September 1, 1995 in Nation/World

Ito Rules Out All But Two Tapes Boasts Of Planting Evidence, Falsifying Reports, Beating Suspects Ruled Inadmissible

William Claiborne Washington Post
 
Tags:trial

In a major defeat for O.J. Simpson’s defense, Judge Lance Ito ruled Thursday that defense lawyers may play to the predominantly black jury only two of 41 tape-recorded excerpts in which detective Mark Fuhrman uses a racial epithet for blacks.

The judge barred the defense from submitting to jurors any statements Fuhrman made in nine years of taped interviews with a North Carolina screenwriter in which he boasted about planting evidence, beating black suspects, falsifying police reports and contriving probable cause to make arrests.

Simpson’s lawyers had planned to present to the jury an hourlong audiotape condensation, accompanied by text projected on a screen, of Fuhrman’s incendiary statements in an effort to impeach his sworn testimony in March that he had not used the racial slur “nigger” in the past 10 years.

The presentation was designed to demonstrate the defense’s contention that Fuhrman was capable of planting the bloody glove he said he found behind Simpson’s estate the morning after the celebrity defendant’s ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ronald L. Goldman, had been murdered.

Ito, in a 10-page written ruling handed down Thursday evening, said no credible evidence has been presented to suggest that Fuhrman had planted the glove or any other evidence.

“The underlying assumption requires a leap in both law and logic that is too broad to be made based upon the evidence before the jury. It is a theory without factual support,” Ito ruled.

The judge also said Fuhrman’s statements about police misconduct are so inflammatory that their probative value would be “overwhelmingly outweighed by the danger of undue prejudice.”

Ito said, however, that the defense can present to the jury two short statements Fuhrman made to screenwriter Laura Hart McKinny in 1985 in which he used the epithet “nigger.”

In one, Fuhrman said, “We have no niggers where I grew up.” In the other, when asked by McKinny why black Muslims live in a certain area, Fuhrman replied, “That’s where niggers live.”

Ito also ruled that when McKinny is called to the witness stand, she can tell the jury that Fuhrman used the word “nigger” in a disparaging manner 41 times durings his interviews for a fictional screenplay she wrote about the Los Angeles Police Department.

The judge’s ruling on the admissibility of those two instances appeared to have satisfied the defense lawyers’ need to demonstrate to the jury that Fuhrman lied when he testified about not using the term and, therefore, should not be believed in any other testimony.

Under California law, Ito is required to instruct the jury that if a witness is found to have lied about one aspect of his testimony, the jury may disregard the rest.

Johnnie Cochran, Simpson’s lead lawyer, said he was shocked by the decision. “To say we are outraged and livid by this ruling would be a massive understatement,” he said. Cochran called the decision “one of the cruelest and unfair decisions ever rendered in a criminal court.”

Los Angeles District Attorney Gil Garcetti issued a written statement lauding the decision.

“While we deplore racism, these tapes are for another forum, another time, and not this murder trial,” the statement said. “The court’s ruling Thursday will help keep the focus where it should be, which is on relevant evidence that allows the jury to determine whether Mr. Simpson is responsible for the murders of Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson. Now let’s get on with the trial and get it to the jury.”

Earlier Thursday, Robert Tourtelot, Fuhrman’s attorney in a civil case, said he will no longer represent the retired detective because he was “profoundly disgusted and horrified” at Fuhrman’s statements. But Tourtelot maintains Fuhrman did not plant evidence and believes there is more than enough evidence to convict Simpson.

One of Tourtelot’s associates, Hollywood private investigator Anthony Pellicano, said he was still working for Fuhrman and would advise the former detective to testify if he recalled by the defense.

Fuhrman, who is now being rep resented by attorney Darryl Mounger, returned to Los Angeles from his new home in Sandpoint Tuesday night in case he is recalled to the witness stand.


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