The drumbeat for severe legal action against former Los Angeles Police Department Detective Mark Fuhrman has begun - and is sure to grow in the coming weeks - as revulsion spreads about Fuhrman’s vile racist remarks, which have angered citizens around the country and endangered the prosecution case in the “Trial of the Century.”
California state senators Tom Hayden and Diane Watson wrote to Los Angeles County District Attorney Gil Garcetti Thursday imploring him to prosecute Fuhrman for lying on the stand in the O.J. Simpson murder trial.
“Prosecuting Mr. Fuhrman is the only way the law enforcement establishment of Los Angeles can prove it is truly repulsed by Mr. Fuhrman’s racist statements and his blatant disregard for the criminal justice system,” the senators asserted. They stressed that while Fuhrman testified under oath that he had never uttered the word “nigger” in the past 10 years, taped interviews with a screenwriter reveal that he used it at least 41 times.
Harland W. Braun, a defense lawyer, said that although perjury cases are normally hard to prove, the equation is clearly different here. He said the existence of the tapes and the public outcry about Fuhrman’s repeated racist utterances and other statements indicating that he may have used his badge as a shield to break the law means Fuhrman is in legal jeopardy.
“I think the political imperative will be that he has to be prosecuted for perjury,” Braun said. “People around the world have heard those tapes. If he isn’t charged with perjury, how can a prosecutor ever argue to a jury that a policeman has any motive to tell the truth. The government has to prosecute him to vindicate the law and maintain the credibility of other officers.”
Also looming, said Braun, is the question of whether Fuhrman will invoke his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination if the defense calls him back to the witness stand, as Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. has said he will. That issue is likely to come to a head this week while the matter of perjury or other charges against Fuhrman may take months to unfold.
Although the Simpson jury will get to hear very few excerpts from the infamous Fuhrman interviews with Laura Hart McKinny, charging him with perjury would send an important message to all citizens, said Oakland civil rights lawyer John Burris: “If you come to court and lie, you can be prosecuted. People need to know that the oath to tell the truth has teeth.”
Nonetheless, several legal experts cautioned that it could be difficult to sustain a perjury prosecution against Fuhrman despite the fact that the tapes appear to provide incontrovertible evidence that he lied on the witness stand. They noted that a prosecutor would have to prove that Fuhrman lied willfully and that his lies were “material” - not an easy task.
On the other key element required to prove perjury - materiality - Southwestern University Law professor Myrna Raeder said the standard is whether the statement could influence the outcome of the case.
“It seems to me that it would be a stretch to argue that if Fuhrman lied about an issue of racial bias it could influence the outcome of the Simpson case. This isn’t Fuhrman caught in a lie about finding the bloody glove.”