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No Deadline Set on DNA Test Results in Simpson Case : Courts: Ito finds no evidence that delays were intentional. He also suspends jury selection to assess potential impact of new book about Nicole Simpson.

October 19, 1994|JIM NEWTON and ANDREA FORD | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Superior Court Judge Lance A. Ito stunned O.J. Simpson's defense team Tuesday by declining to set a deadline for the completion of DNA tests, then temporarily halted jury selection because he is concerned about the impact a splashy new book could have on the case.

Although Ito has generally favored prosecutors in the face of repeated defense attempts to suppress evidence and invalidate searches, his ruling on the proposed deadline took many by surprise. In two separate court sessions last week, the judge had expressed his displeasure with the pace of prosecution testing and with its arguments justifying delays.

He had strongly indicated that he would impose some sanction, raising defense hopes that he might rule in that side's favor this time.

Instead, he found that although there were delays, there was no evidence of bad faith on the part of prosecutors. That clears the way for DNA testing of almost two dozen items--including a bloody glove found outside Simpson's home--to continue without the threat of a deadline from the judge.

"The defense is sort of stunned and disappointed by the ruling," Simpson attorney Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. said outside court. "We expected, based upon the judge's statements last week, perhaps a far different ruling. . . . We can't explain the ruling."

Ito had barely resolved that issue before he waded into another. Reacting to a newly released book purporting to detail the last months of Nicole Brown Simpson's life, the judge ordered a temporary halt to jury selection, sending members of the jury panel home until Thursday. O.J. Simpson has pleaded not guilty to killing his ex-wife and Ronald Lyle Goldman, whose slashed and stabbed bodies were found June 13.

The book, co-authored by a friend of Nicole Simpson's and a National Enquirer columnist, was released this week. Ito received a copy Tuesday morning and said its publication has raised new concerns about Simpson's ability to get a fair trial.

Exactly what Ito can do about the book is unclear. But when he spoke to prospective jurors Tuesday afternoon, the judge used his strongest language yet to suggest that he might order the jury sequestered. "Those of you who serve on the case may be de facto incommunicado for a significant period of time," Ito told prospective jurors during a solemn session.

In the meantime, Ito changed his admonition to the panel. Where previously he had asked the prospective jurors to avoid coverage of the case, he modified that order to insist that they avoid all television and radio broadcasts as well as all newspapers and magazines.

At that point, Deputy Dist. Atty. Marcia Clark requested a word with Ito. After a brief discussion with Clark and defense lawyers, Ito turned again to the potential jurors and added: "I neglected to tell you: You are to stay out of bookstores."

The release of the book--a salacious and in many ways unverifiable account titled "Nicole Brown Simpson: The Private Diary of a Life Interrupted"--was the latest disruption in a jury selection process that has moved haltingly since questioning began last week. The questioning has moved far more slowly than Ito had anticipated and has been stopped twice, once because a prosecutor fell ill and again Tuesday because of Ito's concerns about the book.

Although some analysts suggested that Ito had overreacted to the book, others said the judge had acted prudently in the face of a complicated problem. "What he's saying is, 'Let's take the most protective measure we can without going to sequestration yet,' " said Laurie Levenson, a Loyola law school professor. "I would say he has his hands full here."

Even as jury selection has progressed, Ito and the attorneys for both sides have grappled with a host of other issues, the most significant of which was a potential deadline on the completion of DNA tests.

Nearly two dozen blood samples from Simpson's home and car were at risk after defense attorneys charged that prosecutors had delayed tests to gain a tactical advantage. Despite Ito's efforts to elicit an explanation from prosecutors, Deputy Dist. Atty. Lisa Kahn struggled last week to offer a rationale for why certain tests were not begun until three months after blood samples were first recovered.

During two hearings last week, Ito appeared displeased. At one point, he warned prosecutors that they were about to lose the argument. That heartened defense attorneys, who believed the judge was about to rule in their favor.

In a three-page ruling, however, Ito reiterated his observation that there were delays in testing but said the defense had failed to produce evidence that the delays were intentional. That came as a great relief to prosecutors, who could have lost significant evidence if Ito had set an early deadline for test results.

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