OJ by the sea.

O.J. by the Sea

O.J. by the Sea

Notes from different corners of the world.
Nov. 12 1996 3:30 AM

O.J. by the Sea

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       There are public seats available every day at the O.J. civil trial, but, then again, less than half the eligible voters participated in the presidential election. Between MSNBC and CNBC, the trial is chewed over for two-and-a-half consecutive hours each evening in Ft. Lee, N.J. Add GE to the list of entities getting rich on Simpsonmania.
       But if the pot is on simmer nationally, in Brentwood, it is still at full boil. I was at a party in the neighborhood last weekend, and at the mention of the magic two initials, the stories started coming. My favorite was told by the wife of a film director. It concerned an Iranian immigrant who lived at a crucial corner, if you wanted to enter or exit the neighborhood and not use Rockingham. He had, she said, awakened on the morning of June 13, 1994, and, for reasons unknown, looked inside his garbage can, where he found--bloody sweat clothes. He called the cops, but, before they arrived, the Sanitation guys came and emptied the can. The police took the receptacle, the story continues, but found no trace evidence. The Iranian guy, fearful, now denies he found any bloody clothing. Perfect urban folk legend, told with utter conviction by a woman who is not pleased by the proximity of her residence to 360 North Rockingham.
       The tale bears a certain structural similarity to the week's extracurricular headline out of Camp O.J., the USA Today story reporting O.J.'s unwelcome advances to the 18-year-old blond intern who sat just to the right of the magnetometer at Department Q, taking photo ID from reporters and, in exchange, handing us the neon-green numbered badges that admit us into the courtroom. A certain plausibility, followed by denials from the principals. Here may be the most telling detail from the entire scenario: Two days after the story breaks, I run into a reporter from an out-of-town paper who's covering the trial. He has never, he tells me, felt worse about his professional arrangement, for he has just spent the previous afternoon hanging around the newly controversial intern's high-school campus, until he was noticed and ushered away.
       "That's what bothered you?" I probe.
       "There was worse. Nothing makes you feel cheaper than having 15-year-olds come up to you and say, 'I know why you're here. What's it worth to you?' "
       Back inside the courtroom, things are slightly less sordid. The glove guy, Richard Rubin, is back. He testified twice in the criminal trial. He clearly knows his gloves--he ran Aris for several years--but he just as clearly loves to testify. Or maybe it's just that, as Santa Monica experiences a stunning early November heat wave, this is the best reason he can think of for not being back East.
       He is still, more than a year later, being used to clean up the mess left by Chris Darden's impulsive decision to have O.J. try on the Rockingham glove in open court. "They fit," he tells these jurors, "with a poor quality of fit, but they fit." Rubin might as well be saying, "If the gloves fit poorly, you must be Curly," but he gets high marks for doggedness. He also gets to explain away that letter he sent to the prosecution last year, the one read to such damning effect in his second appearance downtown, in which he asked to be invited to the "victory party." That passage, he points out, was written in jest. Funny. Nobody's laughing.
       Discussing, explaining away the glove demo from Trial 1, opens the door for Bob Baker to play the tape of one of TV's Top 100 Moments for the jury, although, at the insistence of the plaintiffs, the sound is turned off, so these jurors are spared O.J.'s only testimony from the first trial: "They're too small." Baker does plant more of those images he loves to share, whether or not they elicit objections--or even, as in this case, silence--from the witness in response:
       "(The glove is) not going to fall off, is it?"
       "It should not fall off," Rubin deadpans.
       "It's not going to fall off in two different locations, is it?" Baker asks in his blandest tone. It doesn't fool Brown-estate attorney John Q. Kelly: "Objection. Argumentative, irrelevant, speculative."
       "Overruled."
       Baker, encouraged, tries one more: "Do you know if Mr. Simpson was ever known for fumbling--I'll withdraw the question."
       Kelly, not amused, asks "that the previous question be withdrawn. Also, there's no answer to it."
       The judge: "Overruled."
       Baker's moving finger, having planted, moves on. Rubin never does answer the question.
       Bob Baker's voice is full of melody: From its natural baritone position, it swoops up into inquisitive tenor, disbelieving falsetto, and back down to accusatory baritone.
       When he's appearing confident, as he does with Rubin, he takes brazen chances, and, given the lack of TV in the courtroom, even does his own commentary on his efforts. He shows Rubin one of the photos depicting O.J., wearing what look like Those Gloves, at a Bengals game:
       "All right. So are you familiar with the Cincinnati Bengals' uniforms at all?"
       "Yes," Rubin answers.
       "The colors that you see in Boomer Esiason's--below his jacket. Does that look authentic, like the Cincinnati Bengals' uniform? It's a terrible question. I ask too many of those. Let me--you're familiar with their kind of--their Bengal colors, are you not? Does this look like the Bengal colors?"
       Baker's soliloquy raises another objection from Kelly: "Compound question. Lack of foundation, Judge."
       Fujisaki apparently thinks something Baker said is a legitimate question: "He said he's familiar with them. Overruled."
       Rubin finally answers, "It's in the same family of colors of the Bengals' uniform."
       "All right. And you don't have any indication that the color that is indicated in that photo is the hue or anything in--if that thing is off?"
       Rubin: "I wouldn't know one way or another."
       "OK."
       Baker is trying to establish that the brown gloves in the photo are a different brown from the brown gloves in evidence, but even after his laudatory spell of self-criticism, he can't bring Rubin along on that particular expedition:
       "We had tremendous problems with brown," the glove man confides. "Every lot of brown gloves that we produced came out a different color. I've never been able to be specific on the color, but it's in the brown family."
       Bizarre choice of words, but the attorney for the Brown family doesn't object, so who am I to niggle?
       After the gloves come the shoes. Harry Scull, a free-lance photographer who sells photos to Associated Press, testifies on videotape about the afternoon of Sept. 26, 1993, when he was shooting a Bills-Dolphins game at Buffalo's Rich Stadium. In the two rolls of photos he shot before the game is an image somewhat familiar to National Enquirer readers and Geraldo viewers: O.J. Simpson standing in the Bills end zone ("between the L's," Scull notes), wearing what appear to be Bruno Magli shoes.
       After 20 minutes of watching Scull's video deposition, in which he describes that day, the weather, the stadium, and several exhibits, Judge Fujisaki is less than impressed: "Counsel," he asks, "We have to listen to three hours of this? Who cares how many rolls he's got or what the sequence of the contact prints was?"
       Most of the deposition is, it turns out, taken up with cross-examination, but the judge's complaint has the desired effect: The defense does some hasty mental editing, and decides to read into the record highly selective portions of the cross. Phil Baker plays the role of Scull, and Dan Leonard reads the questions he originally asked; and so, when the E! channel broadcasts its re-enactment of this sequence, it will feature actors re-enacting Baker and Leonard re-enacting a deposition taped in Buffalo. You just can't get more postmodern.
       Some of the cross follows up Baker Sr.'s point with the glove man that Aris Leather Lites, tightfitting and fashion-thin, are not appropriate gloves to be wearing in "severe" weather. Unfortunately for that angle, Scull remembers the day as being sunny, with a temperature "in excess of 50 degrees," until just after game time, when the sky clouded over, and he had to change film. More provocatively, Leonard delves into the route by which that single photo of O.J. found its way into the pages of the supermarket tabloid:
       "When did you tell the National Enquirer [that you had this image]?"
       "Approximately June of 1995."
       "OK. Now, in June of 1995, you thought the picture had some value when you went to the National Enquirer, correct?"
       "Yeah."
       "Did you directly communicate with the NationalEnquirer?"
       "I directly communicated with the NationalEnquirer."
       "And at that time, did you provide them with the negative of the image that has become Exhibit No. 1?"
       "Nope."
       "Why not?"
       "In my conversations with them, they were 'O.J.'d out' and didn't want to see anything."
       "It's your testimony, in June of 1995, the NationalEnquirer told you they were 'O.J.'d out.' Is that correct?"
       "Yeah."
       Strangely, none of the reporters in the listening room races to the hallway to use a cell phone. To me, the allegation that the NationalEnquirer had ever felt "O.J.'d out" is a bigger news story than whatever those mercenary 15-year-olds at the intern's high school had to say.
       Ultimately, the Enquirer's appetite returned, and, this time, the image reached them by way of a friend and fellow photographer of Scull's, Rob McElroy, who volunteered to act as agent for the photo.
       "He'd never done that before. He asked if he could," Scull relates.
       Did anybody else take the negatives and make a contact sheet of them, Leonard wants to know, pointing us down the road toward the defense theory that the photo in question is doctored, that the "ugly-ass" Bruno Maglis have been digitally spliced in.
       "Yes," Scull replies. "Rob McElroy."
       Did McElroy attempt to sell this image to any other media?
       "Yes. Newsweek, Time, the television tabloid shows. They told me the picture wasn't newsworthy." Time, of course, having already shot itself in the foot by darkening O.J.'s mug shot, wasn't going to find a photo of O.J. in the act of committing the murders newsworthy at this point.
       "Have you," Leonard asks, getting to the point, "ever digitally altered a photograph in your life?"
       "Absolutely not."
       "Has Rob McElroy ever digitally altered a photograph?"
       "I don't know."
       The more we hear about Rob McElroy, the more we want to hear from him. Although he initially tells Scull that "we might make ourselves a couple of hundred dollars" by selling the photo, Scull and McElroy end up with $2,500 each, although Leonard tries to sow some doubt, if not in our minds, at least in Scull's:
       "Now, did you ever see any paperwork relative to the sale of the negative that's become Exhibit 1 here?"
       "No."
       "How were you paid the $2,500?"
       "By a check from Mr. McElroy."
       "Was it Mr. McElroy's check?"
       "Yes."
       "Did he indicate to you that he had been paid $5,000?"
       "Yes."
       "Did you ever see any remuneration--form of remuneration, that is, a money order or anything, that went to him from NationalEnquirer?"
       "No."
       "Did he ever indicate to you that he got $17,000 for that photograph?"
       "No."
       The defense, even after Fujisaki's confession of boredom, has chosen to read that sequence to the jury. Either they know something, or it's just Bob Baker's green thumb at work again. If the photo was doctored, Leonard leaves us with the possibility that the deed may have been done on foreign soil. The negative was sent to London, where, according to Scull, a firm called "Gamma-Liaison scanned it into their computer for possible future sales." Whether or not it was altered during its stay in London, the negative was treated well. Scull says it came back from England on the Concorde.
       Next: a tale of two doctors.

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