OJ by the sea.

O.J. by the Sea

O.J. by the Sea

Notes from different corners of the world.
Nov. 23 1996 3:30 AM

O.J. by the Sea

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       Just two witnesses till O.J.: Allan Park, the limo driver, and Bill Bodziak, the FBI's shoe- and tire-print specialist. Both of them are returning from our last go-round, so let's welcome them back, audience. Park is still a major time-line witness, made more credible by his need to check his car's digital clock frequently, and by the cell-phone records of calls to his boss, as Park tried to figure out why his rider, a Mr. O.J. Simpson, was not answering the intercom buzzer at the gate of his estate. Unlike Kato, who stressed that he never looked at a watch or clock the night of June 12 and that all his time references were therefore approximations, Park knows exactly when he saw a 6-foot, 200-pound African-American in dark clothes walk from the driveway to the house (10:55 p.m.), although, as Baker proves by confronting Park with his earlier testimony, the limo driver isn't sure what a Caucasian is: In that testimony, he's asked if the figure he saw was a Caucasian, he answers yes; he's then asked if he means black, and he answers yes.
       Park is also part of Daniel Petrocelli's drumroll for the O.J. testimony. Petro has been spending the week asking first Kato, then Park questions that on the surface sound bizarre and mundane--he asks Kato whether, on their return from the trip to McDonald's, "Was [Mr. Simpson] bending down?"
       "No."
       "Was he scooping out lettuce from the driver's side of his car?"
       "No."
       Similarly, Petro asks Park, "Did a dog run out through the gate when it was opened?"
       "Not that I remember, no."
       These aren't factual matters, per se. They are questions raised by O.J.'s previous sworn testimony, to the police or in his deposition. Testimony contradicting O.J. is being put on the record now as a clear warning shot across the bow of the defense.
       Petrocelli has let other attorneys, mainly his partner Ed Medvene and the Browns' lawyer John Q. Kelly, question all the witnesses until this week. Now, while he has reportedly moved out of his house into a hotel room to concentrate on O.J. prep, he questions two witnesses, turning Kato Kaelin from an internationally known flake to a plausible replica of a believable grown-up, and cleaning up on redirect virtually every mess that Baker has managed to create with Kato and Park on cross. Petrocelli is sending a message: The expectations of white America are on my shoulders, and I'm up to the job.
       Most of Park's testimony is familiar--the duffel bag that O.J. wouldn't let Kato touch, saying, "No, no, no, that's OK, I'll get it."; O.J. sweating in the limo on a cool evening; the lights off downstairs every time he pressed the intercom button until after he saw that dark-clothed figure enter the house--but he does provide one new vignette. Kato had testified he tried to scout behind the guest house, looking for the prowler that made the three thumps, a couple of times. Then, in Park's presence, he tries to, says the driver, "motivate the dog to go with him" for another look. Finally, when O.J. appears and luggage is being loaded, he overhears Park and Kato making small talk about whether an earthquake just happened. Moments later, O.J. "talks about searching the property. He tells Kato, 'You go this way, I'll go the other way.' Kato went around the garage area," Park continues, "and Mr. Simpson followed him. He didn't go the other way." Funny.
       "I closed the trunk and the doors of the limo, and then I proceeded behind Mr. Simpson. Kato got to a point just past the corner of the garage. Mr. Simpson then turned around, saw that I was following him, and said, 'We gotta go, we gotta get outta here.' " This narrative is so spooky it almost makes its own Bernard Herrman score. It also receives no attention on cross-examination.
       What Baker does attack is Park's admitted nearsightedness, his mistake in originally identifying as a Gucci bag what he says today is "what we all now know is a Louis Vuitton bag."
       "I was," he tells Baker, "ragged on pretty hard for not knowing the difference between Gucci and Louis Vuitton." In the world of limo drivers, that's the kind of thing that can bump you from stretch down to Town Car.
       A crucial piece of Park's testimony has always been that, as he poked up Rockingham looking for the address 360 painted on the curb, he did not see a white Bronco parked where a photo later showed it to be parked, a foot away from the curb number. This is good for the plaintiffs, because it suggests that O.J. was away during the crucial time when something nasty was happening at Bundy. But it's good for the defense, too, because he doesn't see the Bronco even when he's taking O.J. to the airport and everyone agrees the vehicle is there. Not only that:
       "You never heard a car drive up during the whole time you were sitting in your limo, sitting on the curb smoking a cigarette, listening to the radio, waiting for Mr. Simpson, even though this is a very quiet neighborhood, isn't that true?" Baker piles the clauses on in his questions the way the countermen at Art's Deli in the valley pile on the pastrami, layer upon layer, until you can barely see the bread.
       "That's correct," Park concedes.
       "You never heard a door slam?"
       "Correct."
       But Baker uses three-dollar words where one-dollar words would not only suffice, but would prevail. So, instead of asking Park about the time when he saw the black man dressed in dark clothing, he asks why Park didn't tell his boss about "visualizing the African-American." Perhaps this is a veiled way of suggesting that Park never really saw the man, but that's not the thrust of Baker's questioning. The defense readily concedes that the black man was O.J.; Baker spends his time trying to get Park to admit that O.J. might well have been wearing a dark robe. "You never," Baker charges on, his tone bordering on incredulity, "saw whether Mr. Simpson, or whoever the person was, had bare legs or not, did you?"
       "No."
       For lovers of single-edged sarcasm, Baker wins the championship of both trials. A guy who loves to joke with reporters during the breaks, he indulges the darker side of his humor with witnesses, whether or not it makes him look heavy-handed:
       "After that person went into the house," Park testifies, "I figured somebody was there, so I relaxed, I got back into the car, just looked at the dashboard and talked on the phone."
       "You just looked at the dashboard," Baker says, relishing the setup. "Did the dashboard move?"
       "No."
       Park saw no blood in the foyer, but, on the other hand, he's already testified on direct that the lights were off. Call that one a wash. Petrocelli gets Park to say that O.J. complained he was hot three or four times; Baker gets him to say that none of those complaints occurred after O.J. turned on the air conditioning. Conclusion: The limo's air conditioning works.
       People are beginning to come around to the view that this trial should have been televised. Despite Fujisaki's tight rein, the lawyers are beginning to indulge in the same kind of bickering blamed on the camera last time around. Petrocelli, on redirect, gets Park to testify that the first two of the many lawyers he spoke to about this case were Skip Taft and Robert Shapiro, two days after the murders:
       "Did they tell you they were taping the conversation?"
       "No, they didn't."
       "Did you later find out that they had in fact taped the conversation without your permission or knowledge?"
       "Yes I did."
       "Did you later find out that they had generated a transcript of that conversation?"
       "Yes I did."
       Petrocelli brandishes the transcript, at which point Baker breaks in: "May I see that?" Petro replies dismissively, "Oh you have this, Mr. Baker." The judge lets the kids play. The point of this revelation is that Park's story hasn't changed since day three. The subtler point, slipped in more effortlessly than a cigarette plug in a Schwarzenegger film, is that the defense does illegal and unethical things. Taping without warning is a violation of federal and California law. Baker has impugned the motives of those who, like Kato, sought to profit from a book growing out of this spectacle (even though Kato, on redirect, points out that he ended up having no involvement in Mark Elliot's book). In Park, Petrocelli has the perfect rebuttal:
       "How much did you get that night, Mr. Park, for all your trouble?"
       "Probably about 40 bucks."
       The last witness before O.J. is William Bodziak. He has created, and he presents, perhaps the silliest piece of evidence to be introduced in either trial: a large board comprised of full-page illustrations of shoes--shoes side by side, shoes fanned out like melon slices, shoes seen from above. These are color-photo spreads that look very much like pages from a catalog (in fact, Baker can't keep himself from commenting, very audibly, "He got this board in the mail.") Bodziak uses the board to demonstrate that athletic shoes are different from dress shoes, which are, in turn, different from boots. The effect is that of a current-events project in a middle school for the very slow. The FBI shoe-print expert is speaking as if to a jury that has no knowledge of shoes.
       Bodziak does have some value, however, in addition to reprising his criminal-trial testimony identifying the shoe prints at the murder scene as those of size 12, Lorenzo-style Bruno Magli shoes. Using 18 details--design elements on the sole, stitching, contours, the angled heel, laces, eyelet holes--he identifies the shoes on O.J.'s feet in the Harry Scull photo of O.J. at the Buffalo game as the very same kind of shoe, only 299 pairs of which were sold in the U.S. of A. "Based on these combined characteristics," he tells Ed Medvene, "I was able to determine that the shoe depicted in the photograph of Mr. Simpson is the Bruno Magli Lorenzo shoe." Every journalist in the courtroom gets busy trying to compose a rhyme, the first line of which is, "If the shoe fits ..."
       Medvene, who has had trouble getting evidence admitted and questions allowed, tries to ask if it's true that the photo in question has been authenticated by the former head of the FBI's photo authentication unit, but Baker father and son (young Phil will handle the cross of Bodziak) object in a heartwarming display of family unity, and the judge orders the question and answer (which was going to be "yes") stricken from the record. "So," he explains to the jury, still reeling from the news that boots are different from sneakers, "the status of this testimony is that the question was asked, was this photograph submitted for authentication, and the answer to that question is yes."
       Outside the courthouse, a black bystander and a white bystander are vociferously arguing the merits of the case. O.J.'s in the on-deck circle. The magic is back.

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