Week 1 -- Points For Prosecution In Simpson Trial
LOS ANGELES — EMOTIONAL testimony marked the opening week of the O.J. Simpson murder case -- and proved damaging to the defense.
The testimony of a former male friend of Mr. Simpson, the repeated playing of a 911 police call from a distressed Nicole Simpson Brown, and the tearful testimony of her older sister, Denise, all cast Simpson as more sinister than the well-known persona of gridiron and screen fame, experts say.
''The prosecution scored heavily in week one,'' says Robert Pugsley, a professor at Southwestern University School of Law in Los Angeles. ''Defense now has to figure out how to undermine those images and recast Simpson as a benevolent soul incapable of murder.''
Beginning today, defense attorneys may have one of their biggest tests yet: the cross examination of Denise Brown. Since she has openly stated she thinks Simpson is guilty, but is also a bereaved family member, defense attorneys have the delicate task of trying to dilute her characterizations without being caustic or abusive.
In tearful testimony Friday, Ms. Brown told the court she saw Simpson humiliate Nicole in public and on at least one occasion ''violently attacked her.'' ''Because [Denise Brown] was so emotional, and her distraught image was emblazoned into jurors' minds with no rebuttal for a full weekend, defense attorneys have their hands full,'' says Erwin Chemerinsky, a law professor at the University of Southern California.
From opening statements through presentation of evidence until closing statements months from now, prosecutors and defense attorneys alike will be trying to convince jurors of different scenarios that took place on the night of the June 12, 1994.
Part of that process involves calculating how witness testimony already heard has been interpreted by jurors and then adjusting tactics. Lawyers must also continually reassess their own credibility in the eyes of jurors.
Court sanctions leveled against defense attorneys last week for failure to comply with ''discovery laws'' -- regulations requiring them to reveal possible witnesses -- has hurt their credibility in the eyes of jurors, analysts say. They add that the pointed cross-examination of Ronald Shipp, a former LAPD officer, also undermined the credibility of defense co-counsel Carl Douglas, until he subsequently lightened the tone of his questioning.
A record television audience is getting its own taste of how jurors must sort fact from fiction. On-screen analysts daily describe the arcania of the trial. But the same consultants who are aiding lay watchers may be leading them to different conclusions than the jurors. ''Viewers are treated to a dozen interpretations of what is style and what is substance,'' says Mr. Chemerinsky. ''We have no way of knowing at this stage what the jury is weighing as decisive versus what is dramatic.''