Attorneys Argue Over Jury Trip to Crime Scene, Simpson Estate
LOS ANGELES (AP) _ White-hot passion gave way to bickering over potted plants and street lamps in the O.J. Simpson trial today, as attorneys debated whether conditions at the crime scene are similar enough to the murder night more than a year ago to allow an after-dark jury visit.
Superior Court Judge Lance Ito tentatively agreed to allow a Sunday night excursion as long as conditions can be substantially duplicated. The judge said he would accompany attorneys to the crime scene and Simpson’s house Friday or Saturday for a ``dry-run.″
``If the court is satisfied (with the conditions) at that time, we’ll go forward. If not, we’ll cancel,″ Ito said.
The judge also said the trip to the two crucial sites would cost taxpayers no extra money because no police overtime was necessary. He put the tab at $200 to $300 for minor electrical work and temporary fence removal.
``I’m sure Mr. Darden will be happy to front for us,″ the judge joked. Earlier in the case, prosecutor Christopher Darden paid a colleague’s fine imposed for making an improper objection.
``No objection,″ Darden said.
The defense argued against the night visit. ``We don’t think that any view should take place,″ attorney Carl Douglas said. But if it does, he added, the sounds and sights of the murder night need to be added.
Prosecutor William Hodgman, calling the proposed trip a necessary compliment to the daytime jury visit earlier in the trial, told Ito that plants can be moved and light bulbs changed outside the condominium where two people were killed. But, he said, prosecutors cannot duplicate the sounds of wailing dogs and banging gates, or arrange fog and the specific light of a crescent moon.
When the argument shifted to noting that last year’s moon was increasing in size and this year’s is fading toward a new moon, Ito interjected that jurors know the difference between waxing and waning moons and would be told there was a waxing crescent moon the night of the murders.
Although emotions were under wraps in court today, the strain of the past year was plain to see Wednesday in the pained expression of victim Ronald Goldman’s father, Fred Goldman, who asked of Simpson’s lawyers in a voice mixed with hurt and anger, ``Do they take us all for morons?″
It showed in the tearful face of Ronald Goldman’s sister, Kim, who declared: ``I’m fed up and my emotions are up to here. Over and above the loss of my brother, I have all this other crap to deal with.″
It showed as defense attorney Robert Shapiro alleged in clear, slow, unemotional tones that Christopher Darden is a prosecutor so reprehensible he should be reported to the State Bar.
It showed in the incredulous look on the face of Darden, who responded that the defense attorneys are so vile that he was sickened even to have to share a podium with them.
And it showed in the haggard faces of jurors, sequestered since Jan. 11, locked in a room for hours on end with only their paperbacks and knitting while attorneys argued over issues the jury knows nothing about.
When testimony resumed Wednesday afternoon with the head of the police crime lab, Michele Kestler, being grilled on paperwork procedures, it was so boring and repetitious that none of the jurors took notes. Some appeared on the brink of dozing off.
The trial, intended to determine whether Simpson murdered Goldman and his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson on June 12, 1994, seems to have drifted into a galaxy far, far away. It was only fitting that among the courtroom spectators was Mark Hamill _ Luke Skywalker in the ``Star Wars″ movies and a devoted Simpson trial watcher.
The only thing that can bring this case back in its final days, legal analysts said, is the firm hand of the judge, who himself has struggled to rein in his emotions. Ito choked back tears Tuesday when he spoke of the verbal lashing his police captain wife apparently received from Detective Mark Fuhrman on tape recordings, but he appeared in control as court resumed Wednesday.
``That’s what judges are paid to do: Stand above the fray, put their emotions aside,″ said Loyola Law School professor Stan Goldman. ``And that’s what Ito should have done ... and that’s what he’s going to have to do _ dispassionately examine the record, match it to the law and decide whether these tapes are admissible, regardless of what the speaker said about his wife.″
Ito has already tried to take steps in that direction. Earlier this week, he dressed down attorneys in his chambers for focusing so much attention on ``unadulterated crap.″ On Wednesday, he warned attorneys again to pay attention to the panel and keep things moving.
``I am very concerned about the durability of this jury,″ Ito said. ``We need to proceed to a judgment by this jury.″
The tumultuous day began with Deputy District Attorney Marcia Clark announcing that prosecutors had changed their minds and no longer wanted Ito off the case for the appearance of conflict-of-interest.
Then, Shapiro suggested that the prosecution’s aborted attempt to remove Ito was ``payback″ for the judge’s brusque treatment of prosecutors in recent days.
Shapiro called it ``prosecutorial extortion of the judiciary″ and said he would pursue ``all remedies that the law allows.″
He said Darden should be reported to the State Bar for voicing displeasure with Ito’s rulings, complaining in an off-the-record chambers conference Wednesday morning that Ito was too harsh with prosecutors Clark and Brian Kelberg.
Darden, who has been feuding with defense from the start of the trial, then assailed both Shapiro and defense lawyer Johnnie Cochran Jr. for attacking his integrity.
``This case is a circus! And they’ve made it a circus,″ he said, pointing toward the defense table. ``Now, if Mr. Shapiro and Mr. Cochran want to refer me to the State Bar, fine, because when this case is over I’m going to be referring defense attorneys to the United States attorney’s office!″
Darden then glanced over at a smiling Shapiro.
``He chuckles now, but will he be chuckling later on? It won’t be so funny later on. They don’t know everything that I know,″ Darden said.