OJ by the sea.

O.J. by the Sea

O.J. by the Sea

Notes from different corners of the world.
Dec. 19 1996 3:30 AM

O.J. by the Sea

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       In the criminal trial, the testimony of Thano Peratis (the police nurse who drew O.J.'s blood sample) started as a shambles and went downhill from there. Assistant District Attorney Hank Goldberg, the one with the penny-ante book deal, had gone to Peratis' house (the nurse having suffered a heart attack recently) and videotaped Peratis' negation, essential to blunt a blood-planting charge, of his earlier testimony that he had withdrawn 8 cubic centimeters of blood from Simpson. Goldberg might as well have videotaped 20 minutes of tropical fish, for all the good that testimony did the prosecution.
       But today, here's Peratis in person. He's not sick, but--on the other hand--an informal poll of the press rows finds few people willing to let him take their blood. Once again, his job is to insist that his earlier "8 cc" testimony was an estimate; that, on reflection--a cogitative process initiated by Johnnie Cochran's opening statement in Trial 1--he realizes that he drew no more than 6.5 cc. This neatly disposes of the "missing blood." If no blood is missing, then none was available to be planted.
       Peratis also treated, at Vannatter's instruction, the noticeable cut on Simpson's left-hand middle finger. As in Baker's examinations of Vannatter and Lange, Blasier uses Peratis to point out that no one at Parker Center June 13 noticed the plethora of injuries and abrasions to O.J.'s left hand that Dr. Huizenga documented June 14. Again, as in the criminal trial, the defense pursues parallel theories of conspiracy and incompetence.
       Blasier: "Well, tell us what it is you recall today about what you were asked to do with respect to Mr. Simpson's hand or finger."
       Peratis: "After I drew the blood, I heard--I think it was Mr. Vannatter, I don't know which one it was, request, 'You take a look at Mr. Simpson's finger,' or words to that effect."
       "OK."
       "Which I did."
       "And you did that by--how did you do it?"
       "Picking up his hand, looking at his finger, cleaning it off with some Aqueous Zephrin--I'm sorry, some Betadine, then I put a dressing on it, a Band-Aid."
       "And you're trained to identify injuries as a nurse, correct?"
       "Yeah. Yes."
       "And the only injury on his hand was the cut on the middle finger, correct?"
       "That's the only place I looked 'cause it was--that was specifically mentioned to me."
       "OK. Were you told, 'Don't look at his other fingers'? I mean, his fingers were attached to the rest of his hand, weren't they?"
       "No, I was asked, 'Could you please look at that finger?' and that's all. I didn't do any full examination. Mr. Simpson was not under arrest. I had no doctor there. All I did was just clean off that one finger, and that was it. I didn't look to see if there was anything else."
       "You didn't see anything--any other ... "
       "That's all I looked at ... that one finger."
       If you weren't paying attention, you might think Blasier was suggesting that the cuts found later had been planted by Mark Fuhrman. In fact, Peratis' testimony fits that of both Vannatter and Lange on this point. You can say, as Baker does to both detectives, that investigators with 20 years' experience should have examined all fingers of both hands of their prime suspect in a murder involving a sharp object, but their failure to do so is, at most, reason to be grateful they're both retired.
       Then to the blood.
       "Is the vial supposed to be filled?"
       "It's supposed to be. Good luck if you can fill it up all the time."
       It is, of course, Peratis who needs the luck, as Blasier gets him to agree that he testified--to the best of his ability, to the grand jury--just a couple of weeks after the murder. That's when the 8 cc figure first entered the record. He then repeated the figure at the preliminary hearing. And then, when "a friend called and told me," he learned that Johnnie Cochran was making an issue of the "missing blood" in his opening statement.
       Peratis agrees with Blasier that he became "very concerned." Two or three days later, he tried to re-create his actions in taking Simpson's blood sample. And now, under less than the toughest of Blasier's questions, Peratis says, "When I found out I had been wrong, I changed my story." Bet his needle sticks don't hurt that much.
       Additionally, Peratis testifies that his heart attack a year and a half ago has resulted in--among other side effects of medication--memory problems.
       "So," Blasier illuminates the obvious, "your best recollection of what you did would be two to three weeks after you drew Mr. Simpson's blood, not in the meeting with Mr. Goldberg?"
       Trapped, Peratis punts.
       "I don't understand."
       "What did you tell Mr. Goldberg that you took from Mr. Simpson?"
       "Between 6 and 6.5 cc."
       "And that accounted for exactly the amount that Mr. Cochran said was missing?"
       "I guess so."
       The icing on the cake: Peratis now testifies he was too busy with his job to watch the original trial on television. But he agrees that a set in the nurse's station was tuned to O.J. 1, and that when Blasier came in to question him, he said, "I saw you guys on TV."
       So, OK. Ed Medvene gets Peratis to agree that Vannatter and Lange--no doctors, they--didn't tell him how much blood to withdraw. He neither measured the amount nor wrote it down.
       Peratis demonstrates the apparatus and his technique, and this judge admonishes a witness in mid-demonstration: "Don't talk to the jurors. Just show them the bevel." Another distinction from Trial 1, in which a certain unsworn witness mumbled to the jurors: "They don't fit."
       Peratis tells Medvene he doesn't normally use a syringe. He usually takes the blood directly into the Vacutainer, but "certain people are pretty muscular, and it's a little hard to control with the Vacutainer; it's easier to control with a syringe."
       "And you don't measure when you use a syringe?"
       "We never measure blood."
       Good thing to have on a sign over the door of the police infirmary, maybe with a flashing neon cartoon of a smiling, blindfolded nurse.
       The concerned Peratis conducted an experiment on his own, filling a syringe until he hit the level he remembered as the amount of Simpson blood he took more than six months earlier--and that amount was between 6 cc and 6.5 cc. He held the syringe with the calibrations facing downward, so he couldn't see them as he watched the bevel--at some point, the bevel stopped, and the blood stopped flowing.
       "Prior to that test, did you ever measure the amount of blood you withdrew from someone's arm?"
       "No."
       "Never?"
       "Never."
       Yes, we got to the outskirts of Gilbert and Sullivanville and hung a U-turn just in time.
       "Why did you say the amount that you said?"
       "Up to this time, I think that anyone [who draws] blood, if ... asked that question, think[s] of 8 cc as about the amount that [they] draw. And that is about the first thing they think. And that was the first thing that came out of my mouth. The correct answer at that time should have been, 'I don't know how much I drew.' "
       "Why would that have been the correct answer? Because you didn't know?"
       "No, I didn't, really--didn't really know--it was a guess. It was an educated guess, you might say. I happened to be wrong in that case. Many times, I'd be right."
       "Because sometimes it's one amount and sometimes it's another?"
       "Yes."
       You may have noticed by now a singular failure of journalistic enterprise: No major media outlet has conducted a survey of nurses, asking them to say, off the tops of their heads, how much blood they take in a normal withdrawal. Half an hour on the phone--an hour, tops--and we'd know.
       Peratis is almost a free man. Bob Blasier gets one more crack at him, and somewhere up above, Abbott and Costello are smiling:
       "Now, are you telling us that now, two and a half years later, you have a specific recollection of which side the bevel on the needle was when you withdrew Mr. Simpson's blood?"
       "All--the only reason I have the--that recollection is that the bevel--had the calibrations been facing up to the bevel, I would have seen it. If I was seeing how much blood I had drawn, I would have noticed it."
       "My question is, two and a half years after you drew this blood, are you saying you have a specific recollection as to which side the bevel on the needle was?"
       "No, I'm not. I'm just saying that I had the bevel up. All right?"
       "OK. That's because you always do it that way?"
       "Right. Now, if the bevel were up and the calibrations were up where the bevel was, I would have seen it."
       "You would have seen how much blood you drew, correct?"
       "Yes. But it wasn't that way. Otherwise, I would have seen it."
       Based on this logic, O.J. couldn't have killed Ron and Nicole.
       Otherwise, he'd be the murderer.

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