Stream Of Denials

AS IN ANY BIG CASE, THE END OF THE O. J. Simpson murder trial left behind loads of evidence and exhibits. So the plaintiffs' lawyers in the civil trial did what good lawyers do: they subpoenaed it. They also did something else: they read it. It was a massive amount of information, from transcripts to phone records to laboratory analysis to tape recordings. It was so much stuff that lead attorney Daniel Petrocelli took to listening to some of the tapes in his car while driving home.

Last week, near the end of Simpson's bruising three-day testimony, one of those tapes was heard in public for the first time. It recorded Simpson talking to the Los Angeles police during the tumultuous Bronco slow-speed chase five days after his ex-wife Nicole and her friend Ron Goldman had been killed. NEWSWEEK has learned that the tape was sitting in a box among a jumble of other evidence and exhibits in the prosecutors' offices. As presented, the transcript of the tape was among the more damaging pieces of evidence the plaintiffs have put on so far. In one exchange, Thomas Lange tries to talk Simpson out of suicide. Lange: "And nobody's going to get hurt." Simpson: "I'm the only one that deserves it." To the plaintiffs, that shows consciousness of guilt.

At another point, Simpson apologizes to the police and commends Lange on doing a good job. Simpson: "Hey, you've been a good guy too, man, Lange. Thanks. You let me tell you, I know you're doing your job." Petrocelli then asked Simpson if he had ever accused Lange on the phone of framing him by planting evidence. Simpson acknowledged he had not. The implication: Simpson concocted the planting theory later.

Why didn't the prosecution use the tape in the criminal trial? Remarkably, former prosecutor Christopher Darden said on the "Rivera Live" cable show that he simply didn't know of the tape. Still, once the prosecution decided not to mention anything about Simpson's Bronco chase, it would not have been able to use the tape. Prosecutors felt those episodes could just as easily hurt their case, because Simpson had also proclaimed his innocence during the chase.

Indeed, the defense will try to make exactly those points during its case, which may begin by the end of the week. NEWSWEEK has learned that the defense hopes to call a telephone-company employee who phoned Simpson during the Bronco chase. The man will supposedly testify that Simpson was grief-stricken over Nicole's death, and denied any involvement.

If Simpson was cool and composed on the stand, his testimony was filled with enough blanket denials and evasive vagueness to please the plaintiffs. He said he didn't know where the blood on his estate or car came from; he didn't know how the cuts on his hand got there; he insisted that a lie-detector test, which plaintiffs said he failed miserably, wasn't a formal test. This week, plaintiffs hope to challenge many of those statements. For example, a wardrobe assistant who worked on Simpson's exercise video was expected to testify that she gave him a dark sweat suit as a gift. Simpson has contended that he didn't own a dark sweat suit--but Petrocelli asserts that he wore one the night of the murders.

The plaintiffs will also try to get Simpson's longtime friends--familiar names like A. C. Cowlings, Paula Barbieri and Robert Kardashian--to refute parts of O.J.'s testimony. Cowlings may be asked about a 1989 incident when Simpson sneaked back into his house, apparently following a path that plaintiffs say he used the night of the murders. Kardashian will be questioned about whether Simpson asked for a ride to the airport to retrieve his golf clubs a day after the murders; Simpson denies having asked Kardashian for a ride. The plaintiffs want to raise suspicions about the whereabouts of the clothes the murderer wore. The strategy could backfire; most of the witnesses remain loyal to Simpson. A source close to the plaintiffs described the strategy this way: "The whole idea is to show that he lies every chance he gets, so that when he's asked if he killed Nicole and Ron Goldman, you can't believe his answer."

The defense will have its own spin on these new pieces of evidence. For instance, Simpson last week seemed evasive when he couldn't explain how he got the cuts on his hand, or whether he realized he even had them. Yet at the criminal trial several witnesses, who will probably testify at the civil trial, said they saw no cuts on his hand, lending credence to his seeming confusion. Surveying Petrocelli's in-your-face questioning of Simpson, a defense source told NEWSWEEK matter-of-factly: "They had a couple of pretty good days and hit on some points that we have to address."

Perhaps the biggest tactical surprise last week was defense lawyer Robert Baker's decision not to question Simpson immediately, or "rehabilitate" him, in trial parlance. He will wait until he presents the defense's case, so that Simpson's testimony will be bolstered by more supportive witnesses. There was another reason for not questioning him, NEWSWEEK has learned. Judge Hiroshi Fujisaki earlier ruled that the defense couldn't question Simpson twice on the same issues, so Baker decided to keep his friendlier questioning intact until the defense case. In the view of former Dream Team lawyer Alan Dershowitz, "I think Simpson is behind in points, but we have a long way to go." The boxing analogy may not be apt, but the scoring seems right.

ON JUNE 17, 1994, AS O. J. SIMPSON and his friend Al Cowlings led police on a low-speed freeway chase, Simpson talked by cell phone with an LAPD detective, Thomas Lange. Simpson had a gun, and Lange want- ed to keep him from using it. Excerpts:

Simpson: I swear I'll give you what . . . I'll give you me. I'll give you my whole body. I just need to get to my house.

Lange: We're going to do that. Just throw the gun out the window.

Simpson: I can't do that.

Lange: We're not going to bother you. We're going to let you go up there. Just throw it out the window. Please. You're scaring everybody.

Simpson: This is for me. This is not to keep you guys away from me.

Lange: I know that. Nobody's going to hurt you . . . Think of your kids.

Simpson: No . . . Ah, just tell them I'm all sorry. You can tell them later on today and tomorrow that I was sorry . . .

Lange: I think you should tell them yourself, and I don't want to have to tell your kids that . . . Your kids need you.

Simpson: I've said goodbye to my kids.

Lange: Man, just throw it out the window . . . And nobody's going to get hurt.

Simpson: I'm the only one that deserves it . . . I'm going to get hurt . . .

Lange: Don't do this.

Simpson: All I did was love Nicole. That's all I did was love her . . . I love everybody. I tried to show everybody my whole life that I love everybody . . . I'm just going to leave. I'm just going to go with Nicole. That's all I'm trying to do.

Lange: Hey, listen--think about everybody else.

Simpson: I just can't do it here on the freeway. I couldn't do it in the field. I went to do it at her grave. I want to do it at my house.