in their palms as Ito methodically plowed through the densely worded instructions, which attempt to define legal concepts such as express malice, reasonable doubt and circumstantial evidence. There were 55 instructions in all, and for the most part, they were by the book language drawn directly from the manual on California Jury Instructions, Criminal, known in court parlance as “CalJic.”
A few were hand-tailored for the Simpson case, however. Ito informed the jury that it could use the testimony of Police Department nurse Thano Peratis only for limited purposes and that witness Ronald G. Shipp’s testimony regarding a dream that Simpson allegedly told him about could only be considered if jurors first conclude that the conversation reflected the defendant’s desires, not his subconscious thoughts.
In addition, the ever-malleable Ito emerged from an in-chambers conference early Friday and announced that he had reconsidered his previous opposition to a proposed defense instruction on the importance of considering laboratory error in evaluating DNA statistics.
Barry Scheck, one of Simpson’s DNA legal experts, had aggressively pushed for Ito to tell the jury that error rates can affect the significance that jurors should attach to those statistics. If, for instance, a laboratory makes a mistake in one out of every 200 samples that it handles, that can affect how credible jurors might consider a statistic that indicates only one person in 1 billion would have the genetic markers identified in a particular bloodstain.
At first, Ito resisted giving such an instruction, arguing that jurors already learned of those distinctions in testimony and that lawyers were free to argue it in their closing arguments. But on Friday, he relented and agreed to incorporate the issue into his instructions.
“Frequency estimates and laboratory error rates are different phenomenon,” he told the jurors about midway through the 45-minute reading of instructions. “Both should be considered in determining what significance should be attached to bloodstain testing results.”
Scheck sat forward in his chair and scanned the jury as that instruction was read. The panelists, however, seemed unimpressed. They merely stared at Ito, listening but taking no special note.
The curtain lifts on the trial’s penultimate act Tuesday morning, when Clark is expected to begin delivering her initial closing statement. That could last two days--more or less--depending on the court hours that Ito imposes and the stamina of the jurors and lawyers. Cochran is then expected to deliver the bulk of the defense’s closing statement, but Scheck will probably deliver the portion devoted to rebutting the prosecution’s DNA and other physical evidence.
Once defense attorneys have finished, the prosecution will get the last word, presenting a rebuttal closing argument and then sending the case to the jury--probably in early October.
Times staff writer Andrea Ford contributed to this story.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
O.J. Simpson’s dialogue with Superior Court Judge Lance A. Ito Friday morning:
* THE COURT: Mr. Simpson, good morning, sir.
* THE DEFENDANT: Good morning, Your Honor. As much as I would like to address some of the misrepresentations made about myself and my Nicole concerning our life together, I’m mindful of the mood and the stamina of this jury.
I have confidence, a lot more it seems than Ms. Clark has, of their integrity, and that they will find--as the record stands now--that I did not, could not, and would not have committed this crime. I have four kids--two kids I haven’t seen in a year. They ask me every week, “Dad, how much longer?”
* THE COURT: All right.
* THE DEFENDANT: I want this trial over. Thank you.
* THE COURT: All right. Thank you. Mr. Simpson, you do understand your right to testify as a witness?
* THE DEFENDANT: Yes, I do.
* THE COURT: And you choose to waive your right to testify?
* THE DEFENDANT: I do
* THE COURT: All right.
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