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Defense Targets Investigative Miscues

October 02, 1994|RALPH FRAMMOLINO

Fighting a case based heavily on scientific tests, O.J. Simpson's defense attorneys have been hammering away at how authorities collected and handled that evidence during the double murder investigation. Among the issues to emerge in pretrial motions and courtroom testimony:

* Police secured only one of the two gates leading to Simpson's Rockingham Avenue home by the time criminalists arrived to collect samples at 7 a.m. on June 13.

* The criminalist who lifted incriminating blood stains from the Bundy Drive murder scene--drops leading from the bodies and later linked to Simpson--was a trainee with four months' experience, had to be supervised, collected blood at only two crime scenes before, and had "zero" experience at scenes in which she had primary responsibility for such samples.

Sources close to the investigation said the trainee capably performed the simple task of lifting the blood with cloth swatches.

But former prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi said that even if she did everything right, calling on her was "inexcusable" because it provides an "automatic argument that she's a novice, she's inexperienced and she may have goofed."

* A criminalist in the LAPD crime lab mislabeled a tube used to run preliminary DNA tests on one blood sample. Investigation sources say the criminalist made a "transpositional error" but did not contaminate the blood sample.

* Police left Simpson's white Ford Bronco, from which police obtained blood samples immediately after the murders, unattended for days in a contract lot before conducting further tests to find minute blood spots. The vehicle was burglarized in the interim.

* Detective Philip L. Vannatter, one of the lead investigators, made "reckless" statements to justify a June 13 search warrant for Simpson's house, according to Judge Lance A. Ito.

* Confusion between police and prosecutors. In August, prosecutors revealed that they were not informed when the LAPD crime lab sent blood samples to a second DNA lab for tests. Ito called the incident "a picture of confusion, miscommunication and non-communication between the prosecuting attorneys and LAPD," but ruled it did not constitute misconduct.

More recently, prosecutors learned in a televised hearing that police had seized a note in Nicole Simpson's handwriting during a search of her ex-husband's bedroom.

In a national television interview last week, Los Angeles Police Chief Willie L. Williams denied that his department ran a sloppy investigation as defense attorneys have charged.

"Have we made some mistakes? Perhaps, we have," Williams said on NBC's "Today" show. "But these are the type of mistakes that are made in every case. . . . I don't think they are so egregious as to cause any major changes (affecting) the outcome of this trial."

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