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Key Simpson Witness Admits Contradictions

March 03, 1995|JIM NEWTON and ANDREA FORD | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Rosa Lopez, the Salvadoran housekeeper whose testimony has occupied the murder trial of O.J. Simpson for nearly a week, admitted under cross-examination Thursday that she has given contradictory statements and that her recollections of some times, dates, conversations and other events are cloudy.

Lopez--who mostly remained calm on the stand but who fidgeted at times, twitching one leg and glancing around the courtroom under a persistent cross-examination by Deputy Dist. Atty. Christopher A. Darden--also acknowledged that she is not sure at exactly what time she saw Simpson's car outside his house, only that she saw it sometime shortly after 10 p.m. on June 12.

In fact, Lopez's recollections of times and dates were often fuzzy: About 50 times Thursday, she answered Darden's questions with the words \o7 "no me recuerdo, senor," \f7 Spanish for "I don't remember, sir."

Prosecutors pounced with particular vigor on one of the conversations that Lopez had difficulty remembering. Near the end of the court day, Darden cited a former employer of Lopez and asked whether the housekeeper told her in August that "O.J. Simpson is a great guy, and I'll testify to anything, any time."

"I don't remember," she answered.

"You're not denying having made that statement then?" Darden continued, his voice rising slightly and his tone suggesting his disbelief.

"It's that I don't remember if I said that or not," she answered.

"So you could have said that?" he asked.

"I don't know, sir," she said.

That testimony and other challenges to Lopez's credibility create a quandary for defense lawyers: The jury has not been present to hear her account this week, but Simpson lawyer Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. told jurors in his opening statement that she would take the stand. If she does--or if the defense seeks to introduce the videotape of this week's testimony--jurors will hear the questions about her truthfulness and memory. But if she does not, it may raise doubts in the minds of the jury as to why such a potentially significant witness was not called--an omission that prosecutors would surely mention in their closing argument.

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Lopez is important because she is the only person to have come forward with testimony that bolsters the defendant's alibi. Prosecutors believe that Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Lyle Goldman were killed about 10:15 p.m. and that Simpson drove his Ford Bronco to and from the scene of the crime. Lawyers for Simpson, who has pleaded not guilty, have countered that their client was at home chipping golf balls or possibly napping at that time.

That makes Lopez's observations on the night of murders important, particularly her statement that she saw Simpson's car parked outside his house at 10:15 p.m. or 10:20 p.m. If true, that would back the defense contention that Simpson was home at that crucial time. On Thursday, however, she was less precise.

"All I said was that it was after 10," she said.

"So you don't know how long after 10?" Darden asked.

"No, sir," she responded.

Darden began his long-awaited cross-examination with an aggressive attack on her credibility, but his approach alternated throughout the day, veering from pointed lines of questioning to gentle prodding. As the day progressed, he and Lopez sparred, usually without rancor but occasionally in more spirited exchanges.

At one point, for instance, Darden asked her not to disclose an address listed on a piece of paper that he handed her. She read it silently, but then Darden mentioned the address in a question to her, prompting Lopez to scold him.

"See, you mention all over the world," she said, speaking in English. "You're so bad."

A chastened Darden slapped himself on the hand.

Later, when Darden asked her to provide the court with her true name, Lopez balked.

"Why do you want my correct name?" she asked.

"This is a court of law," Darden said, speaking slowly and looking directly at her. "And I'm a lawyer, and I'm asking the questions."

Newspapers in El Salvador have reported that Lopez has used a number of different names, but she explained in court Thursday that the names were drawn from different sides of her family. That is not uncommon in Latin American countries, however, and many immigrants also find that their names are jumbled by officials when they enter the United States.

Although it covered an array of topics, Darden's questioning was focused largely on ferreting out statements by Lopez that might cast doubt on her truthfulness and on possible incentives to lie. He elicited Lopez's acknowledgment that she liked Simpson, and that she disliked his ex-wife because Nicole Simpson once allegedly slapped her housekeeper.

Cochran and F. Lee Bailey, another of Simpson's lawyers, told reporters outside court that they did not consider any of the contradictions in Lopez's testimony to be significant. Many of the discrepancies, they said, were attributable to language difficulties.

"I think she is believable and credible on all the important issues on this," Cochran said.

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