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DEFENSE ALLOWED TO QUESTION POLICE DNA EVIDENCE

For O.J. Simpson, it was a rare legal victory - but an important one.

Simpson's lawyers received the judge's guarded permission to present evidence the police DNA lab is a contaminated mess, with procedures so sloppy that much of the most damaging evidence against Simpson is suspect at best.The theory that evidence, from blood to hairs, was tainted by the twin evils of contamination and conspiracy is the heart of the defense case. Simpson's attorneys are likely to try to make the most of the opportunity the judge handed them, analysts said.

"I think it was a very important hit and will prove to be something that won't be easy for the prosecution to manage," Southwestern University law professor Robert Pugsley said.

The ruling clears the way for Wednesday's testimony by defense DNA expert John Gerdes. Also Wednesday, two journalists, KNBC-TV's Tracie Savage and magazine writer Joseph Bosco, were awaiting rulings that could lead to jail sentences if they refuse to disclose confidential sources of stories about DNA test results on socks found in Simpson's bedroom.

Both Savage and Bosco are invoking the California Shield Law, which they say protects them from revealing their sources.

On Tuesday, Superior Court Judge Lance Ito didn't give the defense everything it wanted. During a hearing outside the jury's presence, he limited the defense questioning to six hours and said he would only allow "some latitude" beyond the actual testing done in the Simpson case by police technicians.

Ito, a former prosecutor, also gave some free advice to Deputy District Attorney George "Woody" Clarke: Keep the cross-examination as brief as possible or he will lose the sequestered jury's attention.

"We're dealing with a jury that has to understand (DNA) to believe it," Ito said.

The defense says the next witness after Gerdes would be Nobel Prize-winning scientist Kary Mullis, who developed the form of DNA testing used in the police crime lab.

The prosecution has promised an all-out assault against Mullis, suggesting it may try to question him about his admitted LSD use. Prosecutor Rockne Harmon has threatened to pick through Mullis' private life, yanking out every skeleton that "reflects on his credibility, competency and sobriety."