OJ by the sea.

O.J. by the Sea

O.J. by the Sea

Notes from different corners of the world.
Nov. 9 1996 12:30 AM

O.J. by the Sea

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       There's something about Dennis Fung. I know, it sounds like the slogan from the most improbable ad campaign for a men's cologne since Pavarotti ("Women love the smell of a fat tenor"). But there is a distinct--for lack of a better term--reverse charisma about the LAPD criminalist whose testimony during the criminal trial ate up so much of an otherwise lovely April.
       For one thing, as a guy whose job includes the duty to testify in court proceedings every once in a while, his witness learning curve approaches flat-lining. Appearing in the civil trial, Fung puts in an appearance whose sole improvement over last time is its brevity. Otherwise, it's a cringe-a-thon: the same agonizing pauses before and within sentences, the same tortured explanations, the same unfortunate ways of explaining the commonplace. No lawyer working for O.J. is crass or careless enough to boast, as did Robert Shapiro last time, of a lunch-time trip to the "Hang Fung" restaurant. But anyone who commits, let's say, a double homicide in the city of Los Angeles, has to pray that the evidence is collected by Dennis Fung.
       To be absolutely fair, I'm not around for Tom Lambert's direct exam of Fung. But Bob Blasier, the only member of Dream Team 1 to be invited to return, does a passable impersonation of Barry ("Where is it, Mr. Fung?") Scheck, hammering Fung on past testimony in which he used the singular personal pronoun ("I," for those who, like Bob Dole and George Bush, are unfamiliar with the term) to describe work at the crime scene actually done by his novice assistant and partner in crime-scene processing, Andrea "Oops" Mazzola. Given the opportunity, over the last 18 months, to concoct at least a respectable, if not plausible, explanation for this behavior, Fung comes up with this: "I supervised her, so since we were working as a team, I felt it was appropriate to say that I did it. She was working under my direction, so I didn't see this as being a lie." Nice of Mr. Fung to say the L-word, saving Blasier the considerable effort of getting such a blatant accusation on the record.
       Fung admits that Tom Lange never directed his attention to purported blood spots on the rear gate at Bundy, that he himself never noticed them, even though he was at the crime scene for four hours. He even allows Blasier to suggest that Kato, Nicole's Akita, might have been transported to Rockingham, where he might have walked, with his well-known bloody paws, over the driveway: "There were fresh blood stains on the driveway. When the dog got near them, we shooed him away." It remains for Lambert, on redirect, to put up photos of Kato and of O.J.'s darker dog, Chachi, and to get Fung to identify the latter hound, presumably free of bloodstains, as the canine in question. Yet, somewhere in some juror's mind, there has been deposited an image of a bloody-pawed Kato traipsing across O.J.'s driveway.
       The next morning, Blasier is dragging Fung, and us, through the numbingly familiar territory of erasures and corrections on evidence-collection reports and checklists--sloppy paperwork sloppily corrected, if you believe Fung, or the sloppy tip of a slick conspiratorial iceberg, if you're inclined that way. Blasier's flat, high, pinched voice is no match for Scheck's vocal machete, but, when he plays a video that purports to show the Bundy glove in a third different position, he tries his best to recapture the old magic: "See this, Mr. Fung? ... That's you putting a card down by it, isn't it, Mr. Fung?" This attempt to put an old hit on this year's Top 10 is interrupted by Judge Fujisaki, who, given Fung's inability to identify the dark object on the blanket that once covered Nicole's body as, in fact, the Bundy glove, warns the jury that Blasier has not established a third documented position for the glove that morning. Blasier, entranced by the squirming mass before him, presses on: "Do you know what that object would be besides the glove?"
       Fung, hapless as ever, says, "No," and is only rescued by the judge: "That doesn't prove it's a glove. I'm going to sustain my own objection." While he's at it, the judge might as well be his own criminalist.
       The plaintiffs lodge plenty of their own objections against Blasier's barrage, and a good 60 percent to 70 percent of them are sustained. Fung needs all that help, and more. When Blasier shows him a photograph of the rear gate at Bundy, on which two police witnesses have circled areas they believe represent the disputed blood drops on the gate, the attorney's voice drips with scorn: "That's not blood, is it, Mr. Fung?"
       After a pause longer than the wait for a cable technician to come to your house, the best Fung can do in reply is, "I can't tell from that picture." You could argue that Blasier's repeated use, in emulation of Scheck, of the words "Mr. Fung" at the end of questions is a subtle appeal to the anti-Asian prejudice inside all red-blooded Americans, black or white, the same appeal that's currently making John Huang, the former Democratic fund-raiser with the heavy Asian Rolodex, such a juicy target. But, to paraphrase the old joke, with witnesses this wobbly, you don't need Hungarians.
       Through Fung, Blasier establishes once again the eerie absence of blood evidence in most of the Rockingham estate--the hallway carpet, the stairway, the banister, the switch plates, the bedding? "None detected," Fung replies to each location. We revisit the issue of when the socks in O.J.'s bedroom were collected, and Blasier contends that three different locations are documented for the socks (which Fung explains as Mazzola's sloppiness with numbers in her notations). "Mr. Fung," Blasier barks with pee-wee thunder, "is the level of care you used in the preparation of these documents the same level of care you used in the collection of evidence in this case?" It's a question he asks with full expectation of a sustainable objection, which he gets, but the jury can't de-hear it.
       Any more than they can erase what Blasier yells after establishing that Vannatter never telephoned to make sure Fung was still at Rockingham before driving clear across town in rush-hour traffic to deliver O.J.'s reference blood sample to him: "That's a horrible thing to do, isn't it, Mr. Fung?" The objection is sustained, but the memory lingers on.
       The real problem with Fung is that he makes bad choices, and then defends them poorly. He puts the envelope containing O.J.'s blood vial in a "clean trash bag," and hands it to Mazzola to take to the crime-scene truck. "I asked one of the detectives to find a bag or something for me to bring out the evidence in 'cause I didn't want the media to see what I was bringing out."
       What persists about Fung is the nervousness that pervades his choice of words, that dictates the choppiness with which they tumble out, that makes him sound defensive even when he's spelling his name. What's new about Fung this time around is, again, the brevity of his sentences on the witness stand, and the fact that, on redirect, the plaintiffs use him to enter evidence that had been disallowed from the criminal trial.
       Fung found a wire hanging halfway down over the path to the Rockingham glove, did a presumptive test on a stain on the wire, and found a positive for blood. He did the same thing for stains found in the drain of O.J.'s master-bathroom sink--same result--and in the drain of the shower. All positive for blood. He's even able to explain, kind of, how to avoid getting a false positive from the famous berries or fruit juice or copper piping: "By performing the phenolphthalein test in a two-step fashion. The chemicals that are oxidizers can be eliminated at ... from being false positives because the phenolphthalein will turn pink when those chemicals are added immediately without the addition of hydrogen peroxide. What we look for is that the phenolphthalein turns pink right at the addition of the hydrogen peroxide." OK. Fair enough, as Bob Baker is always saying. At least Fung didn't renumber the evidence, or drop it.
       Lance Ito precluded this evidence because presumptive tests aren't conclusive. Blasier pounds the point home in re-cross that these stains were never "confirmed" to be blood, but the jurors head to the parking lot with an image in their heads of more blood evidence around O.J.'s place than the last jurors ever knew about. From the standpoint of the plaintiffs, after a year and a half, Dennis Fung finally did something right.
       Next: Ambergate and E! come to court.

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