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Prosecutor Sees More Challenges to DNA Evidence

October 07, 1995|JIM NEWTON and ROBERT J. LOPEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Deputy Dist. Atty. Lisa Kahn, one of the prosecution's lead legal experts on DNA in the O.J. Simpson murder trial, warned Friday that defense attorneys can be expected to emulate the Simpson team's attack on the Los Angeles Police Department's evidence collection techniques and that prosecutors may be handicapped in future cases without improvements to the LAPD lab.

"There's an idea out there now," she said, reflecting publicly for the first time about the Simpson case and the presentation of DNA evidence. "Everyone's always quick to follow. Unless some changes are made, we're going to have an uphill battle."

Kahn, an experienced and highly regarded prosecutor with the Los Angeles County district attorney's office, defended the government's presentation of the DNA evidence in the Simpson case, saying that the testimony of Cellmark Director Robin Cotton and state Department of Justice analyst Gary Sims was clear and convincing. But Kahn acknowledged that prosecutors were taken aback by the ferocity of the defense's challenge to the work of the LAPD laboratory and its personnel.

Given the verdicts, she said, she expects more lawyers to follow.

"I can envision more attorneys here in town attacking the way the LAPD collects and processes evidence" in light of the Simpson team's victory, she said. "I suppose that in my next DNA case . . . I will sit down and talk with the criminalist who collects the evidence."

Deputy Dist. Atty. William Hodgman, a senior prosecutor involved in the Simpson case, agreed that more defense challenges to the department's work can be expected in the near future.

"I'm sure transcripts of the examination of various crime lab witnesses will make the rounds and manifest themselves in future cases to some degree," he said.

Their comments came as the Simpson case wound down, its participants scattering across the country. In Downtown Los Angeles, the last vestiges of "Camp O.J.," the media center for the trial, were being dismantled.

Elsewhere, however, the stream of developments continued: Lawyers for a videotape production company filed a $5-million lawsuit against Simpson for failing to promote an exercise tape that he made and that prosecutors introduced during the trial to show that he was physically capable of carrying out the murders. The U.S. Justice Department, meanwhile, released documents showing that a federal probe of brutality allegations made against former Detective Mark Fuhrman and other LAPD officers in 1978 was dropped because attorneys representing the complainants failed to cooperate.

*

Deputy Dist. Atty. Marcia Clark, while declining most comment on the case, on Friday denied a CNN report in which she was quoted as saying that a majority black jury would not convict in a case such as the Simpson trial. Clark has tried and won murder cases involving black defendants in front of black juries, and on Friday she flatly denied the CNN report.

"I did not say that," she said. "I do not think that."

And yet another controversy from the case bubbled up again. Judge Lance A. Ito released a copy of an anonymous letter sent to him in May alleging that a white female juror was negotiating a deal to write a book. That five-page letter, from a self-described 20-year-old receptionist at a literary agency, led to the dismissal of juror Francine Florio-Bunten who steadfastly has maintained that she never had any such plans.

"That letter is as phony as a three-dollar bill," said Rex T. Reeves, Florio-Bunten's lawyer. He called the letter "an advocate's piece seeking Ms. Florio-Bunten's dismissal from the jury."

Ito held a hearing in chambers where Florio-Bunten denied any plans to write a book and denied the writer's claim that her husband had met with the unnamed head of a literary agency.

Reeves said his client "felt that the verdict was contrary to all the evidence in the case. She would have voted to convict."

Even as the Simpson case settles into history, its legacy spreads : Institutions from the LAPD to the jury system have come under new scrutiny, and lawyers across the country have speculated that the Simpson team's approach could chart new ways to attack cases built on DNA evidence.

Prosecutors presented dozens of DNA test results, during the trial, amassing evidence that they and other observers said exceeded that in any previous DNA case. But Peter Neufeld and Barry Scheck, two New York lawyers brought in by the Simpson team to spearhead its attack on the physical evidence, led the charge to discredit the significance of DNA tests pointing toward Simpson's guilt.

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