OJ by the sea.

O.J. by the Sea

O.J. by the Sea

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

O.J. by the Sea

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       Some incidental facts that fit into no narrative: Bob Blasier, the Dream Team holdover DNA expert who makes his home in Northern California, is living for the duration of this trial on the Simpson estate, in Kato's old room. If he hears three thumps on the wall, it's all over.
       Robert Shapiro, who, just a week before, was setting off so many ethical smoke alarms that even Larry Schiller was finding fault with his behavior, has left the employ of CBS. He lasted all of two days. His future projects include brokering a deal in which, when you spend enough on a special credit card, you get a free movie ticket.
       And, I run into Stan Goldman at dinner, and he reminds me just how far Simpsonmania has strayed into pure mania: He was a guest speaker, he recalls, on a Simpson cruise. The other guest: limo driver Allan Park.
       It is when Simpson is confronted late Monday morning with Park's testimony that he momentarily waives the "no absolutely" rule. Did Simpson, as Park has testified repeatedly, tell the limo driver when he finally answered his buzz that he had overslept and just gotten out of the shower?
       "Absolutely not."
       Did Simpson say, as both Park and Kato have testified, "No, no, no, I'll get it," when Kato tried to put the mysterious small dark bag in the trunk of the limo?
       Simpson chuckles at that. "I didn't say 'no, no, no.' I think I just said, 'I'll get it.' "
       "Are you sure about that?" Petrocelli asks, nailing down the contradiction.
       "Yes."
       Kato and Park are arrayed against Simpson on the identification of that bag. Simpson has produced a dark-blue bag with tan trim that he identifies as the one he had that night. When asked to confirm that identification, both Park and Kato have testified that "that's not the bag." So, today, after a long pause in which Petro and his assistant (the cute young Steve whom a juror tried to contact--an effort that got her banished) have to unlock a storage cabinet behind the jury room to retrieve it, Simpson once again says that was the bag in question.
       "Looks like a pretty new bag," Petrocelli muses.
       "Yes."
       "Are you positive that this new bag is the one you went out to get near the Bentley?"
       "I believe it is. I can't say I'm 1,000 percent positive." One thousand percent. That's that USC math.
       "Are you sure that's the bag?"
       "It looks like the bag."
       "You're sure that bag wasn't acquired by someone, after the fact, to substitute for another bag that has since never been seen?"
       Bob Baker erupts: "Your Honor, there's absolutely no basis for him to ask that question. I object to it, and it's argumentative."
       Petro snaps back: "Try two witnesses who have already testified."
       Fujisaki, getting a word in judgewise: "Overruled."
       And back to Simpson, now deep in conditional-land. "Well, I would think it would--I would think not."
       "Are you unsure of yourself?
       "No. I would think not. I wouldn't know anybody that would do that."
       Yes, we have arrived at the part of the day's testimony where English teachers should bring their students to see how "woulds" grow.
       When Simpson went to the Bronco to retrieve whatever it was he retrieved, did he bleed there? "If I did, I would have no knowledge of it."
       "You didn't bleed on the button that turns on the headlights?"
       "If I did, I would have no knowledge of it."
       Petro takes him through the list of places in the vehicle where blood was found, and Simpson's answer remains the same. Now, did he reach in and grab whatever with his right hand? Simpson is, he acknowledges, right-handed, and "whatever" was on or under the passenger seat.
       "I would assume so."
       Twice, while talking about reaching for the stuff, Simpson demonstrates the reaching action with his right hand. But the bloodstain inside the door handle would come far more easily off, say, the middle finger of the left hand.
       "You know that blood was found in the Bronco the next morning?"
       "Yes."
       "And you have no explanation for how it got there?"
       "That's correct."
       Petrocelli's almost whispering now, almost impossible to hear, even in the courtroom. Only 13 people need hear him--the jurors and the defendant.
       "And you have no explanation how the blood of Nicole was found on the carpet of the Bronco?"
       "No."
       Back to that finger.
       "That cut on the middle finger of your left hand still bears a scar, doesn't it?"
       "Yes."
       Simpson shows Petrocelli the scar, and a black reporter in front of me stifles a chuckle at the sight of Simpson giving his nemesis the finger.
       There are only two occasions during his testimony when Simpson admits that he did something wrong: the first, when he regrets having "gotten physical" with Nicole on New Year's Day, 1989, and now.
       "Is that scar the cut that you incurred in Los Angeles between 10 and 11 p.m. that you re-cut in Chicago, yes or no?"
       "I would have to say 'no.' "
       "Is that the cut you reopened in Chicago, yes or no?"
       "I would say 'no.' "
       "What do you mean you 'would say'? What happened? Can't you just answer the question?"
       Baker goes to the defense of the defendant, but the judge is throwing out no lifesavers. "Well, that's argumentative, Your Honor."
       "Overruled. Answer it."
       "I think earlier I told you I assumed, because I saw blood the night before, that I had cut my finger. I made it clear to the police that I never saw a cut, on numerous occasions that day. I made an assumption, which I realize I shouldn't have made, because I saw blood ... I saw blood on my finger. I assumed I had cut my hand. Since I didn't see a cut, and since there was no other cut on my hand when I returned from Chicago and I was with the police and I was with Nurse Peratis, there was no other cut on my hand, I assumed and--I made an assumption, and I was wrong making that assumption."
       "Were you wrong telling the police that you cut your finger before you left to go to Chicago?"
       "That's right. I saw a spot of blood ... "
       "One question at a time. You were wrong when you told the police that you reopened that cut or that you cut it in Chicago, yes or no, you were wrong?"
       "I was wrong."
       "You had a real problem coming back from Chicago with a cut on your hand and being questioned about the murder of Nicole, didn't you?"
       Back to conditional-land: "I wouldn't have viewed it as a problem, no."
       "And you had no real explanation for that cut, correct?"
       "Incorrect."
       "You had no explanation for why blood was found at your house, right?"
       "At my house?"
       "Yes."
       "I don't know."
       "Now, the police told you that they found blood at your house?"
       "Yes."
       "They said there's blood on the driveway, right?"
       "Possibly."
       "They said there's blood in the car, right?"
       "They may have."
       Oddly, Simpson feels the need to be cagey about what's said in a statement that we all know he's read and reread a million times. Talk about your self-inflicted injuries.
       And then Petrocelli makes a thrust, quick and sharp, his voice like a knife through the courtroom:
       "Tell the jury how you cut yourself, Mr. Simpson."
       "I don't know."
       "You have no idea how blood got on you the night of June 12, 1994. Is that what you're saying?"
       "Yes."
       Judge Fujisaki arrives late. Every morning's session starts late. Friday mornings are scheduled to begin half an hour later than usual. The judge calls for 10-minute breaks that distend so markedly we'll soon begin betting on how long each one will last. The actual court sessions rarely last more than an uninterrupted hour, as though there were an impatient bladder somewhere near the bench. So much for the reputed "no-nonsense judge." But, coming after such a blistering sequence, a break at this point, even though it marks my exit from the courtroom, seems like an act of mercy.
       After the pause, it's more finger talk. Simpson testifies he saw blood under the nail of his left pinkie, which is what led him to assume he was cut. But did he say anything about that pinkie in his statement to police detectives the morning after the murders? "Probably not." In all his discussions with the detectives, Simpson concedes, the finger he talked about was the middle one.
       Now, to Chicago. We have seen a photo of the rumpled bedclothes in Simpson's minisuite, with a bloodstain in the middle. What's the deal? "You dripped some blood while you were sleeping from a bleeding finger?"
       "I would doubt that."
       It's not just a grammatical peculiarity, this lapse into the conditional tense. It confers a strange sense of mock-objectivity on Simpson's recollection of certain events in his own life, as if he's somehow distancing himself from them. Wonder why that would be.
       "At some point," Petrocelli asks, "you went into the bathroom and broke a glass?"
       "A glass broke."
       "What do you mean, 'a glass broke'? You broke it, right?"
       "I think I was very emotional when I went in there at one point, and, during that point, a glass broke as I was going back and forth. It was a very emotional time for me."
       "Those hotel glasses," Petrocelli says, getting almost conversational for a moment, "are kinda thick, kinda sturdy and dumpy. How did it happen that this glass broke?"
       "I don't know."
       "When did you break this glass?"
       "I don't know."
       "Did you step on it?"
       "No."
       "Did you kick it?"
       "No."
       "Did you do anything to it in an act of rage or violence?"
       "Rage or violence, no."
       Simpson's voice is icy calm at this point. The only time during the trial, or deposition, that he gets truly emotional is when he sees the photo of the rumpled bedclothes in that Chicago hotel suite.
       But the glass will betray him yet.
       "So, you took your right hand, and you swept the pieces of glass into the sink?"
       "I don't recall."
       "You got cut when you swept the glass into the sink?"
       "I assume so."
       "You didn't cut your right hand?"
       "No, I didn't."
       "Your testimony, sir, is that you sustained the injury to your left-hand middle finger while sweeping glass into the sink? Did you use your left hand to backhand the chips of glass into the sink?"
       "During the period of time I was trying to get the glass into the sink, I cut my finger. I can't tell you any more than that."
       Petro asks if Simpson also had a cut on his fourth finger, left hand, when he came back to Los Angeles and spoke to the police, and Simpson denies that. Although, when reminded that Dr. Huizenga examined him the day after that conversation and found such a cut, Simpson says he assumes he had it. Doing the spadework for future contradiction of this testimony, Petrocelli gets Simpson to confirm that Skip Taft, his business manager and friend of 30 years, is "very honest, very loyal." Then:
       "If Skip Taft testified that you had a cut on your fourth finger on June 13 when the police questioned you, would he be correct or incorrect?"
       "He would be incorrect." This, even though Taft was with Simpson at the questioning.
       "How did you get that cut, Mr. Simpson?"
       "You know, I really don't know."
       "It was a fingernail mark, wasn't it?" Petro is pointing back to the testimony of Werner Spitz, beginning to tie together the plaintiffs' narrative of the crime.
       "I doubt that very seriously. Unless it was Justin's, I don't know who[se] it could be. He [Simpson's 7-year-old son] is the only person I was in a physical, rasslin'-type situation [with] during that period."
       There's an absurdity here that may mask actual strategy. Could Simpson be trying to bait Petrocelli into putting a child on the stand to contradict him? Jurors' sympathies have flipped for lesser reasons.
       Simpson and his entourage lunch at Shutters, the beach-side hotel just a block from the scene of the trial. He has a sandwich. (I know this because I have to make a call from a quiet pay phone, and as I walk to Shutters, I notice the O.J. media watch--a gaggle of photographers and television cameramen staking out the hotel's entrance. A couple of mornings later, I have breakfast there, and the waiter tells me Simpson's order, pointing out that I'm sitting where Bob Baker sat.) As the afternoon session begins, Simpson's voice seems weary, slowed. A heavy sandwich, perhaps, or just the toll of close to two days of real cross-examination, as opposed to dress rehearsal with the lawyers from San Francisco.
       Sitting in the listening room this afternoon is a quorum of the lawyers and law professors who have been analyzing this case on television: not only Stan Goldman, but Gerry Spence, and Laurie Levenson, Erwin Chemerinsky, Luke McKissack, former Judge Burton Katz, Peter Arenella, Vincent Bugliosi, Jeffery Toobin. This should have been the Simpson cruise. And it's a good thing they're all here, because this is the afternoon that Daniel Petrocelli swings for the fence, and connects. First, he gets Simpson on the record, contradicting other witnesses who will troop in after the Thanksgiving holiday, in quick order, to rebut his testimony. If Jim Merrill of Hertz, who had Simpson's golf bag in his trunk and whom Simpson called repeatedly before leaving Chicago, testified that he told Simpson to get a cab instead, would he be lying? "Yes." If Mr. Kilduff of Hertz, who actually ended up driving Simpson to O'Hare, testified he heard Simpson express his concern about that golf bag, would he be mistaken? "Correct." Simpson has already testified that he put the mysterious little dark bag into the golf bag.
       Petro even gets Simpson to contradict his own deposition, in which he says he was wearing a white shirt and black pants when he left his Chicago hotel. Now he says he believes he departed in stone-washed blue jeans, and may have changed pants on the plane, after getting blood on them, as well as water, because--thanks for the new detail--"I threw up on myself."
       But now the questioning goes nuclear: Vannatter and Lange, in their June 13 sessions with Simpson, broached the subject of a polygraph test for him, and he gave voice to some hesitation because of "weird thoughts" he'd been having about Nicole. For a moment, it looks like Petro has given Simpson an opportunity to do some Nicole-bashing, for the weird thoughts Simpson owns up to include wishing that Michelle the maid had hit back when Nicole slapped her, and that Nicole had been arrested when she was in an auto accident after "she was doing drugs with Faye Resnick." In all likelihood, though, only Simpson, and perhaps Faye Resnick, will remember that moment, blown away as it is by what follows:
       "Mr. Simpson, you were testifying a few moments ago about how you were, once you understood the process, happy to take a lie-detector test, but it was refused. Do you recall that?"
       "Yes."
       "Now, in fact, Mr. Simpson, before you communicated that position to the D.A. 's office, you went to the office of Dr. Edward Gelb on June 15, did you not?"
       "I don't know."
       "You went to the office of some person on Wilshire Boulevard and sat down and were wired up for a lie-detector test, true?"
       "That's not true. I mean, that's not true in totality."
       "Well, what do you mean, 'in totality?' "
       "We didn't take a lie-detector test. What I was asking him is how did it work, and I wanted to understand it. And he sort of gave me an example [of] how it ... "
       "And he hooked you up to the process and started asking you questions about Nicole, and Nicole's death, and whether you were responsible for it, true?"
       "I don't know if he went that far with it."
       "At the end of that process, you scored a minus 22, true?"
       "I don't know what the score was."
       "And you understood that what you were doing that day was a polygraph test, on June 15. True or untrue?"
       "Not the way they explained it to me, no."
       "You were wired up to a polygraph machine, were you not?"
       "They wired me up to something and they--the guy--started to explain to me about how it works, and we went through it once for my understanding. Once I understood how it worked, I told my lawyers, 'Let's do it.' And we wanted it to be in evidence."
       "And the minus 22, by the way, is a score indicating extreme deception, true?"
       Baker, who by now has lost a lengthy sidebar argument over admissibility of this testimony, can't abide the mention of the alleged result.
       "Your Honor, I object to that."
       "Sustained."
       But Simpson is still taking big damage below the water line. Petro resumes: "I asked you in your deposition in January: 'Question: Have you ever taken a polygraph test? Answer: No.' That was untrue, wasn't it, sir?"
       "As far as I know, I didn't take a polygraph test."
       "You did, in fact, sit for that test, didn't you?"
       "That's incorrect."
       As court takes an afternoon break, the listening room becomes the yelling room: All those lawyer-analysts are conducting the world's loudest and most expensive law-school bull session, most of them taking the position that Fujisaki should put out an all-points bulletin for his marbles. Since the contents of that day's sidebar had not yet been released, they, and we, couldn't know that Petrocelli was relying not only on the uncontested publication of the polygraph story in the Larry Schiller book, but on Baker's opening statement, in which he mentioned Simpson's offer to take a polygraph test and the DA's decision to pass. That is called opening the door. The fact that Petro walks a herd of elephants through the door is the chance Bob Baker took. When, a day later, the sidebar becomes public information, an experienced civil litigator I know thinks aloud the unthinkable: that if Simpson is found liable in this case, he might have grounds for a malpractice action against his own attorney. Yes. This saga will be going on, spinoffs of spinoffs of trials, long after Paula Jones has taken her get-lost money and gotten lost.
       The afternoon concludes with a host of facts for which Simpson is invited to offer explanations, but cannot: blood matching his found on the Bundy walkway, on the Bundy rear gate, on the Rockingham foyer floor; blood matching his and Nicole's on the socks; blood on the TV cable hanging down near the air conditioner behind Kato/Blasier's room; blood on the Rockingham driveway; blood of all three alleged principals found in the Bronco--Simpson may well have been so rattled by the polygraph sequence, he doesn't even swing at these, even when they count their own stitches as they float by. He desists from suggesting a planting theory, he offers merely no explanation. He cannot produce the gloves Nicole bought him. He was given dark sweats to wear in the Playboy exercise video, but, whatever the wardrobe lady might testify, he didn't own any dark sweats on the night of the murders. His one moment on the attack comes when he's confronted with the photo of himself allegedly wearing those ugly-ass shoes. The picture, he says defiantly, is a fake. "I've seen pictures of Mark Fuhrman playing golf with me, and I've never played golf with Mark Fuhrman."
       And, one more miniblockbuster. There is a tape of a telephone conversation Simpson had during the Bronco chase, a conversation with a police detective named Tom Lange. In the conversation, Lange urges Simpson not to hurt himself with his gun, and Simpson thanks Lange: "I know you're doing your job, and you've been honest with me." He tells Petro, "That would be something I would say." Again, the "would."
       "And do you recall Detective Lange saying to you, 'And nobody's going to get hurt.' And you replied, 'I'm the only one that deserves it.' Do you recall saying that, sir?"
       "Not at all."
       "You deny saying that?"
       "I don't recall saying that at all."
       "If it's on a tape, you wouldn't dispute it, would you?"
       "Let me hear the tape."
       "At no time," Petrocelli continues, "did you say to Detective Lange on the phone, 'Why are you framing me?' "
       "I didn't know who Detective Lange was."
       As on Friday, Petro concludes the afternoon with a barrage of statements accusing Simpson of the murders, statements which Simpson rebuts, one after another, with a simple, "That is untrue." If Fred Goldman gets nothing more out of this experience, the last two days may have gotten him his money's worth. And the next client who hires Daniel Petrocelli will probably be paying a new, higher hourly rate.
       Tuesday, Michael Brewer, attorney for Ron Goldman's mother, gets up, and, for no discernible reason, asks Simpson to tell us who, in the words of the suicide note, the "real O.J." is. Simpson is more than glad to comply: He lives by the Golden Rule, and he's involved with a lot of charities. In a slightly less self-serving moment in the sun, the Brown family lawyer, John Q. Kelly, gets Simpson to agree that, after the end of a fight with Nicole, he drove his Bronco to a friend's house, returned to Rockingham in the friend's car, went through a neighbor's back yard to his, picked up a change of clothing and a dark bag containing some jewelry, went back through the back yards to the car, realized he didn't have his keys, put the clothing down, and put the dark bag under a nearby garbage can lid while he went to search in vain for the car keys. Dogs were barking. Wasn't this, Kelly, asks, virtually the same sequence of events Simpson went through on the night of the murders? The question needs no answer. The incident proves nothing (Simpson does dress rehearsals of his murders as well as his polygraph sessions?), but it puts a cute picture in the jurors' minds for the holiday weekend.
       At this point, rehabilitating Simpson is not a simple paint-and-patch job. It's not even spackling. It calls for reframing and new drywall. Baker decides not to question Simpson now, waiting until he can be called as a witness in the defense case. Court is over before 11 a.m., and, in the relieved chatter of grown-up voices, you can hear the squeals of third graders whose school has just let them out early.
       It happens to be a beautiful, clear, warm, sunny Santa Monica midmorning. We have had two days of the best theater Los Angeles has seen since Sarah Bernhardt died, and now, as a surprise bonus, we get an afternoon that seems to have just rolled off a vintage orange-crate label. Why wouldn't Thanksgiving be just a day away?

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