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Witnesses Tell Jury of Fuhrman's Racial Epithets : Simpson trial: Ex-detective disparaged interracial couples and bragged about making up charges, two women say. Session ends with playing of writer's tapes.

September 06, 1995|JIM NEWTON and BILL BOYARSKY | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Jurors in the murder trial of O.J. Simpson returned to work for the first time in a week Tuesday and were immediately confronted with electrifying evidence that Detective Mark Fuhrman disparaged interracial couples, bragged about making up charges and repeatedly used a vicious racial epithet.

One witness, Kathleen Bell, fought back tears while telling the jury that Fuhrman told her during their first meeting that African Americans should be "gathered together and burned." Then a second witness, Natalie Singer, recalled a 1987 conversation in which Fuhrman told her: "The only good nigger is a dead nigger."

Tuesday marked the first time jurors have ever heard evidence of Fuhrman's alleged racism and willingness to lie under oath. Outside court, new revelations continued to emerge about Fuhrman's past: The Times obtained a 1978 letter in which the now-retired officer was accused of beating suspects after a police shooting in Boyle Heights.

Bell and Singer took the stand at the outset of Tuesday's session, which ended on a note that is likely to end any lingering doubt in jurors' minds about whether Fuhrman ever uttered the racial epithet--a point that even prosecutors concede at the same time that they dismiss its significance in the Simpson case. Near the conclusion of the court day, defense attorneys at last played for the jury an excerpt from a tape-recorded interview in which Fuhrman could be heard using the word, which aspiring screenwriter Laura Hart McKinny testified that he had said 42 times in her presence.

"They don't do anything," Furhman said of women police officers during the excerpt played for the jury. "They don't go out there and initiate a contact with some 6-5 nigger who's been in prison seven years pumping weights."

"That was his voice?" Simpson attorney Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. said after the tape was played.

"That's his voice," McKinny answered softly. "No doubt about it."

Just before that, another excerpt was read to the jury, one in which Fuhrman said, "We have no niggers where I grew up." McKinny began to say she considered that Fuhrman's "least inflammatory and offensive" usage of the word, but Superior Court Judge Lance A. Ito, who has come under fire for sanitizing the jury presentation, sternly cut her off and ordered the jury to disregard that comment.

The testimony that unfolded Tuesday marked the centerpiece of the defense attack on Fuhrman, who testified that he found a bloody glove outside Simpson's house. It was being unveiled in court even as new information was coming to light regarding an explosive element of the inquiry into Fuhrman's background.

According to materials obtained under the California Public Records Act, an attorney wrote to state and federal prosecutors in 1978 accusing Fuhrman of being one of several officers involved in beating suspects after a Boyle Heights incident in which two police officers were shot.

In the letter, dated Dec. 5, 1978, well-known civil rights lawyer Antonio H. Rodriguez describes beatings that he said occurred in the wake of a Nov. 18, 1978, shooting--an incident that Fuhrman appears to have alluded to in his interviews with McKinny. Rodriguez's letter described "a confused mass of beatings and unjustified false arrests," most of them by unidentified police officers. One officer, however, was identified by his last name.

"As they [two suspects] exited the police car in back of the station, without any reason or provocation on their part, they were assaulted and battered by several officers," Rodriguez wrote, "including one by the name of Furman (sic)."

In court, jurors recoiled visibly at the testimony delivered by the three women whose accounts portrayed Fuhrman as a liar and a racist.

Throughout their testimony, panelists wrote furiously in their note pads, methodically chronicling the evidence that the defense hopes will lead to Simpson's acquittal. One woman in the back row frowned deeply as Bell began delivering her testimony; another cradled her chin in her hand and stared intently at the witness. Two jurors sitting side by side in the front row gazed at the attorneys and then back at the witnesses as the questions and answers rebounded through a silent courtroom.

Witnesses Challenge Fuhrman

Tuesday's testimony began with the long-awaited appearance of Bell, a former real estate agent whose voice shook as she described an encounter with Fuhrman in 1985 or 1986 at a Marine Corps recruiting station in Redondo Beach. Bell said she introduced herself to Fuhrman, thinking a friend of hers might like to date the tall, handsome police officer.

But after a few moments of conversing, Bell said, she mentioned Marcus Allen, an NFL running back and, coincidentally, a close friend of Simpson.

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