Explosive Fuhrman Tapes Raises Possibility of Ito Withdrawal From Trial
LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Judge Lance Ito raised the possibility today that he would withdraw from the O.J. Simpson trial as explosive transcripts revealed that Detective Mark Fuhrman derided the judge’s wife and predicted the prosecution is doomed without him.
``Just when you thought we couldn’t have anything crazier happen,″ Ito said shortly after transcripts of Monday’s sidebars about Fuhrman’s comments in taped interviews with a screenwriter were released.
Defense attorney Johnnie Cochran Jr. strenuously argued that Ito not withdraw, as the judge said he would have to do if the prosecution called his wife, police Capt. Margaret York, to rebut Fuhrman’s statements.
Cochran said Fuhrman’s comments about York, his former superior officer, were irrelevant to the trial.
``That’s a side, minimal issue,″ he said. ``Don’t stop these proceedings. ... We want to finish this case.″
The defense is trying to cast doubt on the testimony of Fuhrman, who found a bloody glove on Simpson’s property and denied to the majority black jury that he had referred to blacks by using a racial epithet during the past 10 years. Fuhrman used the word on the tapes of interviews about a fictional account about how women employees are treated in the Los Angeles Police Department.
Prosecutor Marcia Clark argued today that the tapes were irrelevant because there was no evidence that Fuhrman planted evidence against Simpson. She asked that the trial proceed while another judge handles the issue of the tapes’ relevancy.
Ito postponed the day’s scheduled testimony and called a two-hour recess to research the law and come to a decision. His options included staying on, having another judge rule only on the admissibility of the Fuhrman tapes, or removing himself from the rest of the case and letting another judge preside over the remainder of the trial.
During Monday’s sidebar, Cochran said that in July 1994, after Fuhrman testified at the preliminary hearing, the detective told the screenwriter:
``I am the most important witness in the trial of the century. If I go down, their case goes bye-bye.″
Cochran also said Fuhrman referred to defense attorney Robert Shapiro as a ``Jew″ and said he looked forward to suing him out of his house and swimming pool.
In Monday’s closed meeting, attorneys and Ito wrestled with how to proceed in light of the racial statements uttered by Fuhrman in the tapes.
Most troubling to all involved were Fuhrman’s disparaging remarks about Ito’s wife because the issue raised the specter of a mistrial.
``Mark Fuhrman discusses Lt. York ... and their run-ins at West L.A.,″ Clark tells Ito, according to the transcripts, ``and he makes derogatory comments.
``Of course, I have to tell you, judge, this is a book about men against women, that is the whole thing, so he tees off on women through the whole thing,″ Clark says.
Cochran adds: ``That is basically true, but he doesn’t like blacks or Mexicans or Jews.″
``Or whites either,″ Clark said.
``He hates women,″ Cochran said. ``He hates everybody except white, Anglo-Saxon men who are police officers.″
``Yeah,″ Clark said. ``And even them, not necessarily.″
Fuhrman’s disparaging remarks about York, which were not revealed, contradicted her sworn statement that she had no recollection of any interaction between herself and Fuhrman. She insisted that if Fuhrman were as bad as he was alleged to have been she would have remembered.
Prosecutors said they wanted to call York to testify to put some of Fuhrman’s remarks into context and show he was exaggerating.
After two private meetings with attorneys this morning, Ito convened the open court session by saying he may have to step aside.
``At this point, what is necessary to determine is whether or not Captain York will be a material witness in this case and her testimony would be relevant or material to any of the issues before the court,″ Ito said. ``If that is true, then this court would be required to recuse itself from further participation in this case.″
Cochran said he wanted the parts of the tapes related to York edited out.
``Your wife has nothing to do with this,″ Cochran told the judge, his voice rising. ``We are not going to stipulate ... to a mistrial.″
``This is a blockbuster! This is a bombshell!″ he said, arguing that the value of the tapes shouldn’t be lost because the judge’s wife was mentioned in the transcripts.
The tapes were recorded from 1985 to 1994 by a North Carolina screenwriting professor, and Simpson’s attorneys fought successfully in court for access to them. The defense now wants to play the tapes for the jury, to impeach the credibility of one of the state’s strongest witnesses against Simpson.
In discussing the tapes Monday, Ito called the situation a ``double whammy″ because Fuhrman is disparaging of Ito’s wife and of the police internal affairs division, where York is now commanding officer.
Ito suggested that he could still rule on whether the tapes could be heard by the jury _ if the defense only offers limited portions that address the issues of Fuhrman’s alleged racism and willingness to frame suspects, and not get into the subject of his views on women and the internal affairs division.
But the hearing ended without resolution. Ito told attorneys to think about the situation. ``Go back to your respective corners, consult with your partners and cohorts, see what your strategy is, what you want your strategy to be and we will talk about it,″ Ito said.
Lawyers met again with Ito in chambers this morning, delaying the resumption of testimony from the police crime lab manager.
The transcripts include previously undisclosed details, and both sides agreed that Fuhrman made offensive comments. But the prosecution insisted Fuhrman was merely posturing and exaggerating to make a better screenplay.
``He is a vicious, vicious guy who has no respect for anybody,″ Cochran said.
Cochran said Fuhrman offers tips on how to stop black motorists.
``He says you see a nigger in a Porsche and he doesn’t have a $100 suit on, then you stop him because he has probably stolen the car,″ Cochran said. ``You don’t look at the license plates.″
Fuhrman also talks about how police brutally retaliated after the shooting of officers in a predominantly Hispanic precinct.
``They go in and they beat the people until their faces turn to mush,″ Cochran said, recounting what was said on the tapes. ``There is so much blood on their uniforms they have to come out and they have to spray themselves down with hoses.″
Fuhrman then jokes about how inept the internal affairs division is and how easily the officers covered up the beatings.
``This guy is going to get prosecuted for this, judge,″ Cochran said.
During the meeting, prosecutors said they wanted to call York, and Ito talked about the importance of resolving the conflict-of-interest issue.
``(This) is a significant legal issue because we may be talking mistrial,″ Ito said.
On the tapes, Fuhrman talks in July 1994 about plans for a libel lawsuit against defense attorney Shapiro, filed after a New Yorker article in which defense sources outlined the Fuhrman strategy, Cochran said.
``They are going to come up with (a lawsuit) to try to take Bob’s house and his swimming pool, and he is a Jew,″ Cochran said.
``He didn’t say that,″ Clark said.
``He refers to him as a Jew,″ Cochran responds.
The entire issue of the Fuhrman tapes has been kept from jurors, who appeared bored Monday as they listened to testimony from a defense expert.