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Kaelin Tells About Evening of Murders

March 23, 1995|ANDREA FORD and JIM NEWTON | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

A new and subdued Brian (Kato) Kaelin on Wednesday painstakingly described his evening with O.J. Simpson in the hours before a pair of grisly murders, and banged his fist on the witness stand to demonstrate the three mysterious thumps that authorities believe are linked to the killings.

In contrast to his demeanor Tuesday, when Kaelin fidgeted and stirred restlessly on the stand, the prosecution witness reined himself in Wednesday as Deputy Dist. Atty. Marcia Clark guided him through a methodical recitation of his actions on the night of the murders. Nevertheless, the process was a mixed bag for prosecutors, as Kaelin's testimony was sometimes disjointed and his recollections were occasionally fuzzy, particularly when he was asked about events and meetings that took place after the murders.

Simpson has pleaded not guilty to the June 12 stabbings of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Lyle Goldman.

Kaelin spent the evening making a series of phone calls to friends, and Clark presented phone records to establish when Kaelin was in his room. Impressed by the prosecutor's precision, Kaelin whispered to her: "You guys are good."

Kaelin's appearance on the witness stand drew a record number of trial watchers to the Downtown Criminal Courthouse, where the line of 90 or so people topped even the draw for the much-anticipated testimony of Los Angeles Police Detective Mark Fuhrman. But where Fuhrman dreaded his appearance on the stand, Kaelin, an aspiring actor, appeared to relish it, capitalizing on chances to crack jokes.

When Clark asked him whether Simpson "seemed real excited" when Kaelin invited himself to join the football great on a trip to McDonald's on the night of the murders, defense attorneys objected and Superior Court Judge Lance A. Ito sustained the objection.

Arching his eyebrows in merriment, Kato answered anyway: "Wouldn't you?" he asked, smiling at his own joke and drawing loud laughter from the courtroom audience and a few jurors.

Kaelin's occasional jokes lightened his testimony, but Clark struggled to keep him on track. Using the phone records at times, Clark traced Kaelin's steps through the evening, beginning with a conversation between him and Simpson after Simpson returned from his daughter's dance recital.

Kaelin, who lived in a guest house at the estate, said Simpson complained that he had not been able to spend more time with his daughter Sydney after that recital and added that the defendant had noted his ex-wife's tight dress.

"He wanted to talk to Sydney, and, I don't think, Nicole wasn't going to give him time to talk to Sydney," Kaelin said. "And I think they went off somewhere."

Simpson did speak with his daughter that evening, and the defense has produced a photograph of the two of them together after the recital. But prosecutors have sought to show that Simpson was largely excluded from the family gathering that evening, sitting apart from his ex-wife and her family at the recital and not joining them for dinner afterward.

Later that evening, Kaelin said, he and Simpson went out for hamburgers at a nearby McDonald's, returning to Simpson's Rockingham estate about 9:40 p.m. After that, Kaelin said, he went back to his room, ate his food and made some calls, including one to his friend, Rachel Ferrara.

"During that phone call, sir," Clark asked, "did something unusual occur?"

"Yes," Kaelin responded.

"And what was that?" the prosecutor asked.

"I heard a thumping noise," Kaelin said.

"How many thumps did you hear?" she continued.

After an objection, Kaelin said he had heard three thumps so loud that he feared an earthquake. Clark asked him to demonstrate the sound he had heard, and Kaelin leaned around the microphone in front of him, balled up his right fist and pounded three times on the witness stand.

Those three thumps are among the most important elements of the prosecution case, as Kaelin estimated that he heard them between 10:40 p.m. and 10:45 p.m. Authorities believe that Simpson was skulking around his estate at that hour, trying to enter without being noticed and possibly seeking to dispose of evidence.

The timeline for the murders and their aftermath is extraordinarily important in the Simpson case because Simpson has an alibi after about 11 p.m., when he headed to the airport in a limousine. Thus, prosecutors need to show that the killings occurred early enough for Simpson to have committed them, changed clothes, rushed home and still meet the limousine.

It was Simpson's haste, the prosecutors contend, that caused him to make mistakes and drop evidence that linked him to the crimes.

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