A North Carolina appellate court has given the O.J. Simpson defense a boost by ordering a screenwriter to surrender taped interviews in which police detective Mark Fuhrman reportedly uses racial slurs.
Simpson's lawyers say the audio tapes are laced with racist remarks by Fuhrman during a series of interviews in the 1980s through 1994 with screenwriter Laura Hart McKinny. They want to introduce the tapes to prove that Fuhrman lied under oath.The Los Angeles Police Department detective testified earlier at Simpson's trial that he had not used a racial epithet in the past 10 years.
"It's the key, most important, ruling in this case so far," lead defense attorney Johnnie Cochran Jr. said Monday outside court in Los Angeles. "This man said he has never used the word."
The North Carolina ruling came as further testimony was presented in Los Angeles Superior Court about the reliability of DNA blood evidence against Simpson, who is accused of killing his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman.
If jurors conclude that Fuhrman lied about the use of racial slurs, Cochran said, they may deem him an untrustworthy witness and reject the rest of his testimony, including that about finding a bloody glove at Simpson's estate.
"Imagine if his testimony was all wiped out by one of the jurors," Cochran said.
Harland Braun, an attorney analyzing the case, agreed that the ruling could result in serious damage to the prosecution.
"If it comes in (before the jury) it's going to devastate the prosecution because it makes one of their key witnesses a liar," Braun said. "It could discredit the whole prosecution."
Braun said jurors may decide that if prosecutors would put a racist and a liar on the witness stand, other witnesses in the prosecution's case might be suspect as well.
"You're talking about basically an African-American jury in Los Angeles where the relationship that the African-American community has had with LAPD has not been good," Braun said. "You've got the symbol of O.J. Simpson."
The defense has sought to portray Fuhrman as a racist cop who may have planted evidence to frame Simpson in the June 12, 1994, slayings of his ex-wife and Goldman.
In its ruling, the North Carolina appeals court wrote that Judge William Z. Wood Jr. erred when he concluded July 28 that McKinny is not a material witness to the case, and that her appearance in Los Angeles would cause undue hardship.
Cochran did not state when his defense team might attempt to get Fuhrman on the stand, only offering that they hope to do it as soon as possible.
"It's impeachment," Cochran said. "We're going to demonstrate that a witness didn't tell the truth."
The screenwriter taped the conversations while working on a play called "Men Against Women" - the name of a Los Angeles Police Department group that was the subject of an internal investigation years ago.
Though some have suggested that Fuhrman's remarks were made in the context of a fictional character, Cochran said the bits of the tape he heard showed the detective expressing his own racist thoughts.
Braun said the true context will be known only by listening to the tapes and the frequency with which Fuhrman makes any racist statements.
If Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Lance Ito allows the tapes to be introduced as evidence, Braun said, "You've got corroboration for a conspiracy theory."
Braun noted that the ruling, along with defense experts offering jurors a way to discount or reject DNA evidence against Simpson, could mean serious problems for prosecutors.
The appellate ruling came as prosecutors in Los Angeles used a defense expert's fourth day of testimony to remind jurors of the DNA evidence pointing toward Simpson.
Prosecutor George "Woody" Clarke, concluding more than two days of cross-examination of Denver microbiologist John Gerdes, emphasized how dozens of blood evidence samples were tested and retested by various labs and subjected to numerous forms of blood analysis.
And in virtually all instances, Gerdes agreed, the control strips used to signal error in the testing process came up clean.