Prosecution Scientists Says He Thought Simpson Had ‘Airtight Alibi’
LOS ANGELES (AP) _ A prosecution witness blurted out Wednesday that he once thought O.J. Simpson had ``an airtight alibi,″ igniting a defense demand that jurors hear Simpson’s statement to police, perhaps without him testifying.
The comment by police criminalist Collin Yamauchi set off one of the most explosive legal arguments in Simpson’s murder trial in weeks.
The defense seized upon it as an opening to present Simpson’s statement without requiring the ex-football star to take the witness stand and risk hostile cross-examination.
Judge Lance Ito delayed a decision and asked both sides to present their legal arguments Thursday. A ruling in favor of Simpson would be handing ``a plum″ to the defense, according to one law professor.
After jurors were hustled out of the courtroom, prosecutor Marcia Clark, her voice rising to a shout, said there was no way Simpson’s self-serving statement to police should be presented to jurors.
Simpson’s 32-minute voluntary interview was given on June 13 just after he returned from Chicago. He had flown there late the night before for a planned business trip.
When police asked Simpson during the interview if he had any ideas about what might have happened to his ex-wife on June 12, he replied: ``I have no idea, man. You guys haven’t told me anything. ... I have absolutely no idea.″
Nonetheless, he also told police he knew he was the prime target of the investigation into the slayings of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman.
Clark said Yamauchi’s conclusion that Simpson had an alibi was based on media reports, not the police interview. She said that at the time, Yamauchi didn’t even know about the interview.
``To say that his recollection of a news report somehow opens up the defendant’s statement makes no sense at all,″ Clark argued.
Defense attorney Johnnie Cochran Jr., accusing Clark of being ``hysterical″ in her response, insisted the prosecution had opened the door ``with a Mack truck.″
``We certainly aren’t going to yell at your honor and become hysterical,″ he said in a smooth voice.
``I’d object to that characterization, your honor,″ Clark shot back. ``That kind of personal attack is very improper and inappropriate. ... I’m not yelling at anyone. And for Mr. Cochran to make that sexist remark _ hysterical _ I take great umbrage at it.″
Cochran continued, undeterred.
``The people have brought this out and now we think we have a right to put on Mr. Simpson’s entire statement,″ he said.
Robert Pugsley, a professor at Southwestern University School of Law, said a ruling in favor of the defense on such a narrow issue would give Simpson a big victory but was unlikely.
``You would hear O.J.‘s voice making a pitch for his innocence,″ Pugsley said. ``I think it would be a plum and I don’t see any of the prosecutors’ errors, if any, warranting this kind of a sanction.″
Yamauchi’s brief comment was elicited by prosecutor Rockne Harmon to show that the scientist wasn’t biased against Simpson when he started testing evidence, including a bloody glove found at Simpson’s estate.
``Based on what you knew before you did the test in this case, did you have an expectation what the outcome of these tests would be?″ Harmon asked.
After defense objections, Yamauchi answered, ``Yes.″
``I heard on the news that he’s got an airtight alibi, he’s in Chicago and, you know, it’s his ex-wife and this and that, and he’s probably not related to this thing,″ Yamauchi testified.
Lawyers rushed to the bench for a private conference and, moments later, when jurors left the courtroom, the fireworks followed.
``I think you have a 356 problem,″ Ito told Clark.
Section 356 of the evidence code says if part of a statement is brought into evidence, an adverse party has the right to demand that the entire statement be admitted.
Yamauchi, who previously has admitted mislabeling Simpson’s blood vial, spent most of his time on the stand describing how evidence was handled, trying to fend off defense accusations of evidence tampering.
One of the first technicians to handle key evidence in the case, Yamauchi appeared nervous as he listed his credentials and gave jurors an overview of his limited experience in the area of DNA testing known as PCR.
Yamauchi said he has performed the tests in the Los Angeles Police Department crime laboratory for about 1 1/2 years and had testified in court about PCR just twice.
During a hearing last summer, he portrayed himself as a careful technician who took great pains to avoid contaminating evidence. But he admitted that a vial of Simpson’s blood labeled No. 60 should have been No. 61.
``It was a clerical error,″ he said then. The vial has become a key element in the theory that Simpson’s blood was planted as part of a frame-up.
Yamauchi also was one of the first police lab employees to take cuttings from the glove found on Simpson’s estate. Experts have testified that the glove contained a mixture of blood from Simpson and the victims, and Yamauchi testified his initial DNA tests produced similar results.
The criminalist’s long-awaited testimony was preceded by that of state Department of Justice DNA expert Renee Montgomery who concluded two days on the stand by saying that wishful thinking by the defense could not change crime lab results that incriminate Simpson.
The defense has attacked DNA test results as irrelevant, contending it was planted by police or contaminated when it was collected and handled by sloppy technicians.