Today, technology brought out of the past the voice of a man who has just learned he is suspected of trying to kill his wife.
The voice on the tape recorder in Newport County Superior Court belonged to Claus von Bulow, the former barrister who stands accused of twice trying to murder his wife by injecting her with insulin. He was formally charged this past July, but before that, in April, he was visited twice by detectives in his homes in New York and Newport. Today, in a pretrial hearing, the defense tried to suppress the statements he made to those investigators.
It was not a good day for the defense. In late afternoon they lost a bid to suppress the state's critical evidence -- a little black bag containing, in addition to sedatives, a used hypodermic needle with traces of insulin.
And in the morning, as Judge Thomas H. Needham continued to hear evidence regarding von Bulow's interrogation by police, von Bulow was required to sit -- under the scrutiny of a television camera as well as of the press -- and hear the tape of himself stammering to state policemen.
It was a task he bore with apparent tension. He twirled a pencil in front of his face, he smiled a faint, tight smile. The smile seemed to relax only once, when there was a discrepancy between tape and transcript. On the brief portion of the tape he heard, he was asked repeatedly by police if he wanted an attorney. He demurred.
At some spots the voice on the tape stammered; it stopped; it changed in mid-sentence. It also was cultivated, the voice of a man trying to remain calm.
"I had no idea when you came to see me in New York," the accented voice said, "the nature of the investigation or the charges that you are mentioning to me now... That is taking me aback..."
Later the voice was conciliatory.
"Let's see how we get along," it said. "I certainly want to cooperate at this stage."
The importance of the statements, in which von Bulow tells police he obtained the used syringes by having "snitched" them from his wife's bag, is considered minimal by the prosecution. Von Bulow's statements, said assistant district attorney Stephen Famiglietti, are "self-serving." Without the black bag, however, he had said the state might consider dropping the case.
The black bag is now part of the evidence. Opening arguments and a tour of the von Bulow mansion are scheduled to take place Thursday.
The press will not go along on the tour. The von Bulows "were extremely private people," the defense had argued last week. "When people wanted to come and photograph homes, fine homes, they always declined."
Nonetheless, people will know something about the house, the press having already made note of the two Gainsborough paintings in the front room and the chair allegedly made for King George III. Helicopters with telephoto lenses have circled the mansion for the networks, flashing back aerial views. Theoretically, the networks will be able to cut from those to the accused, in his defendant's chair -- innocent until proved otherwise, but for now, a captive of technology.