Fuhrman In The Cross Hairs

The attorneys were hammering Detective Mark Fuhrman. As the questions turned to the issue of racism and to his disaffection as a police officer, Fuhrman became uncomfortable. He admitted that he had made racial slurs in the past. He conceded he was profoundly disappointed in a criminal-justice system that too often fails to punish the guilty. Fuhrman played right into the hands of the defense.

This time the interrogation of Mark Fuhrman was only a dress rehearsal. It took place, Newsweek learned, during a mock cross-examination staged by the prosecution last week when the O.J. Simpson trial was in recess. A small team of attorneys secretly spent half a day firing at Fuhrman the sort of questions they believe Simpson's defense will be asking when Fuhrman takes the stand, probably this week. A source close to the prosecution said Fuhrman came across as a "difficult and troubled witness," that he became "defensive and agitated." Could Fuhrman's performance help a juror believe that the detective had planted the infamous bloody glove at Simpson's Brentwood mansion after the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman? "It wouldn't be that big a leap," says a prosecutor familiar with the case.

Only last summer, Fuhrman seemed likely to be an effective witness. During the televised preliminary hearing last June, he was calm and commanding. But shortly after he stepped down from the witness stand, Newsweek and The New Yorker disclosed that in the early 1980s Fuhrman had suedthe city's police pension board, seeking to leave the LAPD -- on full disability. The ground: that he was emotionally incapable of continuing to work as a police officer. In connection with that suit, which Fuhrman lost, a therapist evaluated him. According to the psychiatrist's notes, Fuhrman made racist remarks about blacks and Latinos.

Fuhrman's checkered past set him up as a perfect patsy for the defense team. A Newsweek review of LAPD Internal Affairs records has uncovered several new allegations against Fuhrman. Between 1984 and 1988, four individuals, three of them African-Americans, filed disciplinary complaints against Fuhrman.

One complaint was sustained. An African-American teenager named Jarvis Bowers said that Fuhrman stopped him forjaywalking and put him in a choke hold. Fuhrman was docked one day's pay. Recently Bowers told Newsweek: "He threatened to kill me over a jaywalking ticket."

In another incident, Newsweek has learned, an African-American policewoman gave sworn testimony that portrayed Fuhrman as a racist and a sexist. As part of an administrative-board hearing in 1984 and 1985, Tia Morris, now a detective who outranks Fuhrman, testified that Fuhrman told her she "didn't belong" on the force; he suggested that she become a "secretary" or a "dancer on "Soul Train'." At the hearing, Morris identified Fuhrman as the unofficial leader of a notorious cop clique called Men Against Women and the ringleader for another, less well-known group that went by the acronym WASP, for White Anglo-Saxon Policemen. In an interview with Newsweek last week, Morris said, "There's no question based on my experience with [Fuhrman] that he's a racist."

Fuhrman has denied these and other charges. His attorney, Robert Tourtelot, did not return phone calls. It's not clear how much of this material the jury will ever hear, or how his alleged attitudes would lead him to frame Simpson. Judge Lance Ito has set limits on which allegations the defense can present to the jury, prohibiting the defense from using Fuhrman's statements during his disability lawsuit. On Friday the prosecution argued for still tighter limits. In response, the judge asked the defense -- which has yet to decide whether the "good cop" Johnnie Cochran or the "bad cop" F. Lee Bailey will grill Fuhrman -- to advise him of the scope of its proposed cross-examination.

The judge may spare Fuhrman from some of the ugly allegations, but the ex-marine who always wanted to be a cop is going to be glad when his day in court is history. "He'll go in like a man and come out like a man," says Anthony Pellicano, a private investigator working with Fuhrman's lawyer. But afterward, he says, Fuhrman, 43, intends to retire -- from the police and from the limelight.