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Judge's Ruling on Legality of 1st Search Could Be Crucial : Courts: Police say emergency conditions justified warrantless entry into Simpson estate. Defense hopes to suppress evidence found then, and during later search using warrant based on officers' observations.

July 06, 1994|HENRY WEINSTEIN and MAURA DOLAN | TIMES LEGAL AFFAIRS WRITERS

At the heart of Tuesday's courtroom drama over a police search of O.J. Simpson's estate is a clash over key pieces of evidence, including a bloody glove, bloodstains and other items that could link him to the brutal slayings of his ex-wife and a friend of hers.

Police say the bloody glove found near a guest house just inside the fence of Simpson's Brentwood estate matches one found at the murder scene two miles away.

Last week Simpson's attorneys moved to suppress all the evidence discovered during a search of the grounds adjoining his house five hours after the bodies of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Lyle Goldman were found. They contend that Simpson's constitutional rights were violated because, without a valid warrant, there was no legal justification for the search.

They also are asking Municipal Judge Kathleen Kennedy-Powell to suppress any evidence police officers later found inside Simpson's house, after they obtained a search warrant based on what they had seen during their early-morning warrantless "emergency" search.

On Tuesday, the Los Angeles County district attorney's office urged the judge in a written response to spurn the defense motion, contending that the search was justified because of emergency circumstances.

The prosecution's major concern at this point is the glove, said Erwin Chemerinsky, a USC constitutional law professor. "Their filing . . . is very careful about what they plan" to use and not use during the preliminary hearing, Chemerinsky said.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Marcia Clark's motion states that during the preliminary hearing, prosecutors do not plan to use material gathered during the search of the main house on Simpson's estate. "I take the whole suppression hearing to be about the admission of the glove into evidence," said Chemerinsky.

But ultimately, "more is at stake than the loss of the bloody glove," said Peter Arenella, a UCLA criminal law professor.

"If the warrantless entry onto the grounds of Simpson's estate is found to be unconstitutional, all of the evidence the officers saw in plain view during that entry cannot be used to support the validity of the search warrant obtained later," Arenella said.

Two officers testified at Tuesday's hearing. More officers are expected to testify today. It is unclear when the judge will rule or what the scope of her ruling may be.

During Tuesday's hearing, detective Mark Fuhrman and defense lawyer Gerald F. Uelmen clashed over whether there were emergency circumstances justifying the officers' decision to scale a five-foot wall at Simpson's estate before obtaining a search warrant.

Fuhrman said the officers initially went to Simpson's estate to notify him that his ex-wife had been killed and that two of his children living with her had been taken into police custody for safekeeping. But after arriving, he said, the officers decided they had to enter the estate because they saw what appeared to be blood on a white Ford Bronco outside the estate and feared that there might be someone in danger or "bleeding to death" inside the estate.

The detective also said that the Bronco was parked erratically, that the officers had been unable to rouse anyone at the estate on the intercom or on the telephone and that bloody footprints had been found near the bodies at Nicole Simpson's condominium.

Uelmen probed Fuhrman sharply about the amount of blood he saw. He also tried to suggest that the officers really had targeted Simpson as a suspect by the time they arrived and wanted to investigate. He asked Fuhrman why the officers hadn't gone to Nicole's parents' house. Uelmen expressed skepticism about why four officers were dispatched to Simpson's estate if their goal was simply to notify the former football star about his ex-wife's death.

Fuhrman responded that it was not unusual to notify the ex-husband when children are involved. He said he and his partner, Detective Ron Phillips, originally had been assigned to the investigation, but that other officers subsequently were sent to take over. Fuhrman said he and his partner escorted the new investigating officers to Simpson's mansion because they were more familiar with the area.

Lawyers and legal scholars were divided on the merits of Fuhrman's testimony.

"At this point, Fuhrman has set out a strong case as to why the police would be on the grounds without needing a search warrant," Chemerinsky said. Harland Braun, a criminal defense lawyer, agreed: "I think an entry is justified, even if there's only a 5% chance that someone in there might be dying."

But Arenella disagreed: "The defense effectively demonstrated the possibility that the emergency rationale offered for the warrantless entry to Simpson's estate was a post-search rationalization of activity motivated by the desire to look for evidence of a crime.

"The defense made two critical points: This emergency entry occurred several hours after the bodies were discovered and was based essentially on an infinitesimal amount of what appeared to be blood on Simpson's white Ford Bronco," he said.

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