A series of setbacks, some of which have received little attention, has steadily eroded the position of O.J. Simpson’s lawyers and could add up to a major problem for them and their client.
As a result of the new obstacles - including doubts about whether a potential alibi witness will testify and the disclosure of more incriminating blood evidence at the crime scene - defense attorneys are being forced to focus their efforts more and more narrowly on two issues: alleged police misconduct and race.
“The circle has been narrowed in which they have room to maneuver,” said Jeffrey Abramson, author of “We the Jury” and professor of legal studies at Brandeis University. “They were always going to have to take their gloves off, but now it’s bare knuckled.”
The cross-examination of police officers by defense lawyers Johnnie Cochran Jr. and F. Lee Bailey has already been accusatory and contentious, but analysts expect Simpson’s team to attack more fiercely as they increasingly rely on discrediting lawenforcement authorities because other options may have dissipated.
The most savage questioning likely will befall Mark Fuhrman, a detective who could testify as early as this week. “There’s no exaggerating the impact once Fuhrman takes the stand,” said Ira Reiner, a former Los Angeles County district attorney.
Simpson’s supporters have accused Fuhrman of being a racist who might have planted incriminating evidence against the defendant. The defense is widely expected to use his appearance to try to contend that racism motivated police to frame Simpson and, in the process, to tap into any negative experiences black jurors might have had with police.
“It’s really life experiences rather than race we’re talking about, since blacks are more likely to have seen police or the courts act unfairly,” said Shari Seidman Diamond, a jury scholar with the American Bar Foundation in Chicago.
Neil Vidmar, a Duke University professor and author of “Judging the Jury,” added: “That means in this case, where the jury is predominantly black, the defense has a potentially sympathetic audience.”
While not all the setbacks Simpson’s lawyers have experienced recently were major, and while they have proved repeatedly that they are facile enough to recover quickly, analysts said it was the combination of specific tactical problems that apparently is producing a shift in strategy.
For example, the jury may not hear from Rosa Lopez, a maid who worked next door to Simpson. She reportedly fled to her native El Salvador, then returned to this country last week, but Simpson’s lawyers said she might be too frightened to take the stand.
Lopez reportedly said she saw Simpson’s Bronco at his estate at the supposed time of the murders.
The defense might still try to gain some advantage from the loss of Lopez as a witness. But the prospect of raising reasonable doubt in jurors’ minds by suggesting perpetrators other than Simpson has been undermined in a more subtle way.
That is because Mary Anne Gerchas, who reportedly said she saw four men fleeing from the murder scene on June 12, was arrested twice on fraud charges in the last week. Her credibility has been so damaged that Simpson’s lawyers might not call her as a witness.
Even if they did, there would be a considerable risk of her hurting the defense during questioning by prosecutors. The same is true if Lopez testifies, since even tabloids like the National Enquirer have doubted her and refused to buy her story.
Several analysts said last week that another weapon in the defense arsenal, raising suspicions about DNA evidence, has suffered serious damage. The most devastating relates to blood discovered on the gate of Nicole Brown Simpson’s condo and on socks found near Simpson’s bed.
The defense has suggested police planted that evidence, using blood samples obtained from Nicole Simpson’s body and Simpson after his arrest. However, the samples were treated with the preservative EDTA, and prosecutors say that testing by the FBI Monday will show the blood at the gate and in the socks contained none of the chemical.
That determination, along with the sheer number of blood spots that were found to match Simpson’s, make it increasingly difficult for the defense to argue a set-up against him. “If enough of your blood is at the crime scene, it’s hard to explain that you weren’t,” Reiner said.