November 3, 1996 in Nation/World

Simpson Trial Speeds Along Civil Action Proceeds At Brisk Pace

Associated Press
 

Don’t blink or you’ll miss DNA.

The O.J. Simpson civil trial is on such a brisk pace that the plaintiffs could reasonably finish their case around Thanksgiving.

This Thanksgiving.

In just five days of testimony, the plaintiffs completed the questioning of six time-line witnesses and seven police witnesses, including both of the lead detectives sent to investigate the June 1994 slayings of Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman.

The plaintiffs this week likely will get through the testimony of criminalist Dennis Fung and probably that of many of the lab people, including DNA specialists.

By Friday, two weeks after testimony started, the plaintiffs’ case could be about half done with nearly all the physical evidence introduced, leaving only domestic violence testimony and Simpson’s long-awaited testimony.

The best examples of the less-is-more look of the civil trial were the appearances last week of Tom Lange and Philip Vannatter, the two now-retired detectives who headed the Simpson investigation.

Similarly, Vannatter testified for four days for the prosecution in the criminal trial. This time: About 45 minutes for the plaintiffs.

This Cliff Notes version of the first trial is due to a tougher judge, a more streamlined presentation by attorneys making the case against Simpson and a leaner defense. And with the lack of television coverage, no one is playing to the camera.

“The whole tenor of the case is more business-like and less theatrical than the criminal trial,” said Robert Pugsley, a professor at Southwestern University School of Law. “It’s a welcome relief from the tedium and disorganization of the criminal trial presentation.”

Also, this being a civil case, many issues already have been litigated outside the courtroom, and some testimony already has been taken on videotape to be shown to the jury.

Lange and Vannatter can still be recalled by the defense, as they were at the criminal trial, but that isn’t likely to put too much of a crimp in the pace.

Superior Court Judge Hiroshi Fujisaki has made no secret of his impatience with extraneous witnesses and testimony or unnecessary objections.

Fujisaki generally kept a lid on the breadth of Lange’s testimony, refusing to let the defense get too far into issues like the melting ice cream in Ms. Simpson’s condominium.

The ice cream testimony went on at length the first time, with the defense calling a variety of witnesses to determine everything from the flavor (chocolate chip cookie dough) to an analysis of the ice cream’s melting rate.

This time, only a couple of questions were allowed.

The plaintiffs, meanwhile, have elicited from witnesses only the most minimal information necessary to build their case against Simpson, thus preventing lengthy cross-examinations.

“The plaintiffs’ counsel have been quite careful to limit their direct cross-examination of vulnerable police witnesses so that the defense cannot attack those vulnerabilities,” Arenella said.

Vannatter, for instance, was questioned only about carrying Simpson’s blood vial from police headquarters to Simpson’s house, and about carrying the victims’ blood from the coroner’s office to the police lab.

And the plaintiffs have simply not called a number of witnesses who appeared in the first trial, including some police supervisors and lab technicians.

In the meantime, while Baker’s cross-examination of Lange was detailed and confrontational, it lasted about a day spread over two court sessions - a long cross-examination for the defense.

Other witnesses, including police Detective Ron Phillips and Sgt. David Rossi, came and went in a few hours, as the defense went into much less detail this time than Simpson’s lawyers did in the first trial.

© Copyright 1996 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email