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Simpson Prosecutors Focus on Shrinkage of Gloves : Courts: Witness says moisture would cause the problem. Clark, Dershowitz clash over dwindling jury.


Aiming to blunt the stinging, riveting image of O.J. Simpson struggling to don the infamous bloody gloves, prosecutors recalled a witness Friday who testified that moisture had caused the extra-large leather gloves to shrink nearly a full size and lose much of their elasticity.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Christopher A. Darden spent more than an hour questioning glove expert Richard Rubin as he sought to explain away the brief drama that held jurors spellbound Thursday afternoon: a grimacing Simpson saying "too tight" as he tugged on the gloves that prosecutors contend he wore to murder Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Lyle Goldman.

Simpson has pleaded not guilty to the crimes. Prosecutors, however, contend that a "trail of blood" links Simpson to last June's slayings--a trail marked by matching frayed brown gloves, one of which was found at the crime scene and the other on Simpson's estate.

Although his attempt to connect Simpson and the gloves through a live demonstration fell short Thursday, Darden indicated that he will try again later in the trial.

The next time, however, he will ask Simpson to slip on brand-new Aris extra-large gloves--identical to the pair he tried on Thursday, except unsullied by blood and moisture.

Ironically, Darden had hoped to use a clean pair of gloves Thursday. But defense attorney Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. firmly objected, according to the transcript of a sidebar conference. Ito then suggested that "it would be more appropriate" for Simpson to try on the bloodied gloves. "Exactly my point," Cochran said.

"The only problem," prosecutor Marcia Clark objected, "is that he has to wear latex gloves underneath . . . and they're going to alter the fit."

"We'll take that up when we get there," Ito responded.

After Simpson's display, Darden asked Rubin how the latex gloves affected the fit, but the witness said he lacked the experience to answer.

Before Darden took up that issue again Friday, Clark and defense attorney Alan Dershowitz sparred in a heated exchange about why the jury has dwindled and what to do if the number of panelists falls below 12.

During the debate, Clark struck a defiantly confident tone about the prosecution's presentation and said for the first time that her side might be willing to continue the trial with fewer than 12 jurors. "We want this jury to reach a verdict," she said.

'An Interesting Day'

The Clark-Dershowitz tussle took place outside the jurors' presence. When they filed in, Rubin, the former general manager for the Aris glove company, stepped back to the witness stand for his second day. Although Darden estimated that his direct examination would last 15 minutes, he ended up questioning Rubin far longer in an effort to rebound from Thursday's display.

Rubin started out by repeating an observation he made Thursday, testifying that "the gloves in their original condition would easily go onto the hand of someone of Mr. Simpson's size."

He added that he tried an experiment after court Thursday: He put on a pair of latex liners like the one Simpson wore, and tried to put on his own gloves. Pulling them over his hands, he testified, was more difficult with the latex liners.

Darden then picked up a line of questioning he had ignored Thursday, asking Rubin about when, why and how much leather gloves shrink.

Wearing a cheery Snoopy tie and looking relaxed, Rubin testified that gloves can shrink up to 15% if they are drenched in moisture. Even if stretched, the crime scene gloves could never return to more than 92% of their original size, he said.

"These gloves," Rubin added, "will never return to their original size and shape."

Following every word intently, the jurors paid careful attention to the entire glove episode. Several watched with special interest when Rubin put on the gloves--the third player in the trial to wear the evidence in the courtroom, after Simpson and Cochran.

At first, Rubin complained that the cashmere liner in the left-hand glove was pulled out of place, making it impossible to extend his fingers.

The sight of Rubin with the glove hanging half off his hand created some drama, and even seemed to hint at a tantalizing explanation for Simpson's trouble in pulling the leather over his palm. But after a break, even prosecutor Darden agreed that the lining most likely bunched up when experts turned the glove inside-out Thursday night--several hours after Simpson's courtroom demonstration.

After trying them on, Rubin described the extra-large gloves as "a little bit above average for a [size] large, but far below an extra-large at this time."

Pressing the point that Simpson should fit into extra-large gloves before any shrinkage, prosecutors hauled out Simpson's heavy black golf bag, which has already been placed in evidence.

At Darden's request, Rubin rooted through the pockets and pulled out three white gloves, all extra-large. Simpson, an avid golfer since he retired from pro football, smiled somewhat wistfully as the witness displayed his golf gloves.

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