April 15, 1995 in Nation/World

A ‘Perry Mason Moment’ Is Deflated By Prosecutors As Defense Claims Documents Faked, The Original Is Found

Jessica Seigel Chicago Tribune
 

In low-key but emphatic questioning Friday, prosecutors in the O.J. Simpson trial sought to deflate defense claims that a criminalist faked a document as part of an elaborate police conspiracy to frame Simpson.

At the end of a tough week of questioning and accusations, defense lawyer Barry Scheck built up to a dramatic climax Thursday when he accused criminalist Dennis Fung of replacing an original evidence checklist with a fake, offering as proof the absence of staple marks on the page.

The original document, Sheck charged, would have shown that Detective Philip Vannatter had kept a vial of O.J. Simpson’s blood overnight, giving him time to plant evidence implicating Simpson in the murders last June of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ronald Goldman.

During a break Thursday after the defense concluded its crossexamination, prosecutors found the original page in one of Fung’s two notebooks. It was blank, never having been filled out at all. Tell-tale staple marks proved it had been among a sheaf of evidence checklists.

Defense lawyers were furious that prosecutors didn’t tell them immediately about their discovery in private before dramatically producing the original before the jury.

“Now my credibility is at issue with this jury,” Scheck said in a private conference with Ito.

Prosecutors retorted that defense lawyers, in trying to create their “Perry Mason moment,” made a tactical gamble by basing their theory on such flimsy evidence, rather than alerting the prosecution beforehand so the original page could be found.

“They have been hoisted on their own petard,” Deputy District Attorney Hank Goldberg said out of earshot of the the jury. “It is the defense playing a tactical game that they are entitled to play, but they lost.”

The judge, who months ago ordered that the defense be allowed to view originals of documents, initially said he planned to inform the jury that a violation had occurred. But then prosecutors asked that the judge also mention that the defense had similarly broken discovery rules in handing over television news videotapes at the last moment.

Once the jurors entered the room, Ito told them they could expect some special entertainment over the holiday weekend, but didn’t say anything about violations. Defense lawyers later said they were outraged.


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