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Lange Concedes Some Mistakes in Simpson Case

March 09, 1995|JIM NEWTON and ANDREA FORD | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Nearing the end of his exhaustive examination, a Los Angeles police detective acknowledged Wednesday that he had made some mistakes in the investigation of O.J. Simpson and that some drug killings are committed by knife-wielding assailants.

Johnnie L. Cochran Jr., Simpson's lead trial lawyer, also elaborated on one of the defense team's most controversial theories of the case: the notion that the intended victim of the attacks might have been Faye Resnick, the self-described best friend of Nicole Brown Simpson and an admitted drug user who was in a rehabilitation center at the time of the killings.

No evidence has surfaced supporting such a theory, but the defense has long suggested that it could explain the killings of Nicole Simpson and Ronald Lyle Goldman, who were murdered in Brentwood on June 12.

Simpson has pleaded not guilty to the grisly homicides.

Detective Tom Lange is one of two lead investigators in the Simpson case, and he has spent more time testifying than any other witness in the trial. Under questioning from prosecutors, he painstakingly laid out the steps that detectives followed as they pieced their case together and eliminated theories that they did not believe could explain the killings--including the notion that they could have been drug-related.

"This appeared to me to be an overkill or rage killing," Lange said in response to a question from Deputy Dist. Atty. Marcia Clark. "In my mind, it appeared to be motivated by rage and not narcotics-related."

But then Cochran got his turn. He used his questioning Wednesday to step up the intensity of his cross-examination and to suggest that the detective had overlooked possible indicators that the killings were drug-related.

Although much of Cochran's questioning covered ground already gone over with the detective, the defense lawyer extracted a few new concessions from Lange, a respected veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department's robbery-homicide division who said outside court that he has never undergone such prolonged questioning in his 26 years with the LAPD.

In response to questions from Cochran, Lange said that although most drug murders are committed with firearms, he is familiar with a kind of killing known as a "Colombian necklace," in which murderers slash the throats of their victims.

"It's true, is it not, that a Colombian necklace is a situation where drug dealers will slice the neck of a victim, including the carotid artery, in order to kill the victims and instill fear and send a message to others who have not paid for their drugs or have been informants to the police?" Cochran asked. "Isn't that what a Colombian necklace is?"

"I've heard that," Lange responded.

"Sir, isn't it true that you, in your experience, know about drug killings where knives have been used?" Cochran continued. "Isn't that correct?"

"I do have knowledge of knives being used, yes." Lange said.

(Later in the day, Cochran referred to a form of throat slashing known as the "Colombian necktie.")

In Lange's testimony earlier this week, he said he did not believe that the wounds on Goldman's hands suggested that he had struck his attacker with his fists during their struggle. Simpson's lawyers have displayed photographs showing that their client had few injuries to suggest that he had been through a violent struggle, and Lange's testimony threatened to undercut that. As a result, Cochran confronted Lange with testimony from a pathologist during the preliminary hearing.

When he testified, Dr. Irwin Golden seemed to suggest that Goldman had bruises on his knuckles. Lange said he did not observe those bruises, but Cochran's questioning suggested that the defense will return to that topic as the case continues.

Cochran, whose previous cross-examination has been mostly even-tempered, increased the pointedness of his approach Wednesday, peppering the detective with rapid-fire questions and sometimes chuckling sarcastically in response to Lange's answers. Simpson seemed to appreciate the tougher tone: During one particularly sharp line of questioning, the defendant rolled his eyes and shook his head as Lange refused to accept Cochran's interpretation of a crime scene photograph.

Superior Court Judge Lance A. Ito has granted both sides wide leeway in their questioning, but at one point Wednesday he intervened.

"It's argumentative," Ito said of one of Cochran's questions. "It's also badgering the witness at this point."

Despite the increasingly contentious tone, Lange rarely rose to Cochran's bait. Instead, the detective remained calm and never raised his voice, sticking with the flat monotone that has characterized his testimony since he began in mid-February. About the only sign that Lange gave of his irritation was to occasionally respond to Cochran by name and to sigh in exasperation.

"Can you answer the question, please?" Cochran asked at one point near the end of the day, Lange's seventh on the witness stand.

"I'm trying to," the detective answered.

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