Cowlings may not be prosecuted in Simpson case

July 15, 1994|By Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES -- Caught between competing interests and faced with daunting legal complexities, prosecutors for a third straight day delayed a decision yesterday about whether to charge Al Cowlings with a crime for his role in O. J. Simpson's bizarre trek across Southern California freeways last month.

Even though Mr. Cowlings, a lifelong friend and former teammate of Mr. Simpson's, is expected in court today, Los Angeles District Attorney's officials said they plan to ask for more time.

On one side, police want to see Mr. Cowlings prosecuted for aiding a fugitive, but on the other, prosecutors are concerned that prosecuting him might complicate their double-murder case against Mr. Simpson.

For one thing, a prosecution could stymie their efforts to gain access to Mr. Cowlings -- who can legally refuse to testify in any trial as long as he is a potential criminal defendant. A Cowlings prosecution also would take time and energy from prosecutors already racing to meet a speedy trial deadline in the Simpson case, and could give Mr. Simpson's defense lawyers access to discovery material and testimony that they might not otherwise be able to get in preparation for the Simpson trial, legal experts said.

Given all of that, experienced lawyers generally doubt that Mr. Cowlings will be charged.

The stakes for the district attorney were raised this week with the disclosure that a passport and nearly $10,000 were found in the Ford Bronco that Mr. Cowlings drove on the afternoon of the low-speed police chase.

The passport and money could suggest that Mr. Simpson's motive was not to commit suicide or to visit his former wife's

grave but rather to flee. And if that were the true motive, it could suggest that Mr. Cowlings was aiding a fugitive -- as police alleged when he was arrested -- rather than trying to keep his friend from committing suicide.

Attorney Donald Re, who is representing Mr. Cowlings, said his client never meant to assist Mr. Simpson's flight and that even if the passport and money were recovered, Mr. Cowlings had no knowledge of them.

As they weighed their decision in the Cowlings case, officials in the district attorney's office also sought to fend off yet another flare-up at the margins of the case.

On Wednesday night, KCBS-TV, the CBS affiliate in Los Angeles, broadcast footage of Deputy District Attorney Marcia Clark at Mr. Simpson's home on the morning that police received a warrant to search the property. The station reported that Ms. Clark was pictured before the service of the warrant and suggested that her presence could raise problems for the prosecution -- specifically because it might allow defense attorneys to call her as a witness in their efforts to have the search warrant invalidated.

According to the station, the videotape of Ms. Clark at the scene was transmitted to the station at 10:28 a.m. on the day of the search, June 13. The search warrant was signed by a judge at 10:45 a.m.

Legal experts generally played down the significance of Ms. Clark's presence at the scene, saying that even if she were there before the service of the search warrant, that would not necessarily be a problem. Ms. Clark could have been there to answer any legal questions by police officers or even to safeguard against any improper searches while awaiting the warrant, lawyers said.

The district attorney's office released a brief written statement saying the television station's account was inaccurate.

Bob Jordan, news director for KCBS, said the station stood by its report.

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