March 21, 1995 in Nation/World

Jurors Get A Look At O.J. Simpson’s Finger Defense Says It’s Permanently Swollen; Prosecutors Say It Was Cut At Scene Of Murders

Tony Freemantle Houston Chronicle
 

Jurors in the O.J. Simpson murder trial Monday got a closeup view of the exfootball player’s finger, which prosecutors allege he cut while fatally slashing his ex-wife and her friend.

Surrounded by bailiffs and his attorneys and with his hand visibly shaking, Simpson walked slowly in front of the jury, displaying the knuckle of his left middle finger. His attorneys contend it is permanently swollen due to a medical condition.

Defense attorney Robert Shapiro, in his first major cross-examination of the trial, began his questioning of Los Angeles police Detective Philip Vannatter with the demonstration in order to counter the detective’s testimony Friday that Simpson’s middle finger was cut and the knuckle was swollen when he interviewed the former football star after the killings.

The swollen finger, Vannatter said, was one of many pieces of evidence that led him to consider Simpson a prime suspect in the June 12 murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman.

After being shown Simpson’s visibly swollen knuckle Monday, Vannatter said: “It didn’t appear swollen to me, no.”

Shapiro’s cross-examination of Vannatter, a lead detective in the murder investigation, was designed to bolster the defense team’s theory that Simpson’s arrest was the result of “a rush to judgment” by police.

The defense attorney’s first questions to the detective sought to establish that Vannatter had not done his homework when, after examining Simpson’s finger, he decided the swelling and cut were connected to the murders.

Shapiro asked Vannatter if he had made any subsequent examinations of the finger, after the cut had healed, to see what condition it was in then. Vannatter said he hadn’t.

“So you would want to look at it and see if the swelling had gone down and returned to what you believed would be his normal condition?”

“I never did that,” Vannatter responded.

“What if his finger was always swollen due to a medical condition and not due to any laceration, would that concern you?” Shapiro continued.

“I guess that could be a possibility,” Vannatter said. “However, it appeared to be swollen from the laceration that morning.”

In a three-hour interview voluntarily granted by Simpson to detectives the afternoon of June 13, Simpson said he had cut his finger twice, once at his house while getting ready to leave on a business trip to Chicago the day of his ex-wife’s murder and again in his hotel room, when he broke a glass in anguish at being informed of her death.

Shapiro’s assault on Vannatter, peppered with mild sarcasms, picked away at the police investigation, which the defense claims was shoddy.

Shapiro took shots at Vannatter, a 26-year veteran, for being an “old school” detective unschooled in the modern techniques of evidence gathering and unaware of how to preserve sensitive trace evidence.

He also questioned him about why, as lead investigator, he took so few notes, why investigators had not worn booties to protect the crime scene from contamination and why a melting cup of ice cream found in the murdered woman’s house was not taken more seriously as a possible means of establishing a time of death.

“Monday-morning quarterbacking is wonderful,” the detective responded in his characteristic drawl. “I still to this day don’t believe the ice cream is connected to the crime scene.”


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