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Lawyers Argue Over What to Tell the Jurors

January 28, 1995

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Misconduct or mistake? Attorneys in the O.J. Simpson case are bickering over what to tell the jury about the defense’s failure to properly reveal its witnesses.

Prosecutors want Superior Court Judge Lance Ito to tell the jury that defense attorneys committed misconduct by hiding witnesses. Simpson’s team wants to tell the panel that it just made a mistake.

Ito, who solicited the proposed admonitions Friday, will draft his own instruction before Monday’s session, when defense lawyer Johnnie Cochran Jr. is scheduled to resume his opening statement.

Ito also will decide whether to grant the prosecution’s request for a 30-day delay and a chance to give another opening statement.

It was Cochran’s opening statement _ and his reference to about a dozen surprise witnesses _ that sparked this dispute. His failure to share the information with prosecutors beforehand violated a state discovery rule.

Among the witnesses in question is Mary Anne Gerchas, a Los Angeles jeweler who says she saw four men speed away from the area of the murders about the time they took place.

The battle over evidence sharing interrupted Cochran’s statement Wednesday and consumed the entire court day Thursday.

In its proposed admonition, the defense said Cochran would tell jurors on Monday that ``counsel inadvertently failed to turn over to the prosecution a witness statement in its possession as the discovery rules require.″

The defense admonition said the witness would not be mentioned again and proposed a standard instruction for jurors which says: ``Statements made by the attorneys during the trial are not evidence.″

Defense attorneys did not name the witness, but were apparently referring to Gerchas.

Prosecutors sought a harsher rebuke. They proposed telling jurors that both sides are obliged to turn over witness information promptly, and the prosecution did and the defense didn’t.

``The defense ... did not provide the prosecution with the names and expected testimony of many of the witnesses mentioned to you in the opening statement of Mr. Cochran,″ said the proposed admonition. ``Such conduct impedes the search for the truth. It also disrupted these proceedings, causing a two-day delay in the trial.″

Prosecutors also asked to strike Cochran’s statement that some witnesses might not appear because they were afraid.

Meanwhile, Deputy District Attorney William Hodgman was released from Torrance Memorial Hospital after suffering what doctors diagnosed as acute anxiety resulting from stress.

Hodgman, 42, was hospitalized Wednesday night after complaining of chest pains. Earlier that day, he had expressed outrage over the defense’s last-minute disclosure of the witnesses.

Simpson is charged with murdering his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ronald Goldman.

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