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Ruling Keeps Ito on Simpson Case; Tape Furor Grows : Trial: Judge's wife, Capt. York, cannot be called as witness. Chief Williams steps up inquiry, says Fuhrman was among subjects of brutality investigation in '78.

August 19, 1995|HENRY WEINSTEIN and JIM NEWTON | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

In a ruling that clears the way for Superior Court Judge Lance A. Ito to remain in charge of the murder trial of O.J. Simpson, another jurist ruled Friday that Ito's wife, a Los Angeles police captain, cannot be called as a witness in the case.

Superior Court Judge John Reid issued his written ruling after listening to audiotaped interviews of former Detective Mark Fuhrman--tapes that have rocked the trial and created a troubling quandary for the Los Angeles Police Department, where officials on Friday stepped up efforts to secure a copy of the tapes so that they can fully investigate the recently retired detective's remarks during interviews with North Carolina screenwriter and professor Laura Hart McKinny.

His comments--particularly his graphic, brutal and vigorously contested descriptions of a beating he said he and other police administered in the wake of a 1978 police shooting--have prompted calls for a federal investigation, raised new questions for the Simpson case and heightened fears about long-term fallout for the Police Department.

In another development, a source close to the case said prosecutors have withdrawn a request for a Sunday night jury visit to the Bundy Drive crime scene because they are dissatisfied with lighting installed there in an attempt to create conditions similar to those on the night of the killings. Prosecutors had long pushed for the visit, but after a trip to the crime scene Friday, they decided that the lighting was inadequate.

Complaining of the toll the Fuhrman issue has taken on the LAPD, Police Chief Willie L. Williams, said he is personally investigating a 1978 incident in which two police officers were shot in Boyle Heights. Speaking to reporters at police headquarters, the chief revealed that Fuhrman was one of more than a dozen officers charged with personnel complaints in the wake of that incident.

"People complained about excessive use of force," he said. "People complained about improper language."

The result was an extensive investigation by the department's Internal Affairs Division, at the end of which all 16 accused officers were cleared of wrongdoing, said Williams. In transcripts of a taped interview between Fuhrman and an aspiring screenwriter, however, the detective boasts of beating suspects and then conspiring with other accused officers to mislead department investigators.

"They knew damn well I did it," Fuhrman said during that interview, according to the transcript made available to The Times. "But there was nothing they could do about it."

Fuhrman testified that he found a bloody glove on the grounds of Simpson's Brentwood estate, and long has been the centerpiece of the Simpson defense team's controversial police conspiracy theory. Simpson has pleaded not guilty to the June 12, 1994, murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Lyle Goldman.

In the transcript, Fuhrman described a blood-splattered apartment and badly battered suspects, telling his interviewer that one suspect required 70 stitches and another suffered a cracked knee. The apartment where the beating took place, according to the Fuhrman transcript, had "blood everywhere--all the walls, all the furniture, all the floor. It was just everywhere."

Another officer who was at the scene vehemently disputed that account.

Mike Middleton, a former LAPD sergeant who was at the scene of the officers' shooting just minutes after it occurred and later was commended for his performance there, said the incident was a frightening, violent one but that no officers used the type of force that Fuhrman claimed to have used in his interviews.

"This was a wildly volatile situation," said Middleton, who retired from the department in 1988 after 21 years. "These were dangerous people . . . but I never saw anyone with their face mangled."

As for Fuhrman's contention that officers had to wash the blood off their uniforms after beating four suspects, Middleton said there were no hoses or faucets that would have permitted that. Moreover, he said, there were so many people on the street that night that police officers washing blood off themselves certainly would have been noticed.

And in response to Fuhrman's description of the apartment as covered with the blood of the beaten suspects, Middleton said: "I was in that room for probably 10 minutes. There was no blood in that room."

Reid Ends York Issue

The Fuhrman tapes have leaped to the forefront of the Simpson trial as defense lawyers have used them in their effort to paint the former detective as a liar who might have planted evidence implicating their client. Prosecutors have made little attempt to defend Fuhrman's truthfulness, but have steadfastly insisted there is no basis for arguing that the detective did plant evidence--or even that he could have done so.

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