OJ by the sea.

O.J. by the Sea

O.J. by the Sea

Notes from different corners of the world.
Dec. 14 1996 3:30 AM

O.J. by the Sea

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       We pay for our obsessions. Chocaholics get pimples or ridiculously enhanced sex drives. Baseball fans got the strike. Those who adore Madonna have to see Evita. And people like me, who still think there's something interesting about O.J. Simpson on trial--we have to see Andrea Mazzola testify again. Whoever wanted to hear another minute spent discussing bindles?
       Mazzola was Dennis Fung's rookie assistant when, on the day of June 13, 1994, he collected evidence in the double murder. Except, of course, that she really collected the evidence that he said he collected, an anomaly that Barry Scheck had a field day with throughout that longest April, the month Fung and Mazzola shared the stand in the criminal trial.
       Now she returns to the stand, part of the switcheroo theme of this trial--in which former defense witnesses now testify for the plaintiffs, and vice versa. Andrea Mazzola, now a Criminalist 3 with the LAPD, wearing slightly--and I do mean slightly--longer hair and braces on her teeth, is called as a witness for the defense.
       I have a visual memory of where I was during the testimony of every witness during the original trial. In fact, when Fung's boss Greg Matheson testifies Wednesday, I see the hotel room in New Orleans where I watched his televised testimony on CNN, between promos for a "King-sized week" on Larry King Live. The sight of Andrea Mazzola in person has a special sweetness for me, because the only day I visited the criminal trial, she was on the stand. Her voice, virtually inaudible in the courtroom then, is a bit stronger now. Her story isn't. This time, the criminalist doesn't have to endure the indignity of hearing Dream Teamer Peter Neufeld preface every question with a raspingly nasal "Maa'aam" and end it by pronouncing her name "Miss Mazzoler." This time, the indignity resides in her answers.
       Under Bob Blasier's angry chirp of an examination, she admits she doesn't remember much about what happened in 1994, the year in question in this proceeding. Even after Blasier reads her hunks of her testimony in the criminal trial, she doesn't remember having said those things. Blasier may not be proving that Mazzola's either sinister or incompetent, but he is proving how smart the plaintiffs were not to call her during their case.
       One of the big themes of the week, javelined at Vannatter, Mazzola, and Lange, is the handoff of O.J.'s reference blood sample from Vannatter to Dennis Fung in the foyer of Rockingham. Bob Baker has already put Vannatter on record this morning as saying he didn't seal the gray envelope that contained the blood vial despite explicit instructions on the envelope to do so. It's not a pretty picture: Cops who would have, early in their careers, given you a ticket for having your rear turn indicator blink too slowly, are now--in their retired-detective eminence--shrugging at printed rules and regs of their own department. Mazzola admits that, as she hefted a trash bag out of Rockingham to the crime-scene truck on her way back downtown, no one told her that bag contained Simpson's reference blood sample.
       Another theme, as we enter the conspiracy-and-contamination phase of the defense, is the swatches Mazzola made of the bloodstains found at Bundy. The defense theory is that the original evidence swatches may have been swapped for far more damning little cloth squares. Around that motif, Blasier organizes a little call-and-response:
       "Neither you nor Mr. Fung counted the number of swatches for each stain that night, did you?"
       "No, we did not."
       "You did not sketch the swatches showing their size, so that you could later look at them to determine whether the swatches were the same as you had put in the drying tubes. Correct?"
       "No, we did not measure each swatch."
       "And you didn't take any photographs of any of the swatches, did you?"
       "No, we did not."
       "It's accurate, is it not, [that] there's no way to tell one swatch from the other just by looking at the swatch?"
       "That is accurate, yes."
       Mazzola testifies that the swatches were dry before they were packaged in paper bindles. The defense will remind us frequently this week that when Collin Yamauchi unpackaged them to begin testing, some swatches had left slight stains on the bindles--still moist, by the normal rules of physics. The final damning detail that dogs this evidence, and this witness: Mazzola testified, in earlier proceedings, that she initialed the paper bindles in which the swatches were packaged, though the ultimate evidence bindles bear no initials "A.M." (No one has asked her yet whether she ever signed her initials using the wrong letters.) "That would indicate," Blasier says, billboarding his theory to the slowest juror, "that they weren't the same bindles, correct?" The objection is sustained but, as usual, the memory lingers on.
       For Mazzola's testimony, as for that later in the week of the defense's DNA critic Dr. John Gerdes, the jurors sit attentively, almost all of them taking detailed notes. During these same sequences, most reporters in the listening rooms are reading newspapers and/or books (particularly the Schiller tome on Trial 1), while several others take the opportunity to pay the month's bills and balance their checkbooks.
       White-haired Tom Lambert, a partner of Petrocelli's, has the job of rehabilitating Mazzola on cross--as they say in court. She didn't, she tells him, have an opportunity to review her notes before testifying at the preliminary hearing that she'd initialed the bindles. She doesn't remember when she changed her gloves because, she says, turning to face the jury, "I'm in gloves the entire day. To us, changing gloves is like blinking. You do it so often you don't remember when you do it." (Blasier, on redirect, takes this setup and renders it into a punch line: "Apparently, you didn't blink between the knit cap and the glove, did you?")
       Lambert, playing D against the conspiracy theory, elicits through Mazzola the fact that the Evidence Control Room, in which the swatches and blood samples were stored overnight, was only accessible to Criminalist 2s and above. Not to police officers? "Correct." Not even to devils of deception. What Blasier got Mazzola to admit she didn't do in this case Lambert lets her point out she doesn't do in any case: photograph or sketch the swatches. Would failure to perform either function "turn one person's blood into another['s]?"
       Objection, overruled.
       "No."
       And she testifies that she didn't test the swatches before bindling to make sure they were dry.
       Blasier, most of whose questioning is bone-dry and replete with technical details that leave listeners gasping for air, surely must relish this opportunity to do some Scheck-like swashbuckling. On redirect, he once again asks whether the fact that she once testified to initialing the bindles means the evidence bindles aren't the same ones she packaged. Another objection, but another deposit in the memory bank. Blasier also confronts her with the fact that far more blood was collected from the Bronco in August than she and Fung had recovered in June: "That blood wasn't there in June, was it?"
       Objection, overruled.
       "We didn't tear the seats out. In August, they tore the front seat out."
       And, a world away from niggling over slot blots and alleles, Blasier finishes with a blast straight at Mazzola's bangs:
       "You still don't photograph or sketch swatches?"
       "No."
       "You haven't learned anything from the criminal case, have you?"
       Objection, sustained.
       By this time, being called "Miss Mazzoler" must have seemed awfully tempting. Andrea Mazzola strides briskly out of the courtroom, looking straight ahead. Outside, as the witness continues her stride toward lunch, comes, from one of the die-hard O.J. opponents who jostle with die-hard O.J. supporters for face time on the lawyers-walking-into-court footage, the most absurd catcall of the week: "Andrea," the man bellows, "you RULE!"

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