Defense Witness Admits She Doesn’t Know Exact Time She Saw Bronco
LOS ANGELES (AP) _ A Salvadoran maid who holds the key to O.J. Simpson’s alibi stuck to her story Thursday but retreated to ``I don’t remember″ answers when pressed for details and asked if money was her motive for getting involved.
After a long string of questions, Rosa Lopez denied she received any money from Simpson’s lawyers or from tabloids, scoffing at the suggestion she was paid $5,000.
``With $5,000, I would no longer be here, sir,″ Lopez snapped at Deputy District Attorney Christopher Darden.
``Well, what if you were given $5,000 to stay here?″ Darden shot back.
``I’m not here, sir. I leave and I get lost,″ said Lopez, who reluctantly obeyed the judge’s order to remain in the United States to testify for Simpson.
Calm and confident under Darden’s relentless cross-examination, Lopez again maintained she saw Simpson’s Bronco the night his ex-wife and her friend were murdered. Lopez admitted, however, that she didn’t know the exact time and never sought out police to tell them what she had seen.
In a courtroom packed with Simpson’s family and supporters, Lopez said she thought Simpson was ``a great guy″ and acknowledged she disliked his ex-wife because she once slapped a Simpson maid, who was a friend of Lopez.
As Darden intensified his attack on the witness’s credibility by suggesting she was offered money for her alibi testimony, Lopez repeatedly answered, ``I don’t remember.″
That also was her response when asked if she told a friend and former employer she would testify to ``anything, anytime in this case.″
She denied discussing with fellow maid Sylvia Guerra payment for her story from the National Enquirer or the Simpson defense team.
``Isn’t it true that you told Sylvia Guerra that you were going to be paid to testify in this case?″ Darden asked.
``No, sir,″ Lopez replied.
``And isn’t it true that you told Sylvia Guerra that if she would say that she saw the Bronco that she could also get paid $5,000?″
``I don’t remember having said that, sir.″
``So you could have told her that?″ Darden pressed.
``I don’t remember having said it, sir,″ she replied, then repeated that answer twice more.
Darden clashed with Lopez over numerous other issues, including her age, which she balked at telling on national TV. She said no woman wanted to announce her age to the world.
After a full day of hard questioning, Darden still wasn’t finished with Lopez, and the judge ordered her to return to court Friday, putting jurors on hold for at least part of another court day.
In contrast to her demeanor last week, when she was tearful and distraught under intense questioning, Lopez was firm and adamant. She was clearly concentrating on giving brief, often one-word answers of ``yes″ or ``no.″
But as the day wore on, the words ``I don’t remember″ became a litany, a repetition so obvious that Darden asked if she had been told to give that answer to make things easier on herself. She denied she’d received any such coaching.
Darden, his questioning more restrained than in the attack he launched on Lopez last week, picked up on the ``Mr. Johnnie″ terminology she used then to describe defense attorney Johnnie Cochran Jr.
On Thursday, in contrast, she referred to him as ``Mr. Cochran.″
Darden repeatedly suggested that Lopez’s testimony was scripted by defense attorneys.
Asked by Darden if she met with Simpson’s attorneys on a court break, Lopez said she had but that they didn’t tell her what to say. Through an interpreter, the Spanish-speaking witness said, ``We talked about my always telling the truth, sir.″
Darden let out a loud guffaw and was admonished by Superior Court Judge Lance Ito. The judge ordered Darden’s reaction stricken from the videotape record being made of Lopez’s testimony for possible later viewing by the jury if she makes good on her promise to leave the country.
Lopez, who worked next door to Simpson’s estate, is the only witness who places Simpson’s white Bronco on the street outside his house at the hour prosecutors contend he was killing Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman two miles away, speeding back and forth in the same vehicle.
But on Thursday, her memory proved sketchy and her sense of time less than precise. She has said she last saw the Bronco when she walked her employer’s golden retriever shortly after 10 p.m. on June 12. Prosecutors contend the murders occurred about 10:15 p.m.
Asked why she didn’t give the important information to anyone until a defense investigator approached her weeks after the former football star was charged with the slayings, Lopez said, ``No one ever came to ask me about it.″
Darden bored in on the witness, using details from a report from a defense investigator who interviewed Lopez twice last summer. The report says Lopez placed the Bronco outside Simpson’s estate between 10:15 and 10:20 p.m.
``All I said was that it was after 10,″ Lopez said.
``So you don’t know how long after 10?″ Darden asked.
At another point, Darden asked, ``Do you have a hard time remembering time?″
``If I don’t have it written down, how can I remember?″ she replied.
``Is that the only way you can remember dates and times?″ Darden asked.
Darden asked if investigator William Pavelic first suggested she had seen the Bronco at 10:15 or 10:20.
``If that’s what he’s saying, that’s fine,″ said the witness.
She was similarly willing to have someone else pinpoint the date of her first interview with Pavelic, even though she initially said she couldn’t remember the date, time or even what season it was when they spoke.
When Darden asked her if the interview took place July 29, she said, ``If you say so. ... It’s just that I don’t remember a date because I don’t go writing a date.″
Darden raised the possibility that Lopez had little idea what time she left the house that night, pressing her on earlier testimony that she had glanced at a clock in her bedroom before walking the dog.
``Are you sure that you had a clock on your nightstand?″ Darden asked.
Darden, who sharply attacked the witness last week for insisting she had a plane reservation to El Salvador when she had not yet made it, caught her in another lie Thursday when he produced an application she had filed for unemployment benefits. Lopez said earlier she was leaving the country and would not be claiming unemployment.
He also confronted her with a videotape that shows her telling a television reporter about voices she heard the night of the murders. Moments earlier, she had testified that she never said such a thing to reporters,
But the majority of Darden’s quietly controlled cross-examination was aimed at portraying Lopez as a puppet of Simpson’s lawyers and an advocate of his defense strategy.
She acknowledged she was housed at a hotel last weekend paid for by the defense, that her lawyer, Carl Jones, bought her two new dresses and two pair of shoes for her courtroom appearance and that she spent substantial time at Cochran’s offices.
Darden said prosecutors knew that she was taken to Cochran’s office at 2 p.m. Saturday and did not emerge until 9 p.m.
``And you talked about the case?″ Darden asked.
``He just tells me to tell the truth, sir,″ she said.
Another focus of Darden’s inquiry was Lopez’s friendship with Guerra. In her initial statements to Pavelic, Lopez said her friend Sylvia came over for coffee and tamales the night of June 12 and also saw the Bronco.
No Sylvia was mentioned in material initially given to the prosecution; Cochran said that was because the woman was an undocumented worker who feared retribution if she testified. The prosecution found Guerra and brought her to court briefly this week.
Darden also questioned Lopez about her other maid friend, Michelle Abudrahm, who worked for the Simpsons. Lopez said she disliked Ms. Simpson because she once slapped Abudrahm.
``We are friends, we are both housekeepers, and we earn our living with the sweat of our brow,″ she said.
``And so for Nicole to strike Michelle is a form of disrespect to you, too, isn’t it?″ Darden asked.
``Of course, yes,″ Lopez replied.