O.J. Simpson’s lead trial lawyer, rising Wednesday to rebut allegations that his famous client committed a brutal double murder, accused prosecutors of waging a campaign of character assassination and charged police with a “sinister” rush to judgment that caused them to overlook and manufacture evidence.
Speaking confidently and casually, Johnnie L. Cochran Jr., told jurors in his opening statement that witnesses will challenge key elements of the prosecution case, including what Cochran said were holes in the physical evidence implicating the former football star in the deaths of his ex-wife and her friend.
Most notably, he suggested that blood found beneath Nicole Brown Simpson’s fingernails did not match that of either victim or of Simpson, suggesting that another assailant could have been the culprit.
Among the more anticipated “surprises” Cochran claimed, some of which had been reported in tabloids and some of which were new:
Drops of blood on Nicole Simpson’s back never were analyzed and instead were wiped away.
Blood drawn from Simpson “mysteriously” disappeared and “mysteriously” appeared on important pieces of evidence.
Simpson has arthritic conditions which, when acute, can leave him so helpless that he cannot deal a deck of cards; they have given him the unusual standing of being allowed to use a golf cart at the elite Pebble Beach golf course, and witnesses will testify that his condition was, indeed, acute the day of the killings.
A bevy of alleged witnesses may testify that the victims still were alive well after the prosecution said they’d been killed, and that Simpson apparently was at home while the prosecution said he was committing two brutal knife slayings.
Among these witness, Rosa Lopez, a maid for Simpson’s next-door-neighbor, will say she saw Simpson’s white Bronco parked in the street outside his estate at 10:15 p.m. on June 12, the time that prosecutors say Nicole Simpson and Goldman were killed.
The woman was interviewed by Detective Mark Fuhrman the morning after the murders but will testify he never returned to ask more questions, Cochran said.
This litany only scratches the surface of an opening statement that at one point brought Simpson to the jury box to expose a left knee horribly scarred by surgeries, and at another point brought out the “mystery envelope” (which remained sealed).
It also featured a series of blow-up photographs of Simpson clad only in briefs, in various poses - to demonstrate that shortly after the slayings he bore no bruises that one might expect after an apparently prolonged battle with Goldman.
“If these witnesses hold up and the evidence appears, they have a dynamite case,” said Laurie Levenson, a Loyola Law School professor who follows the case daily.
It remains to be seen how much will come through. But Cochran’s opening statement, which will resume today, appeared to get the jury’s attention.
“They (prosecutors) have to tell you it’s about a dog’s wail, when a man’s life is at stake,” Cochran said, attacking the prosecution’s assertion that relentless barking by Nicole’s dog suggests the time of death was 10:15 p.m. June 12.
In fact, Cochran suggested, the prosecution has to rely on a dog for the time of death because the entire crime scene investigation was botched. He promised to bring, a stellar forensic pathologist to testify to the mistakes made with the bodies.
And that’s just one of a flock of reknowned experts - from a leading domestic violence researcher to the founder of a key test on DNA. All, he said, would give testimony that would rip the prosecution to pieces.
As for the Los Angeles Police Department investigators at the scene, Cochran said the defense would demonstrate that their behavior - tracking through the blood, handling evidence - contaminated the evidence. Turning to the LAPD crime lab, he described it as “a cesspool” of contamination.
Said Los Angeles defense attorney Chuck Lindner: “He gave what looks like a grape stomping contest at the crime scene. And when (the defense) has a Nobel prize winner who deciphered the DNA chain, I’d say you’re still in the game until the 12 fat ladies sing.”
And Cochran went further than the defense has in the past to suggest that Simpson was framed by police. Referring to the bloody glove allegedly found on Simpson’s estate - a glove that prosecutors say links his blood to that of the victims - Cochran said: “The glove was not found by ‘them,’ or ‘the officers.”’
He was referring to the words used by prosecutor Marcia Clark during her opening statement Tuesday. “This glove was found by Detective Mark Fuhrman.”
Without referring to defense suggestions that Fuhrman is a racist out to ‘get’ Simpson, Cochran told the jury the detective would be key.
Speaking more broadly of the police department, he suggested the defense would offer “devastating evidence of something far more sinister” than the evidence against Simpson.
This sidebar ran with story: SIMPSON TRIAL Developments Wednesday in the O.J. Simpson trial: Rush to judgment. Defense accuses prosecutors of ignoring evidence in their “rush to judgment” and “obsession to win at any cost.” OJTV resumes. Judge allows TV coverage to resume, but orders camera to remain stationary through at least the end of the week. What’s next? A hearing is set today on prosecution objections to late witnesses. Defense’s opening statements continue. And the first witnesses could be called.