"There were several knives turned in by various people" over the years, former LAPD investigator says
"O.J. Simpson will not be tried again, and if he is, he'll be acquitted," Simpson's former attorney says
Police captain says he doesn't know "if this whole story is possibly bogus from the get-go"
Americans revisited one of the most sensational murder trials of modern times when a new twist appeared Friday in the O.J. Simpson case.
Los Angeles police announced that a knife was allegedly found on Simpson’s former estate in Brentwood, stirring memories of the stabbings of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ron Goldman outside her condominium in 1994.
The development conjured up a cast of characters from the trial that gripped the nation’s attention in the mid-1990s: Remember the televised slow-speed chase of O.J. Simpson in the white Bronco? His all-star legal team? The glove that did not fit? Judge Lance Ito?
And who can forget the ongoing crusade of Goldman’s outraged family against Simpson, who is now imprisoned in Nevada for armed robbery and kidnapping in a separate case.
A jury acquitted Simpson in the killings in 1995, but questions endure about his guilt in popular culture – fairly or not. His acquittal largely split the country along racial lines. He cannot be tried again.
The weapon used in the stabbing deaths was described as a long, serrated knife. It was not found. The double-murder case remains open but Simpson was found liable in the civil wrongful death suit brought by the victims’ families two years later.
Now-retired officer reportedly given knife in ’90s
Los Angeles police said they are examining the item, including for DNA and hair, but declined to give specific details.
“The actual item is described as a knife. I’m not going to go into the description of the knife because that could be germane to determining whether or not this actual piece of evidence is in fact evidence or is just a facsimile or a made- up story,” said Neiman, the Los Angeles police captain.
Police said they learned within the past month of its existence, but did not describe how they found out.
It is being examined for forensics – including DNA and hairs – at a lab, he said.
The now-retired officer who had the knife “held onto it until just recently,” and authorities “discovered he had it” within the last month, Neiman said.
The construction worker told the officer he had found the knife on the former Simpson property, according to Neiman.
Neiman said he is not sure whether the officer had left the force at the time.
He was then working off duty on a “movie” job, according to Neiman. The officer retired in the late 1990s, he said.
Whoever found the object should contact police, Neiman told reporters.
Neiman said he didn’t know why the ex-officer waited so long to turn it over to police.
“I don’t know what the circumstances are, why that didn’t happen or if that’s entirely accurate or if this whole story is possibly bogus from the get-go,” he said.
The officer possibly held onto it in the mistaken belief that the case was closed, Neiman said.
Jeffrey C. Eglash, who served as the LAPD’s inspector general from 1999 to 2002, said that if the story is true, it’s troubling that an ex-officer “would retain for himself the possible murder weapon from the O.J. Simpson case” instead of giving it to the police for analysis.
Wrongful death suit
CNN legal analyst Danny Cevallos said a knife could be tested for hair or blood but, with the passing of time, “it’s going to be a difficult test because this stuff is probably degraded significantly by being buried in the soil.”
Police didn’t disclose how exactly the knife was found, other than that a construction worker assigned to Simpson’s house had supposedly found it. In fact, investigators publicly Friday asked for the construction worker to come forward.
Dozens of officers thoroughly searched Simpson’s residence and nearby streets after the murders, said Tom Lange, the former lead detective in the case. Authorities are asking the construction worker to come forward.
“Initially … there were several knives found around the property,” Lange said.
“This particular incident, we don’t know anything about the circumstances of the recovery. It’s very unclear, so we’re going to have to wait and see.”
‘OJ Simpson will not be tried again’
Alan Dershowitz, a member of Simpson’s legal team, said Friday that, if indeed a knife had been recovered from Simpson’s former home, it “illustrates what a bad job the LAPD did.”
Some legal analysts said the government could get around Simpson’s double jeopardy protection by accusing him of a federal civil rights violation.
Dershowitz acknowledged such a possibility, but he said Simpson would easily prevail in court.
“The only possible way around (double jeopardy) is if you can get a federal indictment for violation of civil rights,” but the statute of limitations has “almost certainly” passed on any such violation, Dershowitz said.
“It would be very hard to find a civil rights violation here,” Dershowitz said. “O.J. Simpson will not be tried again, and if he is, he’ll be acquitted. That would be a very, very easy case for any competent defense or constitutional lawyer to win.”
FX series renews public interest in case
In the murder trial, Allen Wattenberg, owner of Ross Cutlery store, testified that his employee sold Simpson a 15-inch stiletto knife on May 3, 1994. He said Simpson asked that the knife be sharpened.
Prosecution witness Dr. Lakshmanan Sathyavagiswaran told the jury he believed the killings were done with a single-edged knife.
During cross-examination, however, the doctor said he could not be positive.
Flanked by his all-star legal team, Simpson was found not guilty in the two killings on October 3, 1995.
Testimony in the trial took about nine months, encompassing about 120 witnesses, 45,000 pages of evidence and 1,100 exhibits. Ito presided over the jury trial.
But after being acquitted, Simpson wasn’t entirely clear of legal trouble.
Although Simpson was acquitted in the criminal trial, the Goldmans filed a civil wrongful death suit against him. In 1997, a jury found him liable and awarded the family $8.5 million in damages and millions more in punitive damages.
Goldman’s mother, Sharon Rufo, was unable to collect the entire proceeds from Simpson, who was forced by the court to surrender his golf clubs, his 1968 Heisman trophy, a Warhol painting and other assets. She later sought to auction off her rights to the unpaid settlement.
Then, in September 2007, Simpson was arrested in connection with a robbery at a Las Vegas hotel room. The ex-athlete said at the time he was retrieving personal items that had been stolen from him and were being sold as memorabilia.
He was booked on six counts of robbery, assault, burglary and conspiracy.
In October 2008, Simpson was found guilty on 12 counts, including kidnapping and armed robbery. He later was sentenced to at least 33 years in jail, with parole eligibility after nine years.
Interest in Simpson and the 1994 killings has spiked since the February debut of the FX series “American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson.”
Google searches for Simpson and other key figures in the case have skyrocketed in recent weeks amid record-setting ratings for the cable series, which brought in the largest debut audience ever for FX, according to Variety.
The series is based on the book “The Run of His Life: The People v. O.J. Simpson” by CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.
Toobin described Friday’s revelation as more historically than legally significant.
“This so-called discovery, if it is does, in fact, have anything to do with the murders, is of great historical interest, but legally, since he has been tried and acquitted and since there has been a civil judgment against him in the subsequent case by the Goldman family, it just has no legal significance at all,” Toobin said.
CNN legal analyst Paul Callan, who represented the estate of Nicole Brown Simpson in a civil suit against Simpson, is skeptical of the new find.
“What a coincidence,” he said, “all of a sudden the knife would be found in the middle of the TV series. It sounds like a made-in-Hollywood knife discovery.”
Neiman, the LAPD captain, echoed the same sentiment.
“Interesting timing. Interesting timing,” he said with a smile.
David Cook, an attorney who has worked with Fred Goldman to collect money from Simpson, told CNN the latest news could have one benefit.
CNN’s Scott Glover, Paul Vercamman and Stella Chan contributed to this report.