When it was over--and it was after nine days on the witness stand--Dennis Fung stepped down and did the oddest thing anyone could imagine.
After days of being interrogated, assailed and reduced to an exhausted, hesitant witness, the Los Angeles Police Department criminalist shook hands with his torturer--defense attorney Barry Scheck. And he shook hands with Scheck’s client, O.J. Simpson. He let Robert Shapiro hug him--a day after Shapiro apologized for making an offensive pun on the criminalist’s Asian American surname.
Recalling it, Fung rolls his eyes and smiles ruefully.
“I was so happy to get off the stand. I was high,” says Fung, who recalls only a jumble of hands extended by defense lawyers and then a spontaneous post-witness love fest, Shapiro’s ethnic slur notwithstanding. “I didn’t think it was funny,” he says, but diplomatically declines to elaborate.
If the prosecution put Simpson on trial for murder, then the defense put Fung on trial for the way he did his job. Most of the physical evidence passed through the criminalist’s hands and Scheck made Fung a symbol of every supposed imperfection of the LAPD crime lab.
But five months later, Fung is relaxed and good-natured about the grilling he took on the witness stand. The Friday afternoon before the jury returned its verdicts found the 36-year-old criminalist in jeans and casual shirt at the LAPD’s Scientific Investigation Division in northeast Los Angeles.
For better or worse, he is a celebrity who gets requests for autographs and flickers of recognition whether he is at Dodger Stadium or the supermarket. When he goes out to murder scenes now, the television cameras pan over to him.
“Fame without the fortune--it’s just no fun,” he says laughing.
Any anger or annoyance he left behind in the courtroom.
“Barry’s Barry,” Fung, an 11-year LAPD veteran, says with a little smile about his courtroom nemesis. “They had a job to do. And they did it. I had a job to do. And I did mine.”
Not that Fung will be having any reunions with the defense lawyers.
“I wouldn’t mind if I never saw them again,” he says.
When he was off the stand for good, he jumped in his BMW and hit the road for a monthlong vacation. He was recognized wherever he went for the first two weeks. “Everybody was very supportive.”
He continues his same job in the firearms analysis unit, though he has never worked again with Andrea Mazzola, the criminalist trainee who also came under defense fire on the stand.
“The only reason why we were working together that night was because of the way the on-call system worked,” he says. He says he never doubted his skills.
“What I did was sound forensic work,” contends Fung, who says he found colleagues and supervisors supportive when he returned to work.
“As far as being able to get my ideas across on the witness stand, I think I could have done better--looking out for [Scheck’s] traps that he was setting for me. And that’s a big part of criminalistics--getting your ideas across. Like Henry Lee,” he says of the defense’s star criminalist. “The guy’s very charismatic on the stand.”