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Fuhrman Denies Any Tampering : Simpson case: The detective undergoes a sometimes testy cross-examination by F. Lee Bailey. He denies meeting a woman who says he made racist comments.

March 14, 1995|JIM NEWTON and ANDREA FORD and HENRY WEINSTEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Los Angeles Police Detective Mark Fuhrman squared off against one of the nation's best-known defense lawyers Monday, with the detective denying he ever met a woman who says he made racist comments and dismissing the suggestion that he tampered with evidence in the murder investigation of O.J. Simpson.

Fuhrman, a 19-year department veteran, never raised his voice despite a sometimes testy cross-examination by F. Lee Bailey, a nationally renowned trial lawyer who has publicly proclaimed his eagerness to question the detective. He once even compared Fuhrman to Adolf Hitler.

On Monday, Bailey unveiled for the jury an argument that defense attorneys have advanced for months--that Fuhrman is a racist who may have planted evidence to implicate Simpson in the June 12 murders of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ronald Lyle Goldman.

Simpson has pleaded not guilty, and his legal team has waged a spirited defense of the former football star.

In his cross-examination, Bailey asked Fuhrman whether he had used a bloody glove to smear blood inside Simpson's Ford Bronco, an accusation that Fuhrman dismissed with a sad laugh and a firm "no."

But Fuhrman did testify that he was briefly alone just a few feet from the bodies of the two victims, a revelation that could help the defense argue that the detective had an opportunity to pocket a glove from the crime scene and take it with him to Simpson's estate. Defense attorneys have said Fuhrman may have planted that glove, but they have not presented evidence to support the theory.

On Monday, Fuhrman matter-of-factly described finding the glove behind the guest quarters at Simpson's home. With Deputy Dist. Atty. Marcia Clark posing the questions, Fuhrman said he had walked around the house to investigate noises reported to him by Simpson house guest Brian (Kato) Kaelin and found the glove lying on a leaf-covered walkway.

Fuhrman gave that account in even, unemotional tones, far less dramatic than his description during last summer's preliminary hearing. During that session, he said "my heart started pounding" as he spied the glove and weighed the potential significance of his discovery. Monday, the account was stripped of virtually all emotion, and Fuhrman professed that he could not conclude whether the glove was significant at first look.

In his testimony Monday, Fuhrman also deflated a tantalizing notion offered by prosecutors as court ended last week. Under questioning from Clark on Friday, Fuhrman displayed a shovel and large plastic bag found inside Simpson's car--suggesting that the defendant had intended to use those items in connection with the murders, either to bury a body or to dispose of bloody clothes and a knife.

They never linked those items to the crimes in front of the jury. On Monday, Fuhrman acknowledged that he had learned over the weekend that the bag was standard equipment in a Ford Bronco. It is used to hold the spare tire.

"So that after nine months of investigation, you discovered on Saturday that this important piece of evidence was perfectly innocuous, is that right?" Bailey asked Fuhrman near the beginning of his cross-examination.

Judge Lance A. Ito sustained an objection to that question, and Bailey seemed to rein himself in, toning down his voice as he launched back into his widely anticipated cross-examination. Still, Fuhrman appeared nervous, sipping from a cup of water as Bailey began to pepper him with questions.

Bailey moved quickly to Fuhrman's educational credentials, eliciting the detective's diffident acknowledgment that he did not finish high school, although he later gained an equivalency degree and earned some college credits.

That line of questioning seemed to deepen Fuhrman's discomfort, but Bailey did not attack Fuhrman with the vigor that he used in his much-criticized cross-examination of an LAPD sergeant earlier in the trial. Where that questioning had been histrionic and occasionally bombastic, Monday's was more measured and varied, moving from sharp confrontations to gentle inquiries and back again.

After Fuhrman would answer, Bailey would often mutter agreement under his breath, then move quickly to the next question.

As he did last week, Fuhrman appeared to grow more comfortable as the questioning went on, laughing at himself when he inadvertently made a pun out of the name of Kathleen Bell, a real estate agent who has accused him of making racist comments. Just before the lunch break, Bailey was firing questions at the detective on the issue of whether he had ever met Bell or anyone connected to her.

"Ever had any contact with any relative or possible relative of Kathleen Bell in your capacity as a policeman?" Bailey asked, seeking to establish that Bell has no reason to make up a story about Fuhrman.

"I would have no way of knowing that," the detective responded. "The name Bell does not ring a . . . "

With that, Fuhrman paused, then burst into nervous laughter as others joined in. Bailey also smiled.

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