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D.A. Forced to Beef Up His A-Team : Simpson case: Faced with an imposing defense, Garcetti has committed 11 people. Latest was prosecutor in Cowlings probe.

November 10, 1994|ANDREA FORD and HENRY WEINSTEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Responding to aggressive defense tactics in the O.J. Simpson murder case, the Los Angeles County district attorney's office has assembled its largest prosecution team in decades and may continue adding lawyers between now and opening statements early next year, the county's top prosecutor said Wednesday.

Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti, speaking to reporters at a regular briefing, said he has assigned seven prosecutors and four law clerks to the case, more staff than have tackled any trial during his 26 years with the district attorney's office. The next biggest team, he said, was assembled for the McMartin child molestation case, which involved four prosecutors in a gruelingly long trial that ended in acquittals.

The large and growing Simpson prosecution effort, headed by deputy district attorneys Marcia Clark and William Hodgman, is intended to keep pace with Simpson's formidable legal machinery, Garcetti said. Nine different attorneys have appeared for Simpson in court, forcing Superior Court Judge Lance A. Ito to install a special table to accommodate the overflow.

"They have nine lawyers cranking out motions," Garcetti said. The result, he added, is that Clark and Hodgman "have literally been killing themselves. . . . They have been working so hard. They have been sacrificing so much."

Garcetti defended the team's most recent addition, Deputy Dist. Atty. Christopher A. Darden, who was added this week after completing his work as the lead prosecutor assigned to investigate Simpson's close friend, Al Cowlings.

Darden became the first African American to join the prosecution team, and the timing of his appointment, just days after a predominantly black jury was sworn in, prompted Simpson attorney Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. to suggest that Darden's race was a factor in his transfer. Simpson, who is black, faces charges that he murdered his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ronald L. Goldman, both of whom were white. Simpson has pleaded not guilty.

Garcetti, however, said that Darden had long been tapped to move to the Simpson prosecution once the Cowlings case was over and that it was coincidence that the shift took place just after a jury was picked. Darden is one of the district attorney's office's most respected lawyers, in recent years working as part of its Special Investigations Division, which investigates police officers and other public employees accused of criminal wrongdoing.

"He's one of our senior prosecutors on this case," Garcetti said of Darden, a 13-year veteran of the office who has handled a number of sensitive police investigations, including a recently concluded probe into the fatal police shooting of a woman on a hospital rooftop. "He's going to take a significant management role. We want to use his talents as a trial lawyer."

In fact, Garcetti said, he believes Darden's ethnicity could be as much a drawback as an advantage in front of the predominantly black panel.

"It could very easily backfire," Garcetti said. "There could be a juror who asks himself: 'Are you just bringing him in because he's black?' "

The trial has been delayed several times by the long jury selection process, and Garcetti said the postponements could force another shift in the prosecution team. Deputy Dist. Atty. Lisa Kahn, the prosecution's designated DNA expert, is expecting a baby in late December.

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If the DNA hearing has not been concluded by the time she departs for maternity leave, Garcetti said that job may have to be turned over to one of two other DNA experts working with the prosecution, a pair of government lawyers from Alameda and San Diego.

Meanwhile, jury selection in the case continued Wednesday, with the day's first prospect clearing questioning for bias despite stating that he agreed with the verdicts of the Ventura County jury that acquitted LAPD officers of most charges in the first Rodney G. King beating trial.

Cochran questioned that 35-year-old Pico Rivera resident at length, but the man repeatedly insisted that he could be fair and said he would consider it an honor to serve as an alternate juror. He acknowledged hearing something about DNA but added that it was while watching the movie "Jurassic Park."

Clark joked that she saw no problem with that exposure because "we're not making dinosaurs here."

Once both sides had finished questioning him--a session that went on so long Cochran quipped: "If I stay up here any longer, I'll be in the 'Guinness Book of World Records' for longest voir dire of a juror"--the man became the first alternate accepted for possible service on the panel.

That man was allowed to remain on the panel, as was another despite his acknowledgment that he found it difficult to believe that Simpson could have committed the crimes with which he is charged. That man, a 56-year-old electrical engineer, insisted he could be fair, and Ito pointedly challenged him about that.

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