Simpson Tells Judge He Didn’t Commit Murders, Both Sides Rest
LOS ANGELES (AP) _ O.J. Simpson declared to the court of public opinion today that ``I did not, could not and would not″ commit murder, then both sides rested in the court of law. So ended the presentation of evidence in one of the most sensational trials in U.S. history.
``I’m very pleased to say that we have no further testimony to present at this time, and as difficult as it is, the defense does rest at this time,″ lead defense attorney Johnnie Cochran Jr. told the weary jurors.
Lead prosecutor Marcia Clark told the panel: ``We ask the court to receive all of the people’s exhibits, and the people rest.″
Moments later, Judge Lance Ito began to explain the law to the jury, telling jurors they could convict Simpson of a lesser crime of second-degree murder.
Outside the jury’s presence, Simpson waived his right to testify, ending more than a year of speculation over whether he would testify on his own behalf against charges of murdering his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman.
Simpson, over Clark’s vehement objections, was allowed to make a statement to the judge.
``Good morning, your honor. As much as I would like to address some of the misrepresentations about myself, and my Nicole, and our life together, I am mindful of the mood and the stamina of this jury. I have confidence, a lot more it seems than Miss Clark has, of their integrity and that they will find as the record stands now, that I did not, could not and would not have committed this ... crime,″ Simpson said.
As Simpson started talking about his children, Ito cut him off and Simpson sat down. The judge then got him to explicitly agree that he was waiving his right.
Clark, who had complained that such a statement would be tantamount to testimony without cross-examination, immediately demanded that Simpson take the witness stand to be questioned. Ito rejected the request.
Both sides then immediately rested their cases in front of the jury and the judge quickly began reading his instructions.
Prosecutors called 72 primary and rebuttal witnesses, while the defense called 53 main case witnesses and one rebuttal witness. So the jury of 10 women and two men _ nine blacks, two whites and one Hispanic _ heard from 126 witnesses since testimony started on Jan. 31.
On Thursday, Ito handed the defense a major setback, stripping Simpson of his all-or-nothing verdict strategy, an option that will allow jurors to convict him even if they find he didn’t plan them.
By allowing jurors to consider a second-degree murder conviction, jurors can find Simpson guilty of murder without finding that the killings were premeditated. Ito said jurors can consider the lesser charge because Goldman showed up at Ms. Simpson’s condo ``by sheer chance.″
The instructions undercut the defense’s plans to gamble and ask jurors to consider only the most severe charge or acquittal.
During the fight over jury instruction, Ito rejected almost all of the 38 special instructions suggested by the defense.
And the state Supreme Court refused to hear Simpson’s appeal seeking to give the jury an instruction on Detective Mark Fuhrman’s ``unavailability″ to testify.
The biggest setback, however, was the second-degree ruling.
``For those jurors who are leaning toward acquittal, it gives them the security of knowing that they’re voting for _ instead of life in prison _ 15 years to life,″ said Southwestern University law Professor Robert Pugsley. ``It also might help break a logjam in deliberations.″
Prosecutors are almost certain to argue that in the case of Goldman, Simpson was caught by surprise and didn’t intend to kill Ms. Simpson’s friend, who went to her house to return her mother’s eyeglasses.
Second-degree murder carries a maximum sentence of 15 years to life in prison with possible parole. First degree murder carries a sentence of 25 years to life. If Simpson is convicted of multiple murder _ a special circumstance _ he faces life without parole.
The defense vigorously opposed allowing the jury to consider the lesser charge.
``It invites the jury to compromise,″ defense attorney Gerald Uelmen said. ``We are objecting in the strongest possible terms.″
But Ito accepted prosecution arguments that Goldman was an unintended victim who was in the wrong place at the wrong time and Ms. Simpson may have been slain in a moment of rage and passion.
``I don’t think there’s any reasonable interpretation that would not indicate that Mr. Goldman’s presence at the crime scene was by sheer chance,″ Ito said.
On the Fuhrman ruling, the state’s top court denied an appeal that jurors be told more about why the now-retired detective wasn’t called back to testify after they heard a tape of him uttering a racial slur in contradiction to his trial testimony.
Fuhrman invoked Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination outside the jury’s presence when asked whether he planted evidence. The defense wanted jurors to be told he was ``unavailable″ to return and that they could consider that in weighing his truthfulness.