CNN O.J. Simpson Trial

Prosecutors share emotional last lunch with victims' families

September 29, 1995
Web posted at: 11 p.m. EDT

Art Harris

From Correspondent Art Harris

LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- High above Judge Lance Ito's courtroom, on what would be the final day of the Simpson trial, prosecutors and the victims' families gathered for a last lunch of shishkebab and rice pilaf.

There were tears and hugs, a mood that the end was near and a general sense that everyone had given their all to make a case for double murder against a one-time sports hero fallen from grace. Above all there was a feeling that the trial had taken its toll on everyone.

"It's been so sad," reflected Rolf Bauer, Nicole Brown Simpson's first cousin, "hearing Johnnie Cochran's closing arguments" pointing the finger of guilt at everyone but his client. Bauer, Nicole's mother Juditha and sister Tanya, and the Goldmans gathered with prosecutors and investigators who helped make the case against Simpson. All had come to share the belief that Simpson is guilty.

After what victims and prosecutors called a brilliant comeback close by Christopher Darden, the mood seemed more upbeat, the bonding between victims' families and prosecutors tighter than ever. "Chris was fantastic," Bauer told CNN's Art Harris. "Their (Cochran's) closing argument was just a smoke screen."

There was Ron Shipp, the ex-cop trashed by Simpson's family after relating a dream of murder he said Simpson described to him. He hugged Philip Vannatter, a lead detective blasted by Cochran as a "devil of deception."

Phil Vannatter

"The truth is on our side," Vannatter said. Asked about defense strategy in which he was personally attacked, he said, "I've never seen anything like it in 27 years of my career, and I hope to never see it again."

"The defense doesn't have a case," he said. "They don't have a defense, so they're trying to do whatever they can to attack me. It's outrageous. It's the stupidest thing I've seen in my life."

Moments later, he pulled out a note that he said had been sent to him by "a very prominent person," unraveled it, and read it. "Phil," he read, "I know you can handle this. Sorry it's sunk to such depths of dirtiness."

"That's what they've done," the detective added.

As he spoke, messengers were arriving with bouquets of flowers for Marcia Clark and Chris Darden. "They've been coming for days," said a guard. A court spokesman said the phones have been ringing off the hook for days, with people outraged at Cochran's statements.

The whole gang was there. Detective Tom Lange, Vannatter's partner, chided Burt Luper, another team detective who ran the Chicago investigation. Luper was the one who retrieved the bloody sock in Simpson's bedroom. "The sock planter!" Lange said by way of greeting.

Judith Brown

Juditha Brown, Nicole's mother, hugged Vannatter. The beefy detective hugged back. All were effusive with praise for how Clark and Darden argued the case and the closing arguments.

Rockne Harmon, one of the prosecution's DNA experts, chuckled as he bashed Barry Scheck. "With a sweep of the hand, he changed everything." Harmon said he was up until 1 a.m. Friday going over Scheck's closing argument that trashed forensic evidence as contaminated or planted.

Also present was Lisa Kahn, another DNA expert for the prosecution. "They just made stuff up," she said, referring to defense closing arguments about forensic evidence.

One member of the prosecution team who once told CNN some feared an acquittal, told Harris there was now a feeling that "we at least may have won a hung jury."

After the case ended Friday, the prosecution held an impromptu celebration with the Browns and the Goldmans. All the members of the prosecution team, including the police investigators, deputy district attorneys and clerks, met with the family members in the District Attorney's office to exchange hugs and pats on the back.

As each member of the prosecution team was acknowledged, there was applause from the family members and their co- workers.

Vannatter and Lange also held a press conference Friday after the jury received the case. Vannatter, who was called a "demon of evil" by defense attorney Johnnie Cochran Thursday, objected to being linked with Fuhrman.

"Mark Fuhrman does not represent me," he said. "He does not represent one iota of me. And I just want that known to everybody." (238K AIFF sound or 238K WAV sound)

Tom Lange

Asked how it felt to be called a "demon of deception," Vannatter said, "I think it's horrible. I think it's totally, totally horrible. I've dedicated 27 years to this city, and to be called that is horrible"

Lange said he hoped the case would not cause future homicide investigators to hesitate in performing their duties. "I think that's a very real concern." He later added, "I hope nothing happens to the extent where homicide investigators hold back or don't do their job because they're afraid of getting slammed like we've been getting slammed in this case for the last year."


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