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Prosecutors Shift Trial Gears Hoping to Finish Big With Domestic Abuse

February 11, 1995

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Apparently gearing up for a big finish, prosecutors in the O.J. Simpson trial abruptly stopped presenting emotional evidence of domestic violence and moved to more tedious nuts-and-bolts details.

Legal analysts predicted prosecutors won’t return to the dramatic testimony about Simpson’s alleged abuse and degradation of his slain ex-wife until after more police testimony and appearances by DNA experts, who will talk at length about tests on blood and other evidence.

``The idea is, you hit them with the bad O.J. Simpson at the beginning, and you hit them with the bad O.J. at the end,″ said Loyola Law School professor Stan Goldman. ``It’s a pretty good trial strategy.″

Other reasons for the shift, analysts say, was prosecutors’ sudden realization they were going overboard with evidence removed from the main issue: the slashing deaths of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman.

There’s also the judge’s order barring the use of some domestic violence witnesses until later in the prosecution case.

Whatever the reason, the trial’s complexion changed dramatically last week, from the sobbing testimony of Ms. Simpson’s bereaved sister to the just-the-facts-ma’am monotone of a police officer.

Thursday’s testimony by Officer Robert Riske, who spent an entire day on the stand describing what he saw at the murder scene on June 13, likely was a preview of many witnesses to come.

While Riske’s testimony was accompanied by graphic photos of the bloody victims _ photos that sent crying relatives fleeing the courtroom _ the focus of his questioning was the nuts-and-bolts of police crime scene procedure.

Cross-examination of Riske is scheduled to resume Tuesday, following Monday’s court holiday. More investigators are likely to testify this week.

The prosecution will seek to establish that the crimes were properly investigated. The defense will try to portray the officers as incompetent or cast doubt on the evidence itself.

Prosecutors made an unusual move in starting their case with domestic violence evidence. Usually, murder cases begin with the murder, establishing a time and cause of death through forensic evidence.

But the Simpson prosecution launched into an exploration of the Simpsons’ rocky relationship, apparently hoping to prove Simpson was capable of murder.

The centerpiece was the tearful testimony by Ms. Simpson’s sister, Denise Brown. She recounted several instances of humiliation and violence by a drunken Simpson far removed from the amiable picture the former football star presented on television and in movies.

But some of the most sensational stuff hasn’t been touched, including the testimony of Ms. Simpson’s former boyfriend, Keith Zlomsowitch, who told a grand jury of being stalked by Simpson _ even during a sexual encounter with Ms. Simpson on her couch.

Superior Court Judge Lance Ito forbade other witnesses from testifying early because the prosecution revealed their existence to the defense too late.

These witnesses include a chauffeur who says he saw Simpson beating Ms. Simpson in the back seat of his limousine, and a man who recounted watching Simpson knock down Ms. Simpson on a beach.

But even without Ito’s ruling _ which a prosecutor complained ``gutted″ the state’s case _ the prosecution likely realized it had to shift away from the domestic violence evidence, analysts said.

``The prosecution might have been concerned that if they spent too much time in domestic abuse, the jury might have wondered whether this was a murder case or a domestic violence case,″ said UCLA law professor Peter Arenella. ``They want to begin and end strongly.″

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