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Will He or Won’t He? Simpson Runs Risks in Taking Stand

May 30, 1995

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ A judge’s ruling that O.J. Simpson’s claim of innocence in his ex-wife’s murder does not have to be introduced as evidence puts pressure on the defendant to testify, legal experts say.

``I think in order for the defense to win an acquittal, Simpson must take the stand,″ said Robert Pugsley, a professor at the Southwestern University School of Law. ``But he will do so, of course, at great risk.″

Criminalist Collin Yamauchi made an offhanded remark during testimony last week that he hadn’t expected Simpson’s blood to show up in testing because he’d heard news reports indicating Simpson had ``an airtight alibi.″

The comment prompted a brief legal firefight over whether Simpson’s statement to police should be admitted into evidence. The statement was made hours after the June 12 murders of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman.

Defense attorneys argued that Yamauchi’s comment opened the door for them to introduce Simpson’s statement because Yamauchi may have been given inside information from police about Simpson’s alibi.

Prosecutors called that effort a ruse to get the jury to hear Simpson’s side while keeping him off the witness stand.

Superior Court Judge Lance Ito sided with prosecutors, who argued that there was no evidence Yamauchi had been told about Simpson’s interview with police detectives.

One good reason for Simpson to testify is that jurors are likely to expect an explanation even though the law does not require him to provide one, said Paul Bergman, law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles.

``If a person is innocent, people like to hear the person get up and say, `I’m innocent,‴ Bergman said. But he added that the defense could always say authorities botched the case and ``Simpson doesn’t know anything about that, and that’s why he isn’t testifying.″

Loyola law professor Laurie Levenson said the defense probably won’t make a decision on sending Simpson to the stand until it sees the rest of the prosecution’s case and what effect its battery of experts and character witnesses has on the jury. ``It may simply come down to whether O.J. wants to take the witness stand,″ she said.

``On one hand, jurors could see the charming O.J. Simpson who won the hearts and minds of America as an athlete and an actor,″ she said. ``But if he loses his cool, he could show a man who shows a capacity for committing this kind of crime.″

The risk of testifying may be exaggerated, said Eleanor Swift, a professor of law at the University of California, Berkeley.

``I haven’t seen anybody in this trial break down under cross-examine and there have been some pretty brutal cross-examinations,″ she said. ``I think the more aggressive you are, the more you create sympathy for the witness. So the prosecutors would have to be careful.″

Meanwhile, a 28-year-old Hispanic woman on the jury is under investigation for misconduct and may be dismissed today for passing a note, the Los Angeles Times reported Saturday, citing unidentified sources. The alleged intended recipient of the note, juror Francine Florio-Bunten, was dismissed Thursday night after denying that she had been working on a book or that she received a note.

There were also reports in the Los Angeles Times and CBS news over the weeend that yet another juror was under investigation for unspecified reasons.

Only four alternate jurors remain of the original pool of 12 alternates. Should the number of jurors drop below 12, both sides would have to agree to continue the trial.

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