Commentary: O.J. lives on in L.A. crime

By HIL ANDERSON  |  June 9, 2004 at 7:39 PM
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LOS ANGELES, June 9 (UPI) -- It was a dozen years ago Friday that the crumpled bodies of O.J. Simpson's former wife and an unlucky waiter were found slashed to death outside her Brentwood home, launching one of the most pivotal murder cases in Los Angeles crime annals.

The stunning acquittal of Simpson in the killings of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman in an epic televised trial gave substance to the notion that the motivations and competence of police homicide investigators could be vilified enough to plant the volatile seed of reasonable doubt in the minds of jurors.

Simpson has continued to express bitterness toward the LAPD, which his "Dream Team" of astute attorneys alleged during the trial had planted evidence, fumbled the processing of the crime scene and otherwise railroaded the obvious suspect -- an African-American ex-husband -- rather than seek the true culprit.

"When the verdict was read, my biggest issue, as I had already told all of my lawyers, there would be no celebrating," Simpson told Fox News host Greta Van Susteren in an interview that aired Tuesday. "I wanted to go after (Det. Tom) Lange -- go after (Det. Philip) Vannatter; he was in the courtroom on the end, and it took everything I could (do) not to go after this guy, because I felt he was responsible for allowing somebody like (Det.) Mark Fuhrman to be as out of control as he evidently was during the investigation of this case."

Vannatter, Lange and Fuhrman became the epitome of an unflattering stereotype of the LAPD that struck a nerve with African-Americans who considered the police to be somewhat of an occupying army in their neighborhoods that wasn't particularly concerned with whether or not the right person was locked up for a hideous crime.

Simpson said of Fuhrman in his Fox interview, "I don't know if he is a racist today, but he was definitely a racist back then."

Such perceived baggage still offers defense attorneys ammunition to knock the cases put together against defendants of all ethnicities and social standings; however, there is rarely a shortage of high-profile cases in Los Angeles in which police conduct during the investigations can be called into question.

The dockets include recognizable names awaiting trial for murder:

Robert Blake: The Emmy-winning actor is awaiting a Sept. 9 trial for allegedly shooting his wife, Bonny Lee Bakley, to death in their car outside a San Fernando Valley restaurant on May 4, 2001.

Police and prosecutors believe that Blake was determined to rid himself of a woman he had felt coerced him into marrying her after she became pregnant with his daughter. Key prosecution witnesses include two Hollywood stuntmen who allege that Blake tried to hire them to commit the murder that police believe he eventually carried out himself.

Blake's lawyer, M. Gerald Schwartzbach, took up the case only in March; however, his previous defense team blasted the testing that LAPD said revealed gunshot residue on Blake's hands.

As it stands, Schwartzbach can be expected to take a similar tact in addressing the forensic evidence as well as the veracity of the two stuntmen.

Phil Spector: Spector made a name for himself as a giant record producer in the 1960s and more recently had lived a relatively quiet life in a 10-bedroom mansion in the L.A. suburb of Alhambra until Feb. 3, 2003, when sheriff's deputies were summoned to reports of a shooting.

At the hilltop estate, deputies discovered the body of B-movie actress Lana Clarkson; she had been shot in the head.

Spector is charged with shooting the 40-year-old woman he had met earlier in the evening. Spector's lawyers argue that Clarkson took a pistol from Spector's home and intentionally shot herself in the face.

Most recently, the defense claimed that Clarkson had a broken thumbnail that backed up their contention that she had pulled the trigger.

There were no first-hand witnesses to the tragic murder other than Spector, who is unlikely to testify. That means the forensic evidence and crime scene investigation will be the best and possibly the only target for the defense.

Michael Goodwin: The latest name added to L.A.'s gallery of reputed rogues has actually been under a cloud of suspicion since 1988 when two men on bicycles shot motor-racing impresario Mickey Thompson and Thompson's wife, Trudy, to death in the driveway of their home in the upscale suburb of Bradbury.

Goodwin had come out on the short end of a lengthy bitter legal battle with Thompson, which Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies suspected led to the killings.

There was never enough evidence to charge Goodwin in L.A. County; however, Orange County authorities arrested him in 2001 on the grounds that he had hatched the murder plot at his home in Dana Point.

Those charges were also bolstered by two new witnesses who said they could identify Goodwin in a lineup as a man they had seen who was apparently spying on the Thompson home in the days just prior to the murders.

A state appeals court threw out the Orange County charges in April; however, Los Angeles County filed their own charges late last week based on the new witnesses.

"When the California District Court of Appeal dismissed the Orange County case on jurisdictional grounds on April 23, it emphasized in the written opinion that any new evidence not previously considered by the Los Angeles District Attorney 'can -- and should -- be given to the Los Angeles District Attorney for reconsideration,'" Los Angeles prosecutors said in a release.

Goodwin protested to the Orange County Register from his jail cell that the charges were groundless and had only been filed because Thompson's sister, Colleen Campbell, had cultivated a political relationship with Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas.

A judge earlier rejected a motion to recuse Rackauckas; however, Campbell's unflinching lobbying on her late brother's behalf -- plus the effect the passage of time has on witnesses' memories -- could be brought up again as the case shifts north to Los Angeles. Further court proceedings were pending.


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