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Vannatter Denies Allegations That He Lied About Simpson Estate Search

September 19, 1995

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ The detective who led the O.J. Simpson investigation denied today that he lied when he testified he didn’t consider Simpson a suspect when investigators entered the former football player’s estate without a warrant.

But an FBI agent who overheard Detective Philip Vannatter talking to someone else testified later that the detective used the word ``suspect″ in describing Simpson hours after the murders.

Vannatter testified this morning he never told witnesses in a mob-related case that he quickly considered Simpson a suspect in the murder of Simpson’s ex-wife and Ronald Goldman because ``the husband is always a suspect.″

``Mr. Simpson was no more of a suspect at that point than you were, Mr. Shapiro,″ Vannatter told defense attorney Robert Shapiro.

But an FBI agent in the mob case testified he overheard Vannatter telling somebody during a smoking break about the morning after the murders.

``I can’t give you an exact quote,″ FBI Agent Michael Wacks said. ``It was more of a comment, something to the effect of, `Not going up to the house to save victims,′ and `that he was a suspect,′ ″ Wacks said.

Wacks said he assumed Vannatter, who was speaking with mob murder witness Larry Fiato, was speaking about the Simpson case.

``Were you surprised that Detective Vannatter would be discussing the Simpson case with Larry Fiato?″ asked defense attorney Johnnie Cochran Jr.

``I was somewhat surprised, yes,″ Wacks said.

``It’s not something you would do?″ Cochran asked.

``Normally not, no,″ Wacks said.

Throughout the morning, Simpson conferred with his attorneys and at one point, motioned Shapiro over to talk to him.

Vannatter, called before Wacks took the stand, acknowledged speaking generally about the Simpson case and said his statements may have been taken out of context.

``There was general conversation going on. If something was taken out of context, if something was said in jest, I can’t answer to that.

``I never said that O.J. Simpson was a suspect. O.J. Simpson was not a suspect when I went to the Rockingham location,″ Vannatter said.

``Anybody that has personal contact with a murder victim before they’re eliminated is a potential suspect and can be a potential suspect,″ the detective said. ``I wish I was good enough to go to a crime scene, and within less than an hour be able to figure out who committed a murder, that would be great.″

He added: ``The real reason was not to save lives. I went to the location to make a death notification and in the furtherance of my murder investigation.″

The defense alleges Vannatter made the statements in separate conversations with brothers Craig Anthony ``Tony the Animal″ and Larry Fiato. Craig Fiato is a mob informant working on a murder case and entered in the federal government’s witness protection program.

Jurors in the Simpson case, however, weren’t told of Craig Fiato’s organized crime links.

Jurors also weren’t told of defense allegations that Craig Fiato was romantically involved with victim Nicole Brown Simpson’s sister Denise Brown. That alleged relationship _ denied by Ms. Brown _ spurred the conversation between the Fiato brothers and Vannatter in a Southern California hotel room earlier this year.

If the defense calls the Fiatos to testify about the conversations, federal prosecutors want the judge to pull the plug on the courtroom camera because Craig Fiato is in the witness protection program, and to ban courtroom artists refrain from sketching the brothers.

In arguments before Vannatter was called, prosecutor Brian Kelberg told Judge Lance Ito it was unlikely that Vannatter would share his thoughts on the Simpson case with the Fiatos.

``Like Phil Vannatter is going to lay out the prosecution’s case on O.J. Simpson to Craig and Larry Fiato who are quote `Mafioso-type’ people who have turned government witnesses, OK?″ Kelberg asked. Using scatological terms, Kelberg said the conversation was ``just shooting the breeze. ... It was a nothing statement.″

Jurors were brought into the courtroom when Vannatter took the stand.

Craig Fiato’s two years of secret tape recordings led to indictments in 1987 that officials said helped bring down a Los Angeles-based mob known as the ``Mickey Mouse Mafia.″ More recently, he was a key prosecution witness in the trial of three men charged in the 1982 murder-for-hire killing of tough-guy actor Frank Christi.

For the defense’s other attack _ on the FBI _ the Simpson camp wants to recall FBI scientist Roger Martz, presumably to confront him with allegations from one of his colleagues. FBI Agent Frederic Whitehurst has reportedly accused Martz of misconduct in the Simpson case and has alleged FBI wrongdoing in other high-profile cases, including the World Trade Center bombing.

Also today, Ito released procedures for deliberations, revealing that there will be at least a one-hour warning for attorneys to get to court before a verdict is read. The judge also said he will read jury instructions before closing arguments. Normally, instructions are given after closing arguments, just before the jury begins deliberations.

On Monday, Ito allowed the prosecution to conditionally rest its rebuttal because the defense has not yet rested its case. The traditional order of evidence presentation has been thrown askew by the defense desire to keep its options open and the judge’s desire to keep evidence moving along for the impatient jury.

The schedule became even more confusing when the defense put on its first witness in its own rebuttal case. That witness, blood expert Herbert MacDonell, described an experiment he conducted to show that blood wouldn’t have shrunk the evidence gloves as much as the prosecution says it did.

MacDonell was called to bolster the defense contention that the evidence gloves didn’t fit Simpson in a demonstration before the jury because the gloves were never Simpson’s. The prosecution alleges Ms. Simpson bought him the gloves and he wore them during the murders. One glove was found near the bodies, the other on Simpson’s property.

MacDonell told jurors he smeared his own blood on a pair of gloves similar to those police found and let them dry. MacDonell then measured the amount of shrinkage.

``I would have to say it was negligible,″ MacDonell said.

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