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Probe Faults Performance of FBI Worker in Simpson Case

TIMES LEGAL AFFAIRS WRITER

A special Justice Department investigation has found that FBI toxicologist Roger Martz “poorly represented” the agency during his testimony at the O.J. Simpson murder trial, but also concluded that Martz did not commit perjury or mislead Simpson’s defense team or the jury.

In the criminal case, Martz was retained by the prosecution to analyze some blood samples and testify about a key issue relating to the integrity of blood evidence.

Martz’s credibility came into question late in the double murder trial when another FBI agent, Frederic J. Whitehurst, suggested that Martz had perjured himself in the Simpson case and engaged in misconduct in previous cases, including the World Trade Center bombing.

Although the Justice Department report released on Tuesday faulted Martz for sloppy record-keeping and poor preparation in the Simpson case, it cast no aspersions on the essential reliability of his testimony about the blood evidence.

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In October 1995, Simpson was acquitted of murdering his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ronald L. Goldman. Martz did not testify in the civil trial, where a jury in February found Simpson liable for the killings and imposed $33.5 million in damages against the former football star.

In July 1995, a defense expert who reviewed the same evidence as Martz testified that a preservative was found in blood taken from the rear gate of Nicole Simpson’s condominium and socks found in O.J. Simpson’s bedroom.

The issue was important because EDTA is contained in test tubes used by the LAPD to store blood taken from victims, suspects and others. If the blood on Simpson’s socks found at his residence and on the gate contained that preservative, it could have suggested that the blood was planted on those items rather than splashed there during the murders.

The following day, however, Martz testified that those blood samples did not come from test tubes laced with the preservative, as the defense had alleged.

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“My data has been misinterpreted by someone else and I want to correct that,” Martz told the criminal jury, referring to the testimony of defense expert Frederic Rieders.

Martz acknowledged at the start of his testimony that at least one set of his test results was consistent with the presence of EDTA. Defense attorneys said at the time that this admission bolstered their theory that police had framed Simpson and was especially telling coming from a law enforcement agent brought into the case at the request of the prosecution.

But after a trial recess, Martz reversed field and repeatedly said he wanted to make it clear that he was not convinced EDTA was present in the samples.

When defense lawyer Robert Blasier asked Martz if he had decided during the recess to become more aggressive in answering questions, Martz responded: “I think I decided that I had to be more truthful. I was not telling the whole truth with ‘yes’ and ‘no’ answers.”

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Nearly two months after Martz testified, the defense learned that Whitehurst had told people that scientists at the FBI lab reportedly claimed that Martz had committed perjury. The defense interviewed Whitehurst and attempted to put him on the witness stand, but Superior Court Judge Lance Ito ruled that Whitehurst’s proposed testimony about alleged improprieties in the FBI lab would be too time-consuming and too repetitive on issues already covered.

On Tuesday, after a lengthy investigation, the Justice Dept. said there was no evidence Martz had lied or had improperly erased data underlying his test results.

But the report criticized Martz for failing at certain times to give credit to other FBI scientists for developing methods used in the testing for EDTA, and for “appearing to boast that he was the foremost expert in EDTA testing.”

The report went on to say: “We do conclude that because of his lack of preparation, his deficient record-keeping and note-taking practices, and certain aspects of his presentation and demeanor at trial, Martz poorly represented the [FBI] laboratory and the FBI in this case.”

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In another part of the report, the Justice Dept. criticized Martz for lacking “appropriate scientific rigor in his approach to examinations.”

In response, the FBI retorted that “as shown by the draft report, Martz’s conclusions in the Simpson case . . . fully comport with appropriate levels of proof and scientific rigor.”


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