Not just another detective takes stand

March 10, 1995|By Roger Simon | Roger Simon,Sun Columnist

LOS ANGELES -- O. J. Simpson's eyes never left Mark Fuhrman. Not when Fuhrman refused to meet his glare, not even when Fuhrman turned away.

Simpson continued to stare, his eyes burning into Fuhrman's broad back as Fuhrman walked across the front of the courtroom to the witness chair.

Simpson grasped the arms of his own chair at the defense table as if he were going to rise, stride across the courtroom and confront Fuhrman physically.

He did not do so. And even if he had lost control, the sheriff's deputies who always hover near Simpson would not have let him get very far.

But if looks could kill . . .

No. Scratch that.

O. J. Simpson wants everybody to know that he would not kill a fly, a gnat, a grub, no, not even a Mark Fuhrman. Not even the man who might send him to prison for the rest of his life.

To the general public following the Simpson case, Fuhrman is a )) major figure: He is the Los Angeles police detective who says he found a bloody glove at Simpson's estate in the hours following the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald L. Goldman on June 12.

The public also knows that Fuhrman has been branded a racist and a liar by the defense, which believes Fuhrman planted the glove out of hatred for blacks in general and for blacks who marry whites in particular.

But to the jurors, sequestered and kept from newspapers, magazines, television and radio, Mark Fuhrman is just another cop.

So some jurors did not even look up when Fuhrman entered the courtroom for the first time yesterday. They continued to take notes about what the last cop, Tom Lange, had just finished droning on about.

When Fuhrman took his seat in the witness box and prepared to speak, there was a palpable sense of expectation and excitement among the spectators in the courtroom. With the exception of O. J. Simpson (who may elect not to testify), Mark Fuhrman could be the most important witness of the trial.

But the jurors looked like they have looked for several weeks now: bored to tears.

Fuhrman, however, did an unusual thing. He looked each and every juror in the eye, in exactly the same manner O. J. Simpson did during jury selection.

Fuhrman did, in other words, a very Simpson-like thing: He exuded charm.

A handsome, square-jawed, cleft-chinned, imposing man, Fuhrman is one of the few people in the court larger than O. J. Simpson. Fuhrman looks, in fact, exactly like what he is: an ex-Marine and a tough cop.

But an honest cop? A decent cop?

Or a racist and a rogue?

This, along with the guilt or innocence of O. J. Simpson, is what this trial may determine.

The prosecution was apparently so worried about Fuhrman's demeanor on the stand that it went to the unusual step of conducting a full-fledged secret dress rehearsal not long ago at which Fuhrman reportedly lost his composure.

And Fuhrman's first words on the stand yesterday were in response to prosecutor Marcia Clark's question as to how he felt about testifying.

"Nervous," he said. "Reluctant."

Asked why, Fuhrman said, "Since June 13, it seems I've seen a lot of the evidence ignored and a lot of personal issues come to the forefront. I think that's too bad."

But for the rest of the day, Fuhrman did not show signs either of nervousness or reluctance. And while he lacked some of the swagger he displayed at the preliminary hearing, he spoke in a calm, self-assured, "Blue Knight" manner.

A ticking time bomb

If Fuhrman was outwardly calm, however, the lawyers in court were not. Fuhrman could be a ticking time bomb not only for the prosecution, but for the defense.

That's because if Fuhrman did not exist, the defense would have had to invent him.

From the very moment of Simpson's arrest on June 17, his lawyers faced a dilemma:

Any number of theories from mystery lovers to Colombian drug lords could be spun to account for the deaths of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman.

And as to the blood evidence against Simpson -- his blood found at her house and her blood found at his -- well, that could be explained by the sloppy manner in which the police behaved: They traipsed around, the defense argues, from one scene to the other, spreading the blood as they traveled.

But then there was the glove. That bloody glove.

It was the exact mate of the one found at the crime scene. An

extra-large brown leather glove.

How could the defense explain how that glove traveled the two miles from the crime scene to Simpson's house? It was too large to be inadvertently transferred on the sole of some cop's shoe.

So the defense attempted to do what all good defense lawyers do with unpleasant evidence: They tried to make it disappear.

The defense argued the glove should be thrown out of court because it was found without a search warrant, a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment.

But both preliminary hearing Judge Kathleen Kennedy-Powell and Judge Lance Ito ruled against the defense.

Which made Mark Fuhrman absolutely central to both sides.

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