After eight days of sometimes gruesome testimony about the autopsies of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Lyle Goldman, one of O.J. Simpson’s attorneys launched his cross-examination of the county coroner late Wednesday by belittling the significance of the doctor’s medical conclusions.
Robert L. Shapiro, the lawyer who built Simpson’s legal team but has played a minimal role during the trial itself, politely but forcefully suggested that the coroner’s closely watched testimony - which has detailed every wound to the victims and has provided the jury with elaborate descriptions of how the killings might have been carried out - was far more speculation than substance.
“Isn’t it true, doctor, after eight days of testimony, there’s only four facts you can testify to with a reasonable degree of medical certainty?” Shapiro asked, referring to four basic conclusions of the coroner’s testimony: that the deaths were homicides, that the fatal injuries were stab wounds, that the victims bled to death and that they were killed between 9 p.m. and shortly after midnight.
Deputy District Attorney Brian Kelberg objected to that question, but Superior Court Judge Lance A. Ito overruled the objection.
“I’ve already discussed the findings,” Dr. Lakshmanan Sathyavagiswaran responded with a hint of defensiveness. “I’ve discussed my opinion that there were significant stab wounds to both of the victims. I opined that the significant wounds on the bodies were caused by a single-edged knife. … I don’t think my eight days of testimony have been wasted, but if that’s your position, I can’t change it.”
Shapiro’s cross-examination barely got under way before the end of the court day Wednesday, but he used his initial questions in an attempt to undermine the impact of the coroner’s testimony. He did that first by suggesting that much of it was speculative and then by insinuating that Sathyavagiswaran was bending some of his findings to fit the prosecution’s theory of the crimes, particularly the government’s contention that the two victims were killed at about 10:15 p.m. on June 12, 1994, a time for which Simpson has no firm alibi.
In response to questions from Shapiro, the coroner acknowledged that he cannot be sure exactly what time the victims died, how many weapons were used in the attack or how many assailants were responsible.
At least six of the jurors were rapidly scribbling notes during that portion of the testimony. Simpson, who has pleaded not guilty, also followed attentively, a sharp contrast to his apparent distraction earlier in the day as the prosecution completed its long examination of the witness.