A forensic pathologist Friday offered a chilling new explanation for cuts on O.J. Simpson's left hand, testifying that the wounds were fingernail gouges that could have been inflicted by either Nicole Brown Simpson or Ronald Lyle Goldman as they clawed to break free of a chokehold during a swift and lethal struggle.
As oversized photos of Simpson's fingers flashed on a television monitor, Dr. Werner Spitz pointed out the jagged edges of three curved wounds that measured up to 2 1/4 inches long. "These are fingernail marks," he said.
Simpson has offered contradictory accounts about the cuts on his hand. In an interview with police the day after the slayings, he said he cut his finger the previous night "when I was rushing to get out of my house" for a red-eye flight to Chicago. But during his pretrial deposition, Simpson said he suffered the lacerations when he broke a drinking glass in his Chicago hotel room after learning from police that his ex-wife had been killed.
Attempting to discredit Simpson's explanation, plaintiffs' attorneys presented evidence Thursday that there was no blood on any of the shards of glass found in Simpson's hotel bathroom. The only blood in the suite, a detective testified, was a swipe on a washcloth and several drops on the sheets and pillowcases of the bed.
Spitz followed up on Friday by flatly declaring that the lacerations he observed on photos of Simpson's hand did not have the smooth edges typical of a sharp cut. "These are not caused by glass," he said, "and these are not caused by a knife."
Spitz, a former county coroner in Detroit and the author of a definitive pathology textbook, riveted jurors with an animated, folksy style that belied the grim content of his testimony.
He insisted the fatal knife assault on Nicole Simpson lasted less than 15 seconds--a much tighter time frame than other experts have posited. And he did not buy the theory advanced by prosecutors in the criminal case that the killer knocked Nicole Simpson unconscious, left her to kill Goldman, and then returned to slit her throat in a final vengeful act. Spitz suggested that Nicole Simpson was killed in one frenzied flurry before the killer turned to Goldman. He agreed with the county coroner's assessment that Goldman's final struggle lasted a minute or less.
Spitz also testified that one person, armed with one single-edged knife, could have slain both victims and walked away barely stained by their blood.
On cross-examination, lead defense counsel Robert C. Baker tried to press his theory that the assault was both protracted and messy. Simpson's lawyers say he would not have had time to commit the slayings and be home in time to catch his limousine to the airport. Furthermore, they say, he would have been bruised by the fight and so bloodied that he would have tracked a great deal of blood into his car and his home.
But Spitz stuck by his assessment. Drawing diagrams to explain, he told jurors that Goldman suffered mainly internal bleeding. Nicole Simpson bled forward and down, away from the killer standing behind her, he said, using an attorney as a prop for his demonstration.
In calling Spitz, the plaintiffs' attorneys bypassed both the medical examiner who performed the autopsies and his supervisor. The autopsy surgeon, Dr. Irwin Golden, got terrible reviews as a witness when he testified in Simpson's preliminary hearing. And nine days of testimony from his supervisor, Dr. Lakshmanan Sathyavagiswaran, seemed to numb and confuse the jurors during the criminal trial.
Spitz acknowledged that he relied on the coroner's reports and photos to reach his conclusions, since he did not view the bodies himself.
Fourteen of those photos were on display Friday. Jurors winced and a few looked distraught, but all stared intently at the gruesome shots, including one of the fatal slash across Nicole Simpson's throat, which sliced through her voice box, severed her carotid arteries and nicked her backbone. That photo, which the defense had fought to exclude, showed not only the gaping red gash, but also her face, with one eye partially closed and a bruise discoloring the skin around her mouth.
O.J. Simpson, who left early Thursday saying he felt ill, was not in court for the pathologist's testimony. The Brown family did not attend either.
The father and sister of Goldman did, however, and they slumped forward in their seats crying silently as Spitz launched into a recitation of Goldman's many injuries, including stab wounds to the head, neck and shoulders.