Prosecutors in the murder trial of O.J. Simpson opened one of the most delicate and problematic sections of their case Friday with a candid admission from Los Angeles County’s top coroner that one of his deputies made mistakes in autopsies of the two victims.
“He has made some mistakes, yes,” Dr. Lakshmanan Sathyavagiswaran testified, referring to Deputy Medical Examiner Irwin Golden, who performed the autopsies and who may testify next week.
Six jurors jotted in their note pads at the remark, the first of what are expected to be a series of acknowledgments by the coroner that Golden did not perform perfectly in conducting the autopsies on Ronald Lyle Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson, who were stabbed and slashed to death on June 12, 1994.
Sathyavagiswaran also is expected to tell the jury, however, that none of the mistakes undermined the coroner’s ultimate conclusions.
Simpson has pleaded not guilty to the crimes. One of his lawyers, Robert L. Shapiro, has said mistakes by the coroner’s office left holes in the prosecution’s case and deprived the defense of evidence that might have helped clear Simpson. Prosecutors hope Sathyavagiswaran will be able to convince the jury otherwise.
A likable witness with impressive medical credentials, a distinct Indian accent and near-impossible-topronounce last name, Sathyavagiswaran opened his testimony by giving Deputy District Attorney Brian Kelberg permission to refer to him by his first name.
“If we call you Dr. Lakshmanan, you will not be offended, will you?” Kelberg asked.
“No,” Sathyavagiswaran replied, returning the prosecutor’s grin. “I will not.”
Jurors, some of whom were attempting to write down the coroner’s name as he spelled it out, smiled gratefully. Superior Court Judge Lance A. Ito, who has forbidden laughter in his courtroom, allowed a few chuckles from the audience.
As prosecutors began to unveil their autopsy evidence, the first clinical descriptions of the murder victims rippled emotionally through the courtroom, highlighting Simpson’s discomfort with the topic and emphasizing the prosecution’s close bond with the families of the victims.
Simpson winced and began to breathe heavily as Sathyavagiswaran read a cursory description of Nicole Simpson’s body - her height, weight and body temperature hours after her death. Although the description was far from graphic, Simpson tilted his head back and began breathing through his mouth.
Sathyavagiswaran only spent about 90 minutes on the stand Friday, ending the short court day before reaching any of the dozens of autopsy photographs that jurors are expected to see next week. Even before they got a glimpse of those pictures, however, Ito on Friday braced them for the sight of photographs that he has referred to as “horrible.”
Simpson waived his right to attend a hearing last month during which the photographs were displayed in court, and lead trial attorney Johnnie L. Cochran said Friday that his client is still considering whether to skip the sessions or sessions at which the jury will see the pictures.
xxxx OTHER DEVELOPMENTS Juror’s book: The publisher of an upcoming book by a former juror about the Simpson trial met in chambers with Ito before testimony began. Michael Viner, president of Dove Books, and his attorney, Pierce O’Donnell, said they assured the judge that information in the book would not put the sequestered jurors at risk. “Diary of an O.J. Juror,” by ousted juror Michael Knox, is scheduled for release in two weeks. Allen absent: Pro football player Marcus Allen did not appear at a hearing in Kansas City, Mo., on whether he should be required to testify. His attorney said Allen was on vacation and had not received a summons. It was postponed to June 16. Simpson’s defense lawyers seek Allen’s testimony in July, but Allen’s lawyers said their “desperate defense” was based on a false claim that Allen had an affair with Nicole Simpson and told Simpson, who reacted without jealousy and instead offered his friend use of his mansion for his wedding. Associated Press