The air felt as though it had been sucked out of courtroom 103 Tuesday as the jury in the O.J. Simpson double murder trial saw the first grisly autopsy photographs of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman.
Death itself was finally on view, after months of testimony about DNA, domestic violence and evidence collection.
With the room silent, 12 photographs of Nicole Brown Simpson’s body were shown on a diagram board angled so no courtroom spectators could see them.
The medical examiner then graphically described a photograph that showed Nicole Brown Simpson’s face above a gaping neck wound exposing a part of her spinal chord.
Most of the jurors looked on grimfaced, except for a 32-year-old Hispanic man who grew teary-eyed.
Simpson rocked quietly in his chair and breathed deeply, though his view of the photographs was obstructed from his seat at the defense table. The former football star had asked to be absent from this gruesome portion of courtroom testimony, but stayed nevertheless.
Defense lawyers fought vigorously to prevent the showing of the photographs, arguing the images would inflame jurors’ passions. In the end, Judge Lance Ito accepted the prosecutors’ argument that the pictures were necessary to show the aftermath and extent of the knife attack.
Ito decided to limit the viewing out of respect for the families and the victims’ privacy.
Despite defense objections, Los Angeles County Medical Examiner Lakshmanan Sathyavagiswaran demonstrated on prosecutor Brian Kelberg how Nicole Brown Simpson’s neck was slashed.
The doctor stood behind the prosecutor, grabbed his hair, yanked his neck back then made a slashing motion from left to right with a ruler.
Earlier Tuesday, Sathyavagiswaran testified that one single-edged knife about 6 inches in length could account for all the wounds to both victims.
Previously, the coroner who did the autopsies, Dr. Irwin Golden, had testified two knives could have been used, suggesting that more than one person might be involved.
During his testimony Tuesday, Sathyavagiswaran took great pains to detail some of the 30 mistakes Golden committed during what the medical examiner described as rushed and sloppy autopsies.
He said the mistakes ranged from failing to note a brain injury to Nicole Brown Simpson to incomplete and mislabeled documentation. But Sathyavagiswaran insisted that the mistakes did not hinder his ability to determine the time, cause, and manner of death and type of knife used.
The frank airing of the mistakes was a pre-emptive strike against what is expected to be a scathing defense cross-examination.
“We try very hard not to make mistakes. When we do, we accept them and correct them,” Sathyavagiswaran said.