Couple on Date Challenge Prosecution Murder Timeline
LOS ANGELES (AP) _ No dog wailed and nothing seemed wrong when a couple on a date strolled past Nicole Brown Simpson’s condominium minutes after the time prosecutors believe Ms. Simpson was slain there, the pair testified Tuesday.
The two, who were on a blind date that night, were among a series of witnesses whose testimony Tuesday for O.J. Simpson raised questions about the prosecution’s timeline for the killings of Ms. Simpson and Ronald Goldman.
Danny Mandel and Ellen Aaronson told jurors they didn’t see any blood or bodies, nor did they see any sign of mayhem when they walked past Ms. Simpson’s condominium at about 10:25 p.m., roughly 10 minutes after prosecution witnesses heard the telltale cries of a dog.
Under pointed cross-examination by Marcia Clark, both witnesses acknowledged they never made a conscious effort to look up the walkway outside the condominium, where the bodies were found.
Coincidentally, they said, they were on their way back from Mezzaluna, the restaurant where Ms. Simpson dined and Goldman worked that night.
``Nothing attracted my attention at all,″ said Aaronson, a toy company production director who testified it was her first and last date with Mandel.
How did they remember the time? Aaronson said she checked her watch when a waitress asked them to close out their dinner bill because she was ending her shift. It was just before 10 p.m.
Mandel paid the bill, they chatted for about 15 minutes and left, strolling the few blocks to her apartment on the warm summer night of June 12, 1994, Aaronson recalled. She remembered Mandel batting the leaves on trees with his hand as they walked.
At one point, about five minutes after they passed Ms. Simpson’s condominium, Mandel said, he checked his watch and it was about 10:30 p.m.
Jurors took extensive notes as both witnesses traced on a large diagram the route they took to and from the restaurant.
Clark suggested to Mandel, a movie studio finance department worker, he might be mistaken about the route. But Aaronson, who lived in the neighborhood, said she led the way and was certain they passed Ms. Simpson’s address.
The testimony was important for the defense because it raises questions about the prosecution’s time of death theory, which hinges on the howl of a dog at about 10:15 p.m. There were no eyewitnesses to the killings.
``It still doesn’t really sew up the case for the defense because it doesn’t account for the time between 10:30 p.m. and 11 p.m., during which O.J. still isn’t accounted for,″ Loyola University law professor Laurie Levenson said.
Clark tried to point out inconsistencies in the couple’s recollections. For example, Mandel said there was only one table seated when they left Mezzaluna; Aaronson said there were people at several tables. Also, he said he had to quickly go back and get his keys after they left; Aaronson said she didn’t recall whether that happened.
Clark also produced police reports on Aaronson’s first interviews in which she originally spoke of passing the condominium after 11 p.m. She said she changed the times after reconstructing the evening by checking with Mandel and the restaurant manager.
Mandel and Aaronson said they had never met Simpson and weren’t trying to help either side. Aaronson said they called police because they thought it was ``weird″ that they were in the area so close to the time of the murders and thought their recollections might be of help.
Another witness, Francesca Harman, said she was attending a dinner party near the condominium that night, got in her car at 10:20 p.m. and drove past Ms. Simpson’s address but also noticed nothing awry and didn’t hear a dog barking.
With the defense keeping up a fast clip of witnesses, Mandel and Aaronson were preceded to the stand by a Simpson golfing partner and Simpson’s eldest sister, Shirley Baker, who corroborated other family members’ accounts of a grief-stricken Simpson the day after the killings.
The entire family was in a state of shock, Mrs. Baker said.
``Nicole had been a part of our family for 17 years,″ she said. ``We couldn’t believe what was going on.″
At one point, Clark indignantly noted that when the family gathered at Simpson’s home to comfort him, his two small children were whisked away and didn’t appear at the mansion for a week. She implied they were of no concern to Simpson.
But Mrs. Baker, equally indignant, said under redirect examination that the family wanted Sydney and Justin kept away.
``We did not want them there. They would be too traumatized,″ she said, describing the chaotic media invasion outside Simpson’s house.
``It’s something that you would not believe,″ she said. ``I would never take my grandchildren to the zoo again because that’s exactly how we felt. At nighttime, it was lit up like we were in Disneyland.″
Mrs. Baker also said Simpson friend Ronald Shipp, who testified for the prosecution, couldn’t have had a confidential conversation with Simpson in his bedroom because she and her husband stayed there all night to keep an eye on her brother.
Shipp testified that the night after the murders, Simpson confided that he had had dreams of killing his ex-wife.
The defense, continually reminding jurors of Simpson’s status as a beloved celebrity, also called to the stand Jack McKay, of Alexandria, Va., who played golf with Simpson four days before the killings.
Unlike other celebrities he has met, McKay, the chief financial officer for the American Psychological Association, said Simpson ``didn’t put on airs″ and posed for pictures and signed autographs during the golf event sponsored by Hertz Corp.
Clark drew a reprimand from the judge during her cross-examination of McKay when she shouted challenges at the witness, suggesting Simpson’s good mood on June 8 was irrelevant and that it wasn’t unusual that Simpson was good-natured since he was a spokesman for Hertz.