September 22, 1995
Web Posted at 3:00 p.m.
From Correspondent Greg Lamotte
LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- As much as you might have wanted to see O.J. Simpson take the witness stand, he did not, despite hints all along from defense attorney Johnnie Cochran that his client wanted to talk.
"We haven't made the final decision about that," Cochran said earlier. "But I would think that given everything I know about it at this point, there's a great likelihood that he will."
The fact is the defense didn't have to prove a thing. That burden belonged to the prosecution. Even so, the jury must be wondering why Simpson opted to remain silent. Criminal defense attorney Richard Hirsch says that Simpson's testimony would have put even more miles on the case. "He would have to explain each and every issue in the case that has not been answered and the fact that many of these issues have not been answered may be enough to raise a reasonable doubt," Hirsch said.
Professor Myrna Raeder of Southwestern University's School of Law speculated that Simpson might have blemished the case his defense team had worked so diligently to construct. "We all know that he has so much potential to self-destruct on the witness stand under questioning by Marcia Clark," Raeder said. "But it's also his prior statements he's got (to deal with). There's lots of information which can contradict anything that he says, and they may not be points that go directly to guilt or innocence, but it's just that there are so many contradictions that the jury is going to sit there and say: 'Well, gee, is he lying to us now or did he lie before?'"
The defense, unable to prove Simpson's alibi that he was at home at the time of the killings, went on the attack; and detective Mark Fuhrman became its focal point. The defense said that Fuhrman was a racist with a motive to plant evidence, and that the defense had evidence to back up the allegation of racism.
Fuhrman had been interviewed by a screenwriter-professor from North Carolina regarding police work. In those tapes Fuhrman used the word "nigger" in relation to African-Americans more than 40 times. Ultimately, the jury heard only two of the references. But there also was testimony from a woman, Kathleen Bell, who Fuhrman had met at a Marine recruiting station years ago: "He said, if I had my way, I'd gather all the niggers together and burn them," she said. Fuhrman had told the jury he hadn't used the "n-word" in the past 10 years. When he was called back to the witness stand, outside the presence of the jury, Fuhrman took the Fifth Amendment in response to every question asked him. ( 204K AIFF sound or 204K WAV sound)
In the end, with a mostly African-American jury, the defense may have done what it said it was not doing: play the race card.
There was also a last-minute attack on Los Angeles Police Department Detective Philip Vannatter, who ordered the warrant-less search of Simpson's Rockingham estate. Two Mafia informers were called in to tell the jury that Vannatter had told them Simpson already was considered a suspect at the time police entered the estate. Vannatter was recalled and vehemently denied the allegation.
Asked by Simpson's lead attorney, Robert Shapiro, if there was "any doubt in your mind that you conveyed to the jury under oath that when you went to Rockingham, Mr. Simpson was not a suspect," Vannatter replied, "There is no doubt in my mind. Mr. Simpson was no more of a suspect at that point than you were, Mr. Shapiro."
The prosecution's key weapon, DNA evidence, also came under an all-out assault from the defense. Not DNA itself, but the possibility that blood evidence was contaminated by sloppy police work or, still worse, that it was tampered with or planted.
Defense expert witness John Gerdes was the point man for the attack, calling the Los Angeles police crime lab the worst he's ever seen. (77K AIFF sound or 77K WAV sound) "I found that the LAPD lab has a contamination problem that is persistent and substantial," he said.
Raeder estimated that the defense did well with Gerdes. "(He) was a very good witness. He didn't appear to get very defensive on the cross-examination. Certainly (defense attorney) Barry Scheck did a very good job of theme," Raeder said. "I mean, we knew the mantra, we knew contamination, we knew conspiracy theory and how each one played into the evidence, particularly questions of cross-contamination."
The man many consider to be the top forensic scientist in the world also testified for the defense. Dr. Henry Lee was essential to the defense assertion that there was more than one killer. Lee concentrated on a separate shoe print at the crime scene, concluding that the two-dimensional repetitive parallel pattern could not have come from a Bruno Magli shoe, which prosecutors contend was worn by Simpson. He also was asked if the imprint could have come from Ron Goldman's boot. Lee said that it did not.
As one of the more animated witnesses, Lee seemed to connect with the jury while demonstrating blood spatter patterns and with his sense of humor.
Possibly the most difficult hurdle for the defense will be Cochran's own words: his promises to the jury (230K AIFF sound or 230K WAV sound) during his opening statement, that "a lady who lives next door and works next door to Mr. Simpson's home on Rockingham" would bring some strong evidence of Simpson's innocence to the courtroom. Rosa Lopez' testimony fell short of that promise and the jury never saw her.
And Cochran's other promises of producing "another witness, Mary Ann Gerchas" and a Dr. Walker who also would present strong evidence of Simpson's innocence. The jury didn't see those witnesses, either. "I wouldn't be surprised to see the prosecution play portions of Johnnie Cochran's opening statement and say, 'You know, this was promised you, where is it?' Hirsch said. "That the defense in this case has been an attempt to snow you over, to basically keep your eye off the ball, and this is an example of how they've done that."
But remember, O.J. Simpson did not have to present any witnesses. He didn't have to prove a thing. But his attorneys wanted to establish some reasonable doubt and clearly the defense used the Los Angeles Police Department and Fuhrman as its avenue in hopes of creating that doubt.
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