September 19, 1995
Web posted at: 6:45 p.m. EDT
LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- Philip Vannatter, a lead detective in the O.J. Simpson case, denied Tuesday that he said Simpson was already a suspect before police went to Simpson's Brentwood mansion on the morning after the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman.
"Did you say that Mr. Simpson was a suspect because the husband was always the suspect?" asked Simpson defense attorney Robert Shapiro.
"I don't have any recollection of making that statement," Vannatter replied. "Any person who has contact with a murder victim is a potential suspect."
Shapiro asked if Vannatter had told Craig and Larry Fiato, two brothers in a federal witness protection program, on two occasions that Simpson was a suspect. "That is not a true fact," Vannatter answered. "I went to that location to make a death notification and to make the disposition of two minor children in police custody."
Under questioning from prosecutor Brian Kelberg, Vannatter said he felt Shapiro had been "antagonistic" toward him when he was questioned at the beginning of the trial. Kelberg asked if Shapiro was frustrated that the defense had accused the police of attempting to frame Simpson. "You bet I am," Vannatter said. Had he verbally expressed his frustration? "You bet I have."
Vannatter said that if he had believed Simpson was a suspect he would have said so to the jury. The detective also said he never talked seriously with the Fiato brothers about the Simpson case.
The defense was allowed to recall Vannatter after Judge Lance Ito ruled that two statements the defense alleges Vannatter made were inconsistent with what he testified before the jury. Shapiro said the statements, made by Vannatter in January and February of this year, were overheard by the Fiatos, both of whom have testified for prosecutors in other cases.
Kelberg argued that the statements were not made seriously, but Ito said they appeared to be "prior inconsistent statements" when compared to Vannatter's testimony before the Simpson jury. During that testimony, Vannatter said he and other detectives went to Simpson's mansion only to check on his safety, notify him of his ex-wife's death and to make arrangements for his children.
Kelberg said the remarks were made at a hotel and a smoking area at the Los Angeles County Courthouse. He said both statements were made in a group of people "shooting the breeze" and were not relevant to the case.
But Shapiro counted that Vannatter's statements represented "the best evidence in this entire case of credibility of a witness."
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