OJ by the sea.

O.J. by the Sea

O.J. by the Sea

Notes from different corners of the world.
Dec. 21 1996 3:30 AM

O.J. by the Sea

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       Over the urinal in the men's room of the Santa Monica County Building, where the Simpson trial is transpiring, someone has written, "O.J. GUILTY." Someone else, presumably, has inserted a "NOT," and still another underpreoccupied visitor has scrawled the word "MURDERER" next to the initials. Finally, someone started a series of numerical marks, the series that includes four vertical lines and concludes with a diagonal line through them, apparently as a running vote tally on the subject. Since this room is the main facility available to reporters, attorneys, and witnesses alike, this particular piece of wall would seem to be a perfect cross section of the fluctuating state of opinion among males at the trial. Periodic updates will be found at this site.
       Meanwhile, back in the courtroom, the defense has recalled Greg Matheson of the LAPD crime lab, so that Bob Blasier and he can have an illuminating discussion of how, under the EAP blood-typing system, an AB can or cannot degrade into what appears to be a B. This is perhaps the most arcane corner of Simpson-case arcana, centering around blood scrapings found under Nicole Brown Simpson's fingernails. This debate replicates almost precisely the same issue raised during the criminal trial, and, frankly, I find the urinal poll more enlightening.
       Next, Bob Baker takes on Tom Lange, also called back as a hostile witness. This exchange typifies a trend during this period of the defense case, with hostile witnesses outnumbering friendlies, in which many observers are wondering whether Baker is being too antagonistic, too nasty, too pugnacious. Lange, after all, has not been fingered even by Mr. Johnnie as a devil of deception, and his seen-it-all weariness is unruffled by Baker's attacks.
       The attorney shows the detective a crime-scene photo, replete with blood, that appears to show something that Baker chooses to identify, based on the work of Dr. Henry Lee, as a shoe print. "Did you see a shoe print 4 feet over from the body of Nicole Brown Simpson leading toward the walkway at 875 South Bundy, Mr. Lange?"
       "I don't recall seeing a print 4 feet away."
       "Do you see a shoe print on this photograph in that area?"
       "What shoe print?"
       "THAT shoe print."
       "It doesn't look like one to me."
       Baker gets Lange to agree that police shouldn't have walked through the area where blood from the victims had pooled before the bodies were removed. Then:
       "You would agree that the area that I've been pointing to, that you do not agree is a shoe print, was an imprint made by something after the blood had pooled, correct, sir?"
       "There was a dog that ran through that area and there are paw prints throughout. I suppose it could have been a dog slipping through there. I don't know."
       "Now, in your multiple years as a detective, are you trying to intimate to this jury that that print is caused by a dog?"
       "I don't know what it was caused by. I don't even know if it's a print."
       "Well, it certainly isn't blood pooling, is it?"
       "It doesn't look like it's pooling in that one specific area that you mentioned. I don't know what kind of a print it is."
       "Now, Detective Lange, isn't it true that that impression indicates to you as a detective of 20-plus years that something other than a dog stepped in it?"
       "I think it would be irresponsible for me to make that kind of a decision."
       Lange, as a detective of 20-plus years, has not only learned to stay out of pools of crime-scene blood, but to avoid stepping into defense attorneys' verbal traps. The next one involves the lack of Ron Goldman's footprints. There would have been such prints, Baker suggests, unless Goldman was in the small caged-in area "before Nicole Brown Simpson's throat was slit and blood gushed. Doesn't that mean that there had to be a second assailant occupying Ron Goldman while Nicole Brown Simpson's throat was being slit?"
       "No." A man of few words, Lange doesn't feel the need to assert that Goldman could have happened onto the scene at any time while the other victim was still bleeding, and not have left footprints.
       The detective explains the failure to call criminalists to the Bundy crime scene before everybody left for O.J.'s house by saying he was under the impression that a criminalist had been notified. He contradicts Baker's implication that, had the coroner been called in a more timely fashion, a more precise time of death could have been inferred from the victims' liver temperature.
       "You can't get it much under two, two and a half hours."
       "Isn't it correct, sir, that if the coroner is called quickly, he can narrow the range of time of death down to one to one and a half hours?"
       "That's incorrect. I've never heard that in all my years; in fact, I've heard the opposite."
       Judge Fujisaki has ruled that "probable cause," the linchpin of the police decision to go "over the wall" at Rockingham, is not an issue in this case. But Baker can't let go of the belief, shared--nay, nurtured--by the Dream Team, that the police explanations for showing up at Rockingham and entering the property constitute not just a tissue but a whole Kleenex box of lies. So, as he questions Lange and other police witnesses during this period, he keeps asking the familiar questions, about whether O.J. was a suspect at 5 a.m. on June 13, whether the cops really thought there was another crime victim at Rockingham, whether Mark Fuhrman's sighting of a small blood drop on the Bronco door turned Rockingham into a second crime scene--circling the subject, but always prevented, by a successful objection, from making it evident to jurors where all this might lead: to a violation of O.J.'s Fourth Amendment rights. For believers in Simpson's guilt who also happen to retain a lingering affection for civil liberties, this has always been the most troubling part of the case. But the only thing jurors in this trial can take from this line of questioning, if Baker is successful, is the vague sense that either all the officers are packing aged cheese on their persons or there's got to be another reason for the strong aroma permeating these answers.
       Like Vannatter and the other cops at Rockingham and/or Bundy, Lange is questioned repeatedly on the subject of Mark Fuhrman. Baker has made it one of his primary missions in his interrogations to repeat the name of the disgraced former detective as ritualistically as Louis Farrakhan refers to "the honorable Elijah Muhammad." Lange doesn't believe Fuhrman was even out of his sight before the property was entered. But this issue will be revisited.
       Meanwhile, Baker indulges in his second recorded instance of lapsing into Maxwell Smart-speak, a reference that marks him as either a person whose sense of humor was formed in the '60s or a regular viewer of Nick at Nite. He's pursuing another of his favorite lines of questioning, the police explanation that seeing the Bronco parked at an odd angle helped motivate their decision to enter the property. Baker's trying to narrow down Lange's sense of what constitutes jutting, since the rear tires were reported jutting out into the street, as compared to the front tires.
       "There is about [a] 4-inch difference between the front tire being close to the curb and the rear tire. You would agree with that?"
       "I never measured it. I couldn't say."
       "Let's take a look at the photo and see if we can make some determinations. The tires on the vehicle, you would agree, probably aren't any wider than 8 inches?"
       "They're probably a little wider than that. Again, I didn't measure it."
       "You want to go 10? Would you believe 11?"
       "I don't know."
       Aiming at a related point--the already tarnished truthfulness of Vannatter's statements in applying for a search warrant--Baker asks Lange whether the first thing Kato Kaelin said when he opened the door to find four police detectives standing outside his room was, "Did O.J.'s plane go down?"
       Lange deadpans, "I never heard that."
       In a different attack on police credibility, the attorney nails down Lange's recollection that Simpson's daughter Arnelle used a key to let the detectives into the house through a back door, after turning off the alarm system. Baker drops a load of hints that he has a witness, probably Arnelle herself, waiting to testify to the contrary--that she let the officers in through the front door, and that there is no alarm-system keypad in back.
       The next morning, like the ghost that came to dinner, Mark Fuhrman re-enters the picture. Did Lange, once the three detectives entered the Rockingham house, keep track of the whereabouts of Fuhrman, whom they had left back in Kato's room, questioning the house guest? Well, kinda.
       "Phillips you had right in front of you, and he was talking to Arnelle, correct?"
       "Yes."
       "And you didn't know where Fuhrman was, correct?"
       "No, I did know where Fuhrman was."
       "You knew Fuhrman was out in the bar, you said you saw him out in the bar from your vantage point in the kitchen area, right?"
       "During that time Fuhrman was somewhere between Kato's room and the bar area, yes."
       "How do you know that?"
       "Because I left him with Kato, as we walked in, for awhile. Kato--my recollection is that Kato entered sometime after that. It's just what I recall."
       "Well, Kato entered sometime after that. Do you have a recollection of Fuhrman entering--do you have a recollection, sir, of seeing Fuhrman enter the residence?"
       "Physically walking in?"
       "That's what I mean." Baker spits these words out with a contempt that is three-dimensional. You can see its dark side, his offended disbelief that an experienced police officer couldn't answer his straightforward question. If you're buying his act, Lange may not be an official devil, but he owns property in Hell's outskirts.
       "I can't say that I specifically had that recollection."
       "Do you have a recollection, as you sit here now, of Fuhrman ever being in the Simpson residence after you knocked--after he rapped on Kato's door and before he came and got you and others to look at the glove that he says he found on the south side of Mr. Simpson's property?"
       "I don't recall if he was in there or not. Again, my attention was not focused on Mr. Fuhrman's whereabouts."
       Baker is scrupulous in attaching the words "purported" or "alleged" to every piece of evidence found by Fuhrman. If the media had been similarly constrained last July, Richard Jewell wouldn't be suing anyone.
       "So as far as you were aware, Fuhrman was out of any sight that you had from approximately 5:40 to about 6:15, correct?"
       "No, I can't say that. Again, I didn't specifically keep a record of every movement of Mr. Fuhrman. I recall seeing him from time to time. I can't give you an accounting of what he did every minute he was there."
       "I didn't ask you for an accounting, sir. You've been on the stand, what, three, 400 times?"
       "It's probably a conservative estimate."
       "And you've been interrogated by a lot of attorneys, have you not, sir?"
       "Oh, yes."
       "So can you listen, be kind enough to listen to my questions, and attempt to answer my questions, sir."
       The plaintiffs' Ed Medvene rises to defend the unflappable Lange: "Objection, argumentative. Move to strike Mr. Baker's comments."
       Fujisaki, who appears to be growing more impatient as he discovers that the absence of a TV camera does not insure decorum, ignores Medvene, a lawyer he seems to genuinely dislike, and snaps at Baker: "Ask a question."
       Baker, relieved that he's not Medvene, resumes. "The question is Fuhrman was out of your vision from 5:40 to 6:15, yes or no?"
       "Again, I can't--I don't know. He was in and out of my vision. I can't tell you where he was every moment. That's my answer."
       "So your answer is, 'I don't know,' correct?"
       "I do not know where Mr. Fuhrman was all the time he was there. I was focused on other things."
       To the defense, Fuhrman is everything. To the other cops, it's important to send the message that there was no reason to keep an eye on Fuhrman, so they didn't.
       Lange says he didn't see blood on the bloody glove at Rockingham, didn't see anything that looked moist or sticky, but he never got closer to the object in question than 6 or 8 feet. He also did not see a trail of blood anywhere near the glove. Lange looked at the Rockingham glove when the detectives returned to Bundy, but insists he viewed it at the criminalist's truck, never telling Dennis Fung to bring the glove into the Bundy crime scene area: "I don't recall at all him having the glove there."
       Baker asks whether Lange ordered a stride analysis done of the blood drops, and the detective deadpans, "I don't know what a stride analysis is, as it relates to blood drops." Stride analysis was done on the shoe prints, at least on all the shoe prints the police recognized as shoe prints.
       Then it's back to the interview O.J. gave to Lange and Vannatter on the afternoon of June 13. Probing this area with Vannatter ended up being problematic for Baker, but he plows back in with Lange. "And so you, being an experienced detective, have got O.J. Simpson down in the interrogation room at Parker Center and you have him without any lawyers present, true?"
       "No. Mr. Simpson had counsel prior to that, and he was advised of his rights and they went to lunch."
       There's a laugh in the courtroom at the expense of the hungry Howard Weitzman.
       "So you--so you had an opportunity to have your probable-cause suspect interrogated by you and your partner, Phil Vannatter, for as long as you wanted to interrogate him, without anybody objecting to any questions or instructing Mr. Simpson to answer or not to answer any questions, true?"
       "That's a little misleading, once again."
       "Can you answer that? Just answer it, yes or no."
       "It was not an interrogation. It was an interview. And there's a difference between the two."
       Once again, this would seem to be a blind alley for the defense. The half-hour encounter between suspect and detectives was an interview, softer than a Larry King hour with Princess Di, and that fact suggests favoritism toward the famous Mr. Simpson, not the opposite. Baker's reaction, when he discovers it's a dead end, is to pound his fists on the steering wheel:
       "You were aware that Mr. Simpson volunteered to give you his answers to any questions you asked, true?"
       "I don't know if he'd give me the answers to any questions that I asked."
       "And all the questions in the minutes that you were in there, did Mr. Simpson ever indicate to you he wouldn't answer a question?"
       "He skirted around quite a few."
       "Oh, so it's your version that he skirted around quite a few, right?"
       "Yes."
       "Like you're doing?"
       "Is that a question?"
       "I guess it's a statement."
       Baker revisits the issue of whether O.J. asked the cops for any details about the crime, and Lange hangs even tougher than Vannatter did, almost daring Baker to repeat his error of two days earlier and play the tape of the interview again.
       "He says, 'every time I ask you guys to tell me what happened, you say, 'In a little bit.' ' If he hadn't asked you anything, you would have jumped all over him and said, 'You never asked anything.' "
       "No, we wouldn't have done that in this situation."
       "No," and now Baker is actually sneering, his contempt gone global, "you'd just go on TV and say my client is such a bad guy."
       Ed Medvene does a cursory cleanup, but Lange hasn't left much of a mess. Then Baker is back on the attack, so apparently passionate that he allows the detective to slide in a zinger:
       "You were aware that Simpson called Rockingham at least three or four more times that morning while he was on an airplane trying to get back to his house, and to the murder scene of his ex-wife, correct?"
       "He may have."
       "And he called Bundy three or four more times trying to get information relative to what had happened, and what had occurred, and talked to police officers who picked up the phone at Bundy? You're aware of that, are you not?"
       "I don't recall that."
       There's been no testimony to that effect, but there's no objection, and Baker's head of steam is unabated.
       "Well, before you go on national television and excoriate Mr. Simpson for not having inquired about what you thought was appropriate, you'd sure want to find out who he talked to besides you, wouldn't you, or do you just want to be one-sided?"
       "No. I was probably more concerned with what Mr. Simpson asked me as his interviewer, and my partner and this--now that you brought it up, none of those questions were asked."
       The examination peters out in a debate between Baker and Lange over whether an area near Ron Goldman's body consisted of a pool of blood or several drops of blood. Students in speech classes years from now will not memorize that colloquy.
       The next phase of the trial was supposed to be "Waiting for Dr. Lee." Dr. Henry Lee, the forensic scientist who stuck a dagger into the heart of the prosecution in Trial 1 with two words--"Something's wrong"--refuses to fly out to California from his Connecticut headquarters to testify in this trial. So the week is supposed to end with a showing of his videotaped deposition. In the meantime, after cameo appearances from the cop who investigated the break-in into the Bronco and didn't see blood, and the police lieutenant momentarily in charge of the Bundy crime scene, we see Dr. John Gerdes, who also contributed a memorable phrase to Barry Scheck's closing argument. Dr. Gerdes, a Denver-based scientist, is a practitioner and supporter of DNA technology in an academic or clinical environment, but profoundly critical of its use in uncontrolled, real-world--i.e., crime-scene--situations. It was he who described the LAPD's DNA lab as a "cesspool of contamination" in Trial 1, but Fujisaki will not allow him to testify on the subject that brought forth that alliterative denunciation, the department's self-administered validation tests.
       So, no "cesspool," or even cessdrops. Still, Gerdes peppers his direct testimony with sharp, memorably scary words. "Subversive"--the potential for cross-contamination in a DNA lab. "Paranoid"--what a good scientist like Gary Sims, at the California Department of Justice Lab, is when constantly cleaning; changing gloves, paper, and other equipment to guard against the subversion. God, the DNA world sounds just like the 50s.
       And the LAPD does not maintain "one-way work flow," a procedure that insures that processed or amplified samples can't migrate backwards through the lab to contaminate other evidence.
       Gerdes also gets, under Bob Blasier's supervision, to narrate the most unconsciously funny piece of video footage from Trial 1: Andrea Mazzola's tape demonstrating her evidence collection--and dropping--technique. "Now her tweezers are touching her glove, so anything on the pavement (which she previously rested her gloved hand on) is now transferred to the tweezers. Now her right hand is touching her left hand. ... Now you've definitely got blood on that tweezers. ... She's wiping. You can't wipe DNA off. She's just using water. I guarantee you can still get DNA off those tweezers. ... She's writing with that right hand, now she's transferred whatever DNA she had on the glove to the pen." In the annals of tapes that smart people might have FedExed to another dimension, this video ranks just behind Nixon's "Smoking Gun" conversation.
       On Thursday afternoon, trying to wipe Mazzola off, Tom Lambert gets Gerdes to concede that other evidence samples, and other, non-DNA tests, got results that coincide with, and hence validate, the incriminating results of the samples he thinks were contaminated. He also wins a bigger concession: Gerdes, on direct, has been talking theory, the likelihood that, given sloppy practices, subversion can occur. But Lambert asks, "there's no evidence that, when items six and seven were processed by the LAPD, that contamination occurred?"
       "There's no direct evidence of that, no."
       And Gerdes, who has been talking primarily about subversion in the soft DNA underbelly of PCR tests, where tiny samples are amplified enormously, admits that the more rigorous RFLP tests, which also found matches to Simpson and Nicole Brown Simpson on the gloves and the socks, could not possibly have been caused by contamination.
       "You have no argument with any of the RFLP results?"
       "That's correct."
       He even agrees with Lambert that certain of the uncontaminated matches are "extremely probative."
       So Blasier has to rehabilitate his own witness. Gerdes agrees with defense contentions that certain samples--on the socks, on the rear gate--are so much richer in DNA than other items of evidence that, on that basis alone, they're consistent with (the lawyer weasel words of all time) having come from a reference sample, a rich source of blood, like the sample O.J. gave to Thano Peratis.
       Once Gerdes is gone, the jury is dismissed, and Dan Petrocelli and Bob Baker engage in combat over the Henry Lee video--combat that, had this trial been televised, would have been blamed on the corrupting presence of the camera. Petrocelli reads the series of "Dear Bob" letters he kept sending to Baker, asking to know what portions of the video the defense intended to use. He never received an answer. Only three days ago, he says, did the defense team finally designate portions, and the plaintiffs object to many of them. The tape, he says, should not be shown until those objections are dealt with.
       Baker, in full outrage mode, protests that the only parts of the tape of Lee's deposition the plaintiffs don't object to are the times on the tape when plaintiffs' attorney Ed Medvene is making objections at the deposition. They want us, he complains, to play a tape that consists solely of their objections.
       Fujisaki's patience, which on most occasions is in only slightly shorter supply than his apparent wakefulness, runs out. If the parties can't agree, then we'll just sit here and go line by line through the deposition, he sighs threateningly. And so, they do. A courtroom that only days earlier was the scene of the most gripping drama now is the site of paperwork that makes tax accounting seem thrilling by comparison.
       In fact, the line-by-line is so numbing that, after an hour of it, Baker concedes. He'll spend the day Friday conferring with Petro over plaintiffs' objections. In fact, the playing of the Lee tape gets put off until after the Christmas break. Because now, we're Waiting for O.J.

Harry Shearer is a writer, actor, and director who has met both Kato Kaelin and Heidi Fleiss.