O.J. Simpson prosecutors decided against seeking the ouster of Judge Lance Ito on Wednesday, a day after the trial fell into chaos over the role of Ito's police-captain wife in her dealings with Detective Mark Fuhrman.
"We have determined that our faith in this court's wisdom and integrity has not been and will not be misplaced," prosecutor Marcia Clark told Ito. "Accordingly, we agree to pursue as previously delineated in this court's order that was issued yesterday."She also said she believed Ito should decide all matters involved in the case, including the admissibility of the interview tapes of Fuhrman, the controversy that started the removal effort.
"Although our review of the case law indicated that we are entitled under the law to seek the court's full recusal, we have determined that it is not the only course," Clark said.
Simpson attorney Gerald Uel-men said the defense believed an outside judge, already appointed, should decide if Ito's wife is a material witness in the case. Then, he said, Ito can decide if jurors should hear the tapes.
On Tuesday, Clark said she would seek to have Ito removed because of the appearance of a conflict of interest.
The defense even prepared and filed a response to the anticipated motion.
The apparent conflict of interest stems from taped interviews of Fuhrman in which he utters racial epithets, contradicting his trial testimony. Fuhrman's comments also contradict a sworn statement by Ito's wife, Capt. Margaret York, who said she had limited knowledge of the detective and had no disagreements with him.
The defense wants to play the tapes to discredit Fuhrman, who found a bloody glove behind Simpson's mansion. Prosecutors said Tuesday that Fuhrman won't disappear as a factor in the case, so Ito should go.
"Injecting this issue into this case, your honor, has hurt many decent people - yourself and us, and I'm sure it will hurt the jurors when they hear it, if they do,"Clark said Wednesday.
Even as the prosecution flip-flopped on its intentions, the content of the tapes was in dispute. A lawyer for their owner said Simpson attorney Johnnie Cochran Jr. had mischaracterized them.
"A lot of it is inaccurate. He's trying to recall what was written in the transcript, but he doesn't have it in front of him," said Ron Regwan, who represents Professor Laura Hart McKinny. "When he quotes Mark Fuhrman, those are not entirely accurate." Regwan wouldn't elaborate.
On Tuesday, an emotional Ito removed himself from the narrow issue of whether the tapes should be admitted. Superior Court Judge John H. Reid was immediately put to work on that task.
"I love my wife dearly," Ito said from the bench, fighting for composure, "and I am wounded by criticism of her, as any spouse would be. I think it's reasonable to assume that (the Fuhrman statements) could have some impact."
Ito has presided over the trial for more than a year. Now, in its waning days, he must decide whether the pain he suffered upon hearing of Fuhrman's remarks - exactly what the detective said about Ito's wife was unclear - will prevent him from being fair and impartial.
The conflict-of-interest battle sent the trial into a tailspin, forcing attorneys and Simpson to appear before three different judges and raising the possibility that appellate fights could delay the trial.
Defense attorneys accused prosecutors of trying to remove Ito from the case after the judge hinted he would allow the jury to hear some of the Fuhrman tapes. The detective is said to use racial slurs and speak of framing suspects on the tapes. The jury has nine black members.
"Today, they came for Judge Ito," Cochran said at a news conference, referring to prosecutors.
Stan Goldman, a professor at Loyola Law School, said the prosecution clearly hoped for better luck on the Fuhrman tapes in front of Reid.
Simpson says he was home alone during the June 12, 1994, knife murders of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman.
Fuhrman was the prosecution's star witness at the preliminary hearing, recounting how he found a bloody glove on Simpson's estate hours after the murders. But the detective quickly became a lightning rod for controversy when the defense accused him of being a racist and cast him as the mastermind of a plot to frame Simpson.
At the center of the storm are taped conversations between Fuhrman and a North Carolina scriptwriter who interviewed him from 1985 to 1994 as part of a screenwriting project about police.
The tapes have been kept secret and are under a strict protective order limiting access to a handful of lawyers, but some details have dribbled out. Court transcripts of private meetings Monday revealed that on the tapes, Fuhrman describes police brutality, calls Simpson lawyer Robert Shapiro a "Jew" and predicts the Simpson prosecution is doomed without him.