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INTO THE SPOTLIGHT: JOHN CARGILL : THE O.J. SIMPSON MURDER TRIAL : This Writer Tells the Tale of the Dogs

March 07, 1995|TINA DAUNT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Every dog has his day. This is John Cargill's.

He's covering the O.J. Simpson trial for Dog World magazine, the biggest gig of his five-year career as a free-lance writer.

This is, after all, the case in which the prosecution believes it can narrow the time of death by proving that neighbors heard the howl of Nicole Brown Simpson's white Akita, Kato.

And so Cargill labors over his first piece (he's already written the headline: "Kato Knows, but Will He Tell?"), struggling with issues overlooked by the mainstream media.

For example: How many of the jurors own dogs?

"If there are dog people on that jury, that could be pivotal," Cargill said. They might, he believes, be more inclined to believe the prosecution's theory.

And while the media reported the minute details of housekeeper Rosa Lopez's testimony, Cargill wanted to know what kind of dog she was walking when she says she spotted the white Bronco parked outside Simpson's house. (A golden retriever.)

And what was the name of Simpson's dog--a black Akita--who greeted police when they jumped over the fence of the Rockingham Avenue estate? (Chachi, Cargill said.)

It is those juicy tidbits about the case that go over big with dog enthusiasts, he said.

"There are more dogs in this case than you can shake a stick at," Cargill said.

Including Cargill's. He, too, owns an Akita.

Cargill started free-lancing for the 58,000-circulation Dog World in 1989, writing about such topics as canine hip replacement and pet psychology.

When Nicole Simpson's Akita became a major player in the prosecution's case, the magazine's editor called Cargill to see if he would analyze the trial from a dog's point of view.

"Our readers have been telling us that it's important to know how the dog might fit into this," said editor Donna Marcel.

On Monday, the howling dog was again the topic of court testimony. The prosecution called the seventh witness to testify about seeing or hearing a barking dog on the evening that Nicole Simpson and her friend Ronald Lyle Goldman were killed. The prosecution contends that Nicole Simpson's Akita--who led witnesses to the scene of the crime--was the dog whose cries occurred around the time O.J. Simpson was slashing his ex-wife and Goldman to death.

Monday's witness, Mark Storfer, who lived near the crime scene in Brentwood at the time of the murders, testified that the dog was yelping and whining occasionally and pausing from the barking just "long enough to take a breath." He said that when he went back upstairs he looked at a digital clock in his bedroom and it showed 10:28 p.m. (During the testimony, he also noted that his clock was set five minutes fast.)

"Everything you touch in this case has something to do with a dog," said Cargill, whose report is scheduled to appear in Dog World's June edition. "Name another case where there were so many witnesses, murder victims and suspects that were all involved with dogs. I can't think of one."

Cargill has been covering the trial by watching taped broadcasts of Court TV in the evenings at his home in Terre Haute, Ind. Free-lance writing is just a part-time job. During the day he works as the chief financial officer for Osler Institute, a firm that holds seminars nationwide for doctors.

Cargill figures that in a murder with no human eyewitnesses, and in which lawyers from both sides continue to poke holes in the testimony of each other's witnesses, the role of the howling dog in establishing the time of death will become more important.

"How could anybody have foretold that the human witness would fall apart so badly?" he said. "Now that they've ripped up Rosa Lopez, it's all going to fall back on the dog."

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