In a ruling that clears the way for Superior Court Judge Lance A. Ito to remain in charge of the murder trial of O.J. Simpson, another jurist ruled Friday that Ito’s wife, a Los Angeles police captain, cannot be called as a witness in the case.
Superior Court Judge John Reid issued his written ruling after listening to audiotaped interviews of retired Detective Mark Fuhrman - tapes that have rocked the trial and created a troubling quandary for the Los Angeles Police Department, where officials on Friday stepped up efforts to secure a copy of the tapes so that they can fully investigate Fuhrman’s remarks during interviews with North Carolina screenwriting professor Laura Hart McKinny.
Fuhrman’s comments - particularly his graphic, brutal and vigorously contested descriptions of a beating he said he and other police administered in the wake of a 1978 shooting of police officers - have prompted calls for a federal investigation, raised new questions for the Simpson case and have heightened fears about the longterm fallout for the Police Department.
Police Chief Willie L. Williams, complaining of the toll the Fuhrman issue has taken on the department, said he is personally investigating a 1978 incident in which two police officers were shot.
Speaking to reporters at police headquarters, the chief revealed that Fuhrman was one of more than a dozen officers charged with personnel complaints in the wake of that incident.
“People complained about excessive use of force,” he said. “People complained about improper language.”
The result was an extensive investigation by the department’s Internal Affairs Division, at the end of which all 16 accused officers were cleared of wrongdoing, said Williams.
However, Williams said he wanted to hear the recordings before deciding what actions to take. He said he would try to acquire copies of the tapes as soon as possible, rather than waiting until the end of the trial as the prosecution has requested.
“My primary goal is to learn the truth of the matter and protect the health and welfare and the reputation of my employees,” he said.
On transcripts of a taped interview between Fuhrman and McKinny, the detective boasts of beating suspects and then conspiring with other accused officers to mislead department investigators.
“They knew damn well I did it,” Fuhrman said during that interview, according to the transcript made available to the Los Angeles Times. “But there was nothing they could do about it.”
Fuhrman testified that he found a bloody glove on the grounds of Simpson’s Brentwood estate, and long has been the centerpiece of the Simpson defense team’s controversial police conspiracy theory. Simpson has pleaded not guilty to the June 12, 1994, murders of his former wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Lyle Goldman.
In the transcript, Fuhrman described a blood-splattered apartment and badly battered suspects, telling his interviewer that one suspect required 70 stitches and another suffered a cracked knee.
Another officer who was at the scene vehemently disputed that account.
Mike Middleton, a Los Angeles police sergeant who was at the scene of the shooting just minutes after it occurred and later was commended for his performance there, said the incident was a frightening, violent one but that no officers used the type of force that Fuhrman alleged to have used in his interviews.
The Fuhrman tapes have leaped to the forefront of the Simpson trial as defense lawyers have used them in their effort to paint the former detective as a liar who might have planted evidence implicating their client. Prosecutors have made little attempt to defend Fuhrman’s truthfulness, but have steadfastly insisted there is no basis for arguing that the detective did - or even could have - planted evidence.
The issue of the tapes was complicated even further by passages in which Fuhrman disparages Ito’s wife, Capt. Margaret York. Prosecutors said they were considering calling York to the witness stand, and Ito, confronted with the potential for a conflict of interest, asked another judge to consider whether York would have material testimony.
If Reid had decided that York could take the stand, Ito would have had to withdraw from the trial, a move that would have forced a long delay and possibly even a mistrial. But Reid instead released a written ruling Friday in which he held that York did not need to testify.
Reid said his decision was based on a review of 12 audiotapes and an offer of proof submitted by the district attorney’s office about why the testimony of York would be relevant.
“There is no reasonable expectation that Capt. Margaret York, a member of the Los Angeles Police Department, could give relevant evidence in regard to any issue before the court” in the Simpson case, Reid wrote. “If upon the request of either party any additional issue is raised regarding potential need of witness York’s testimony, the court will reconsider this ruling.”
The district attorney’s office had no immediate reaction to the decision.
Carl Douglas, one of Simpson’s lawyers, praised the ruling, saying it was “a complete vindication of our position in court” that York had nothing relevant to offer to the case.
Since details of the Fuhrman tapes first began leaking out last week, they have put the trial into an emotional uproar, drawing angry denunciations from the family of Goldman, stirring deep concern at the police department and prompting the local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to call for a federal investigation.
“We are requesting that the U.S. Justice Deptartment launch a full-scale intensive investigation of the incidents described by former LAPD officer Mark Fuhrman,” said Valerie Monroe, chair of the legal redress committee of the NAACP’s Los Angeles branch.