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Lawyers Pick Apart Memories Simpson Trial Highlights Tactic Of Casting Doubt On Recall

Do you remember what you were doing at 12:30 p.m. on Sunday, June 12, 1994? Or at 5:14 p.m. on Monday, June 13? Or shortly before lunch yesterday?

“I don’t remember” can be construed as “I don’t want to tell you,” in the O.J. Simpson murder trial as lawyers try to paint faulty recall as sinister smokescreen.

Prosecution criminalist Andrea Mazzola got it last week from the defense. Earlier, defense witness Rosa Lopez got it from the prosecution.

Legal analysts call it a ploy to smear people’s credibility, while academics who study memory say it’s not unusual to forget some things, remember others and recall things different ways.

“If a witness had some trouble recalling, it seems to me that - more or less - it’s an authentic effort at recall rather than a phony one,” said psychiatry professor Louis J. West of the University of California at Los Angeles. “We are not supposed to remember everything.”

Everyone forgets some things, and that’s what lawyers want to tap into.

Whatever the hope, the grilling is relentless as both sides plumb the events surrounding the June 12 slaying of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman.

What time was it - exactly? How do you know? Who was the first person you called? What did you eat for lunch that day?

Last week, the defense homed in on Mazzola, the rookie criminalist who collected most of the blood evidence. Lawyer Peter Neufeld suggested that her bad memory combined with shoddy record-keeping spelled conspiracy against Simpson.

The technique can backfire, analysts say, if jurors sympathize with forgetful witnesses, especially once they try to remember everything they heard over the long trial.

Who among us, for instance, remembers the first witness to testify in the trial of the century?

(It was police dispatcher Sharyn Gilbert, who took a 911 call from Simpson’s house on New Year’s Day 1989).


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