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The O.j. Simpson Murder Trial

Arenella, Levenson & Co.: The Legal Pad

March 21, 1995

UCLA law professor Peter Arenella and Loyola University law professor Laurie Levenson offer their take on the O.J. Simpson trial. Joining them is former Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Robert Philibosian, who will rotate with other experts as the case moves forward. Today's topic: Back to the crime scene.

PETER ARENELLA

On the prosecution: "Christopher Darden's wish that police officers respond more aggressively during defense cross-examination may explain why Detective Philip Vannatter frequently used laughter and condescension to suggest to the jury that Robert Shapiro's pointed questions were not to be taken seriously. But the defense may be given an opportunity to wipe the smile off Vannatter's face by pointing out that he recklessly disregarded the truth in his preparation of a search warrant."

On the defense: "Shapiro's cross-examination made several important points. The police photo of O.J. Simpson's cut and swollen left hand may not be so incriminating because Simpson showed the jurors today that his knuckles are swollen from arthritis. Shapiro elicited Vannatter's admission that he took Simpson's blood sample from Parker Center back to (the) Rockingham (home), suggesting one way an innocent Simpson's blood could have been found there."

LAURIE LEVENSON

On the prosecution: "Darden wisely decided not to introduce Simpson's statement to the police through Vannatter. Rather, the prosecution wants to put pressure on Simpson to take the stand and be subject to cross-examination. Vannatter's role was to lay out the blood trail, but he also showed a very human side when he described his concern for Simpson's children. He also has made the point that there was no rush to judgment and that all homicides are serious."

On the defense: "No big surprises yet in Shapiro's cross-examination of Vannatter. Shapiro has focused on the alleged contamination of the crime scene and has suggested that a rookie criminalist made mistakes in collecting evidence. However, Shapiro is taking quite a long time to develop his points. His lengthy questioning allows Vannatter to repeat, step by step, what he and the other officers did and why their actions were reasonable."

ROBERT PHILIBOSIAN

On the prosecution: "Vannatter managed to maintain his calm, collected manner while shooting some barbs back at Shapiro. As Vannatter described himself as one who is not given to adrenaline rushes, he was able to counteract the defense theme of a rush to judgment. While Shapiro tried to bait Vannatter into admitting that this was 'the' big case, the detective characterized his and LAPD's attitude by saying, 'all homicides are big cases.' "

On the defense: "Shapiro started cross-examination with a bang by exhibiting Simpson's finger to the jury and, then, descended into repetition and sarcasm. While denigrating Vannatter's lack of continuing education as a detective, Shapiro managed to misuse the word 'peruse' and substituted the word 'refuge' for refuse. In a greater irony, Shapiro who has seldom defended a homicide trial ridiculed the fact that a trainee criminalist collected evidence in this case."

Compiled by TIM RUTTEN / Los Angeles Times

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