Sergeant grilled on handling of Simpson crime scene

February 15, 1995|By New York Times News Service

LOS ANGELES -- Defense lawyers in the O. J. Simpson murder trial opened their assault on the Los Angeles Police Department yesterday, unleashing their most celebrated courtroom interrogator on the sergeant who initially supervised officers on the scene where Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald L. Goldman were killed.

Waking up a courtroom grown sleepy with tedious testimony about police comings and goings after the killings, the defense lawyer F. Lee Bailey suggested that inept police officers had trampled over or otherwise obliterated important evidence, overlooked crucial areas of inquiry, failed to summon a coroner quickly enough and neglected to warn Mr. Simpson himself that whoever had just killed his former wife might well be out to kill him, too.

Most egregiously, Mr. Bailey suggested, a parade of police officers who arrived at Mrs. Simpson's condominium in the early morning hours of June 13, 1994, marched over the very plot of squishy earth the killer or killers would just have traversed, blithely trampling on what might have been crucial footprints.

Questioning Sgt. David Rossi, Mr. Bailey put on for the jury a display of old-fashioned courtroom oratory, served with ample helpings of condescension, ridicule and indignation toward the witness.

Mr. Bailey, smiling with ostentatious tolerance and interspersing frequent rhetorical digs, lectured Sergeant Rossi, a 26-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department, on the "cardinal rules" of law enforcement. He asked the sergeant if he knew what a footprint looked like and what ice cream does when it is not refrigerated.

He scored Sergeant Rossi for taking an hour to track down Mr. Simpson's telephone number when Mr. Simpson's 7-year-old daughter was but a few feet away, in the station house.

Sergeant Rossi conceded that not all evidence at a crime scene was visible to the naked eye, but insisted that he had not stepped in or over anything.

"Would you explain to the jury how you could not believe that you obliterated something that you couldn't see in the first place?" Mr. Bailey asked.

"Because I was careful where I walked," Sergeant Rossi replied.

When Sergeant Rossi speculated that the killer could have left the crime scene other than through the rear, and that he could have done so without leaving any bloody footprints, Mr. Bailey jumped on him.

"Can you imagine that these murders were accomplished without getting any blood on the feet of the perpetrator?" he asked sarcastically. "So you think they could have been fast enough on their feet to avoid blood while accomplishing the carnage we have been looking at?"

Mr. Bailey initially referred pointedly to "the killers" in the case until Judge Lance A. Ito rebuked him -- "killer or killers" would be more appropriate, the judge said.

"Are we restricted to the state's theory of one killer, however erroneous it might be?" Mr. Bailey asked. Henceforth, he spoke of "perpetrators, one or more" or "perpetrator, parens S."

Earlier, Officer Robert Riske, the first police officer on the crime scene, completed his testimony. Last week, Judge Ito warned Mr. Simpson's chief trial lawyer, Johnnie L. Cochran Jr., that Officer Riske, the lowest officer on the police totem poll, should not be made to answer for any irregularities by his superiors. But Mr. Cochran did so anyway, forcing the chief prosecutor, Marcia Clark, to respond point by point.

Yesterday, Mr. Cochran once again faulted Officer Riske for calling headquarters on Mrs. Simpson's telephone -- without dusting it for fingerprints -- rather than using his police radio.

Had he not done so, Officer Riske countered, the media could have overheard the call and a frenzy might have ensued.

TRIAL HIGHLIGHTS

Ice cream: A large portion of the defense's cross-examination of Officer Robert Riske centered on a cup of Ben & Jerry's ice cream found melting on a banister in Nicole Brown Simpson's home. Officer Riske said he didn't touch the ice cream, and he also didn't check the temperature of the water in Nicole Brown Simpson's bathtub. The defense suggests such evidence could have helped fix the time of death.

Next witness: Sgt. David Rossi, watch commander at the time the bodies were found, weathered an intense cross-examination by defense attorney F. Lee Bailey, who focused on the preservation of the crime scene and police attempts to notify Mr. Simpson of his ex-wife's murder.

Jury trouble: ABC reported that two jurors are under investigation for possible misconduct: One bet a co-worker a week's pay before he was selected as a juror that Mr. Simpson would be acquitted; the other had a map of Chicago in his room.

SUNDIAL

For the latest from the O. J. Simpson trial, call Sundial at 783-1800 and punch in the four-digit code 6139. For calls from Carroll, Anne Arundel and Harford counties, see the SunSource directory on 2A.

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