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Vannatter Offers Explanations for Glove Questions

March 22, 1995|JIM NEWTON and HENRY WEINSTEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Clearing the way for O.J. Simpson's colorful house guest to take the stand, a lead detective in the murder case concluded his testimony Tuesday by detailing how authorities explain two enduring mysteries: why there was no cut on a glove at the murder scene and no blood leading up to a similar glove at Simpson's estate.

Detective Philip L. Vannatter, the last of the prosecution's key police witnesses, also acknowledged that he had misstated information in obtaining a search warrant for Simpson's house. That admission came as he completed two days of cross-examination at the hands of defense lawyer Robert L. Shapiro, whose questioning took on additional intensity and focus as he neared his conclusion.

After Vannatter finished, jurors were treated to their first look at Brian (Kato) Kaelin, the Simpson house guest whose testimony during the preliminary hearing made him a minor celebrity in a murder case overrun with them. Before he was called Tuesday, a jittery Kaelin waited in an anteroom, shifting from foot to foot; once he was summoned into the courtroom, he bounded to the front, nearly running into Deputy Dist. Atty. Christopher A. Darden in his haste to take the witness stand.

When Deputy Dist. Atty. Marcia Clark asked him if he was nervous, Kaelin responded: "Feel great." Laughter trickled through the courtroom, and he then added: "A little nervous."

Kaelin--whose testimony was punctuated by the wide array of verbal and facial tics now as familiar to Simpson case aficionados as the aspiring actor's shaggy mop of hair--was only on the stand briefly Tuesday. Before the day ended, Kaelin said Simpson told him that he had given up attempting to reconcile with his ex-wife but that he had turned down his new girlfriend's request to join him at his daughter's dance recital on the night of the murders.

Simpson has pleaded not guilty to killing his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Lyle Goldman, who were slashed and stabbed to death on June 12.

Before Kaelin moved to the trial's center stage Tuesday afternoon, defense attorneys and prosecutors traded barbs over Vannatter's account, each seeking to extract a few more benefits from the testimony of one of the two lead investigators in the case.

Vannatter is the 10th Los Angeles police officer to testify in the case, as prosecutors have sought both to introduce the evidence against Simpson and to debunk the defense suggestion of a conspiracy by showing that many officers, some who did not even know each other, participated in the investigation.

Shapiro raised several questions about the police investigation of the Simpson case: He asked Vannatter, for instance, whether a household blanket used to cover the body of Nicole Simpson could have contained trace evidence, such as hairs from O.J. Simpson--which could have been left behind innocently on an earlier visit to his ex-wife's home. Vannatter reluctantly agreed that it could, a potentially important concession for the defense because a hair resembling one of Simpson's was found on Goldman's body.

Shapiro also subtly returned to the defense argument that a glove allegedly found outside Simpson's house might have been planted by police, and the lawyer concluded by raising an issue that has long occupied amateur sleuths following the Simpson trial.

Reminding the detective that he had testified that Simpson's finger was cut when police interviewed him--and also noting that authorities believe the assailant wore gloves, Shapiro asked: "Was a cut found on the left-hand glove at Bundy that would be in the area of the cut on O.J. Simpson's left hand?"

"No," Vannatter responded.

"Nothing further," Shapiro announced brusquely, yielding the lectern to Darden.

But Darden took up where Shapiro left off, seeking the detective's explanation for the lack of a cut in the glove and getting it over Shapiro's objections.

"I believe during the struggle the left-hand glove was lost and dropped on the ground," Vannatter said. "And that's when the cut occurred, when the hands were not protected."

"So, is it significant," Darden asked, "significant at all that there was no cut on the left-handed glove as described by Mr. Shapiro?"

"No," Vannatter replied. "There's no significance to that."

Darden's retort may have blunted the defense attack on that point, but Shapiro chipped away at a number of points. He questioned, for instance, why no blood was found on the walkway or fence near where Detective Mark Fuhrman said he found a bloody glove.

A trail of blood running between Simpson's car and the front door of his house helped convince Vannatter that Simpson was a suspect in the double homicide two miles away. But no similar trail linked the glove to the car, a point Shapiro explored during his questioning, forcing Vannatter to concede that no mention of the glove's discovery appears in any of the detectives' notes or in the chronological log that spells out key developments in the investigation's early hours.

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