Lawyers defending O.J. Simpson suffered a major setback Wednesday when Judge Lance Ito ruled that more than three dozen graphic photographs of the victims could be shown to jurors.
In deciding one of the most bitterly fought evidentiary issues in the trial, Ito described some of the photographs, in his written decision, as “horrible” and “terrible.” He nonetheless gave prosecutors almost all of what they had asked for, saying the value of the pictures as evidence outweighs their potentially prejudicial effect on the jurors.
Ito’s ruling is expected to change the tenor of the case, at least for now, by shifting the focus away from nearly a month of sometimes mind-numbing arguments over the reliability of DNA testing. In the next phase of the trial, which could begin as early as today, jurors will view what are, by every account, gruesome images of the two victims, Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend, Ronald Goldman, taken as they lay at the murder site and on morgue examining tables.
“The photographs will remind the jurors that there are victims in the case,” said Laurie Levenson, a criminal law professor at Loyola School of Law in Los Angeles. “For the last month, they’ve been talking about swatches, not people.”
Several of the photographs of Simpson’s former wife purportedly show how the killer slashed her neck from left to right, severing major veins and arteries. Those of Goldman are said to show multiple knife wounds across much of his body.
Simpson’s lawyers had fought hard against allowing jurors to see the pictures, arguing that they provide little new information. They also said showing such scenes unfairly would inflame jurors’ emotions against Simpson.
Robert Shapiro, one of Simpson’s lawyers, said at a hearing last month, “It’s unlikely anyone would look at these photos and not get sick to their stomach.”
But in arguing that the photographs should be displayed, Deputy District Attorney Brian Kelberg said: “A defendant has no right to transform the facts of a gruesome real-life murder into an anesthetized exercise where only the defendant, not the victim, is human.”