O.J. Simpson’s lawyers unveiled their strongest frame-up evidence for jurors Monday: a scientist’s conclusion that a blood preservative used at the police lab was present in key evidence.
The defense long has contended that traces of the preservative on a bloody sock found in Simpson’s bedroom and on a metal gate outside his ex-wife’s condominium show the blood was planted as part of a conspiracy.
Prosecutor Marcia Clark clashed with defense toxicologist Fredric Rieders on cross-examination, suggesting his conclusions were based on a misreading of government reports. But Rieders didn’t flinch. In fact, he frequently denounced her assumptions as “absolutely incorrect” or “absurd.”
Rieders didn’t test the actual evi dence but analyzed an FBI agent’s reports on tests for the preservative. Although Rieders faulted the FBI’s methods, he said the tests clearly point to the telltale chemical, EDTA, in the socks and the gate blood.
“Do you have an opinion of whether … there is EDTA in the stain from the back gate?” defense attorney Robert Blasier asked.
“In my opinion, yes, it demonstrates there is EDTA present in that stain,” Rieders said.
He said the chemical also was seen on a small blood sample cut from sock.
Prosecution experts have testified that the blood on the gate is consistent with Simpson’s and blood on the sock with that of Nicole Brown Simpson, who was slain alongside her friend Ronald Goldman outside her condominium.
Anticipating prosecution arguments, Blasier quickly addressed the theory that the socks could show EDTA because the chemical is contained in detergent.
Rieders said FBI tests of portions of the sock that were not bloody contained no EDTA.
Asked to explain, Rieders said, “In my opinion, the EDTA came from the blood, not the sock.”
Defense lawyers contend that the socks were smeared with Nicole Simpson’s autopsy blood sample and the gate blood came from a sample Simpson provided the day after the killings.
On cross-examination, Clark noted that the FBI agent who tested evidence for EDTA at one point took his own blood, tested it and found as much EDTA as is on the evidence.
Asked how he accounted for that, Rieders said, “I don’t account for it. He would have to account for it. It’s absurd.”
Clark also confronted Rieders with an Environmental Protection Agency report on EDTA that helped him form his opinion that the high levels showed the preservative couldn’t have come from the most common outside sources, such as food consumption.
Rieders acknowledged that the report’s finding about the level of EDTA that could safely be in human blood was either a “typo” or a “complete absurdity.”
“The blood won’t clot (at the EPA level). People will bleed to death all over the place,” Rieders said. “I can’t imagine the EPA would say it’s all right for people to run around with blood that won’t clot.”
Even when Clark confronted Rieders with another case in which his conclusions were disputed, he held his ground and insisted he was right.
Legal analysts said Rieders bested Clark in the scientific duel.
“The difficulty when you argue science with a witness is the jury sits there and doesn’t know who is right,” said Myrna Raeder, a professor at Southwestern University School of Law. “Obviously, they’re not going to understand the science, but he came across in a believable manner. And jurors will oftentimes rely on people they think they can trust.”
As Clark left the courtroom she told reporters, “I’m not done.” But she will have to wait until Friday, when Rieders resumes his testimony. Because of scheduling conflicts, other witnesses will testify in the meantime.
Rieders, who often used charts and graphs to explain blood analysis methods, peppered his testimony with references to such esoterica as “parent ions,” “daughter ions” and “retention times.”
Jurors listened but did not take many notes until he reached his conclusions.
Asked whether some chemical compound other than EDTA could produce the results, Rieders said, “I’ve not been able to find one.”
Rieders said he couldn’t tell how much EDTA was in the blood nor could he tell how much blood was tested by FBI agent Roger Martz.
Erwin Chemerinksy, a University of Southern California law professor, said Rieders has been the most important defense witness to date.
“This is the only direct evidence so far that the police planted evidence, and the only way the defense can explain the blood on the socks is that it was planted,” Chemerinksy said.
The prosecution fought to exclude Rieders’ testimony, saying it was misleading and confusing. Prosecutor Brian Kelberg argued that Rieders’ credentials were faulty and he had bungled the case of a funeral home director accused of killing a competitor.
In that case, Rieders concluded the victim could have died of oleander poisoning, but subsequent tests found no such sign and charges were dismissed.
Another defense expert, blood splatter specialist Herbert MacDonell, is expected to testify later that a red substance on one of the socks was smeared on it and not splashed or dripped, as prosectuors suggest.
But much of MacDonell’s proposed testimony, including discussions of an experiment he ran on blood and sock material, was blocked because he couldn’t simulate the exact conditions and didn’t have the same type of socks in evidence.
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