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Detective Tells of Trail of Blood at Simpson Home

March 18, 1995|JIM NEWTON and ANDREA FORD | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

As yet another juror was dismissed Friday from the O.J. Simpson murder trial, a lead investigator in the case testified in dramatic detail about the bloodstained glove and trail of blood drops that led him to quickly zero in on the former football star as a "very strong suspect."

The testimony of Los Angeles Police Detective Philip L. Vannatter ended on a visual note--as it often does on Fridays because prosecutors work to close out the weeks memorably. This time, the session concluded just after Vannatter identified a photograph of a cut on Simpson's hand, a cut that authorities believe was the source of blood drops found at the scene of the double murder and in and around Simpson's Brentwood estate.

The excused juror, a 52-year-old Amtrak employee named Tracy Kennedy, who sources said had clashed with his fellow jurors and bailiffs, is the fifth panelist to be dismissed, leaving only seven alternates for the duration of the trial. Sources said Kennedy's personality conflicts were not the basis for his removal. Instead, they said an investigation of the juror's hotel room turned up a personal computer that he allegedly was using to keep notes about the case, possibly for a book.

Superior Court Judge Lance A. Ito ordered the attorneys not to discuss the latest juror misconduct issue, but he displayed his irritation by noting that he had found "abundant good cause" to excuse the panelist. In previous juror dismissals, Ito has only announced that good cause existed.

Additionally, Ito had attorneys for both sides state in court that they agreed that the juror should go--a rare point of agreement, especially on an issue involving a juror. In earlier instances, the attorneys have not been asked for their positions in open court, but sources say prosecutors generally have been the ones to seek the ouster of jurors while defense lawyers usually have defended the embattled panelists.

As Kennedy arrived home, he sported a baseball cap with the word Fang imprinted on it. The former juror, a Glendale resident who displayed unusual curiosity during the recent jury tour of the crime scene and other Brentwood locations, would not comment in detail about being ousted and would not say whether he had been hoping to write a book.

"Evidently I did something wrong," he said in a televised interview Friday evening. "And I don't know what."

He also released a short statement, which he drafted in the third person.

"There was no personal conflict, no physical confrontation, no race problem, no money offered or accepted," Kennedy said in his statement. "He was notified at 9:30 a.m. that he was being excused from the jury. He describes himself as devastated and overwhelmed, but glad to be home, glad to be out of the situation, and glad to be able to go on with his life, as normal as it can be. And, finally, he is not at all comfortable with the media attention."

The dismissed panelist was replaced by a 60-year-old white woman, who retired as a gas company clerk, who outspokenly protested being picked for the jury, and who was the lone holdout in a previous case in which she served as a juror.

In her juror questionnaire, that panelist said she was surprised when she learned that Simpson was a suspect in the June 12 murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Lyle Goldman--crimes to which Simpson has pleaded not guilty--but that she was withholding judgment on whether he committed the murders.

Questioned by the attorneys about her suitability for the Simpson jury, that woman described a difficult experience she had in a prior case as a juror. According to her, all her fellow jurors in that case were prepared to vote one way, and they convinced her she should reread the testimony of a witness. When she and the other jurors did that, however, they ended up coming around to her point of view.

"I found that a real disturbing situation," she said, "that they were so sure."

The new juror also said she considered DNA testing very reliable, a potentially significant opinion in the Simpson case because prosecutors intend to introduce a wealth of DNA evidence that they believe links Simpson to the crimes.

Partly because of that, UCLA law professor Peter Arenella said: "The new juror's responses to the voir dire questionnaire suggest that the prosecution should be quite happy with her addition to the jury."

The latest shift in the jury left just seven alternates for the remainder of the trial, which could continue through the spring and summer. It also once again altered the demographics of the Simpson jury. The panel now contains nine women and four men; it includes eight blacks, three whites and one Latino. The dismissed juror is half Native American and half white.

With the latest jury issue disposed of--and a bomb threat outside the courthouse defused after a 90-minute delay--Vannatter took the witness stand again Friday morning, this time to testify largely about how and when he concluded that Simpson was a suspect in the murder case.

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