A somber, stony-faced Detective Mark Fuhrman asserted his 5th Amendment rights against self-incrimination three times Wednesday, refusing to answer questions posed by defense lawyers who charge that he framed O.J. Simpson.
"Was the testimony that you gave at the preliminary hearing in this case completely truthful?" defense attorney Gerald F. Uelmen asked in a quick, pointed confrontation with Fuhrman, who has told jurors he found a bloody glove at Simpson's estate. "Have you ever falsified a police report?"
And most strikingly, "Did you plant or manufacture any evidence in this case?"
After each question, Fuhrman leaned over, whispered to his attorney and then sat stiffly straight to answer: "I wish to assert my 5th Amendment privilege."
As Fuhrman's testimony ended, Simpson hunched over the defense table, buried his face in his hands and appeared to cry.
Jurors, who waited in an upstairs lounge during Fuhrman's brief but electrifying appearance, did not get to hear the exchange. But Uelmen said he would ask Superior Court Judge Lance A. Ito to instruct the panel today that Fuhrman had taken the 5th Amendment.
Defense sources said it is unlikely that Fuhrman will appear in front of the jury.
Fuhrman's decision to keep silent means that he will not rebut other witnesses' statements that he repeatedly used racial slurs and boasted of inventing charges against suspects. Nor will he attempt to explain any of the comments he made in a series of taped interviews--comments that contradict his sworn testimony that he never used the word "nigger" in the last decade.
On the advice of his lawyer, Darryl Mounger, Fuhrman said that he would take the 5th Amendment on any question regarding the Simpson case.
Fuhrman then strode briskly to the door and left the courthouse through a private hallway, flanked by his attorney and three men who appeared to be bodyguards. Aware that his tape-recorded comments about beating black suspects and manufacturing evidence have inflamed many in Los Angeles, Fuhrman took extraordinary security precautions from the moment he arrived at the courthouse in a tan van with blacked-out windows.
Defense attorneys trumpeted Fuhrman's refusal to testify as a major victory. Prosecutors have long argued that Fuhrman had no chance to plant the bloody glove at Simpson's estate and no reason to risk such a dangerous gambit. But in a hasty news conference Wednesday, Simpson's lawyers insisted they have proved that Fuhrman had both the opportunity and the motive.
"You saw a lead detective . . . refuse to answer questions on the grounds that the answers he made there would tend to incriminate him," defense lawyer Robert Shapiro told a crowd gathered on the first floor of the courthouse. "It's unprecedented in the history of jurisprudence."
Legal analysts said Fuhrman was compelled to take the 5th Amendment, even in response to the provocative question about planting evidence, because breaking his silence would leave him vulnerable to wide-ranging questions. The 5th Amendment offers blanket protection against self-incrimination; witnesses cannot invoke its shield on some questions and then answer others, UCLA professor Peter Arenella said.
Fuhrman, who may eventually face charges of perjury, chose to not answer any question that could open the door to further queries about his actions or prior testimony.
By invoking his constitutional right, Fuhrman in no way admitted wrongdoing. But he gave the defense a psychological boost and left prosecutors looking demoralized.
"It was one of the great moments in courtroom history," Santa Monica defense lawyer Gigi Gordon said. "To see Mark Fuhrman found out and compelled to take the 5th on the witness stand is perhaps the ultimate vindication for all those people who were the subjects of 20 years of racism, harassment and abuse."
Underscoring the raw emotions that Fuhrman's remarks have generated, demonstrators gathered twice outside the Criminal Courts Building on Wednesday to shout their belief that jurors should hear all of the brutal, racist comments captured on tape.
"No justice, no peace!" a noontime group of protesters from the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People yelled.
Earlier in the day, another crowd, angry over Ito's decision to keep the most explosive comments from the Fuhrman tapes out of court, picked up the cheer, "Ito must go. Ito must go."
Protesters Call for Simpson to Be Freed
Trial-watchers surged around lead defense attorney Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. as he left the courthouse, shouting "Free the Juice! Free the Juice!"
At an impromptu news conference, Cochran Jr. said: "For those who have said this has become the Mark Fuhrman trial, [we respond] that O.J. Simpson is the one who is still in custody, 15 or 16 months after his arrest for crimes he did not commit. Mr. Fuhrman will soon be on a plane home to Idaho."