A bitter courtroom dispute over the introduction of new defense witnesses threw the O.J. Simpson murder trial into turmoil again today, delaying the rest of the defense's opening statement as prosecutors accused Simpson's lawyers of violating trial rules and "cynically manipulating" the jury.
Prosecutor Marcia Clark angrily charged that defense attorney Johnnie L. Cochran Jr., by invoking in his opening statement Wednesday witnesses whose names had been withheld until the last minute, had "sandbagged" the prosecution and seriously damaged the case against Simpson, who is charged with murdering his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ronald L. Goldman, last June 12.
In unusually strong language even for a trial with such a high emotional pitch, Clark called Cochran's courtroom behavior on Wednesday "disgusting," adding that it was "appalling to me as an officer of the court."
In response, Cochran accused the prosecution of seeking to hobble the defense by unfairly restricting his opening statement and his ability to try the case. "There is no misconduct in this case," Cochran told Judge Lance A. Ito. "They can't stand the truth."
Clark asked Ito to admonish the jury to disregard the defense's "mystery" witnesses and to allow the prosecution to reopen its opening statement in rebuttal. She also asked for a 30-day continuance to give the prosecution time to investigate the dozen or more additional witnesses, several of whom Cochran mentioned to the jury yesterday.
Ito, saying he needed time to reread Cochran's opening statement, did not rule on Clark's requests but instead recessed the court until Monday. The judge said he would issue a ruling possibly as soon as late Friday and that Cochran could resume his opening statement on Monday. Ito ordered attorneys for both sides to submit proposals for the language he should use if he decides to admonish the jury to disregard the disputed witnesses and their statements.
The 12 jurors and 10 alternates in the case spent the day in a courthouse waiting room while lawyers on both sides attacked each other in harsh and indignant words. The atmosphere was in marked contrast to the quieter, more soft-spoken approach the lawyers had used in addressing the jury in opening statements earlier in the week.
Clark, in asking for sanctions, said Cochran had "carefully and cynically weighed the consequences of his misrepresentations" and had decided to invoke the additional witnesses to the jury because the defense has adopted a win-at-all-costs strategy in an effort to win an acquittal for Simpson.
Prosecutor Christopher Darden charged that the witnesses mentioned in Cochran's opening statement included "heroin addicts, thieves, felons . . . and a court-certified pathological liar." He went as far as to suggest that the defense "Dream Team" had come close to violating the California Bar Association's rules of professional conduct.
Darden said that during a court recess this afternoon, defense attorney F. Lee Bailey had told him that it looked to him as if the prosecution were seeking a mistrial. "I don't want a mistrial. I like the 12 jurors we have. I like our case. I like our chances," Darden said.
Darden described as a particularly "low blow and a cheap shot" Cochran's "waving in front of the jury" the sealed mystery envelope that the defense turned over to the court before last year's preliminary hearing. The envelope's contents have never been officially disclosed, but Darden said today that it contains "an unspecified knife, as I understand it."
On Wednesday, defense lawyer Robert L. Shapiro said in court that defense investigators had found the contents of the envelope and that Cochran had not intended to open it in front of the jury but had only planned to use it to demonstrate that the police detectives' "incompetence was so gross that they overlooked an essential piece of evidence."
Responding to Clark and Darden, defense attorney Carl Douglas said that because the dignity of the American judicial system was, in effect, on trial in front of a worldwide television audience, he would not "dignify the often vile, insidious and long-winded comments" made by Darden.
Douglas said the prosecution itself had dumped more than 200 additional witnesses on the defense last month and had been sanctioned by Ito. To complain with "histrionics" that the defense was now doing the same thing, he said, was "laughable, clearly laughable."
The latest in a series of bizarre developments in the celebrated case began to unfold last night when prosecutor William Hodgman, who had raised heated objections to a last-minute submission of a new witness list by the defense, was taken to the California Medical Center suffering chest pains. Hodgman had been scheduled to argue in an evidence hearing this morning that the new witnesses be excluded from the trial and that Ito cite the defense for "egregious" misconduct for not giving the prosecution the witness list earlier as required by California's evidence discovery rules. Hodgman had been so agitated in court Wednesday that he had asked for time to catch his breath.
Under the discovery rules, the defense was required to honor the prosecution's demand for the names, addresses, phone numbers and sworn statements of all of its prospective witnesses. Prosecutors said the defense in many instances had provided only names, with no further indication of who the witnesses were or what they would testify.
Prosecutor Clark today objected to Cochran resuming his opening statement before Ito had ruled on the admissibility of the new witnesses' expected testimony. She said Cochran already had mentioned several of the new witnesses in his opening statement on Wednesday, in violation of court rules, and that she needed a continuance in order to produce written objections to those witnesses and others on the list.
Among the new witnesses mentioned by Cochran to the jury was a woman who told defense lawyers that while walking near Nicole Simpson's home near the alleged time of the killings she saw four men -- two of whom appeared to be Hispanic -- acting suspiciously before they sped away in a car.
Without mentioning any corroborating evidence, Cochran suggested that the men could have been undercover policemen because they left in an "unmarked" car, and that the men could also have been following Goldman.
Darden said today the woman, identified as Mary Anne Gerghas, has nine lawsuits pending, had allegedly passed $10,000 in bad checks and had defrauded the Marriott hotels of $23,000 by not paying room bills. Saying the witness "may not be the real Mary Anne Gerghas," Darden said the prosecution would need 30 days to investigate her.
Cochran, noting that Hodgman had interrupted his opening statement with 13 objections Wednesday, today told the judge the prosecution was "filibustering" in an effort to delay the completion of his opening statement. "I get to go back up there" and complete the statement, Cochran said. "They're not going to like that."
His voice rising in anger, Cochran declared, "They cannot shut me up, your honor. . . . They cannot get inside my head. They're constantly trying to shackle me." "Now they want to get in our briefcases. They would come home with us if they could. This is a stall," he said.
Calling the witness list controversy "much ado about nothing," Cochran said the prosecution's resources include the entire Los Angeles Police Department and 900 lawyers. "Yet they come whimpering to this court that they didn't know something," he added.
Defense attorney Douglas on Wednesday took personal responsibility for the late documents, saying they were lost among 22,000 other documents. He said he agreed that some kind of sanction was in order. CAPTION: Prosecutor Christopher Darden, left, accused O.J. Simpson's lead defense attorney Johnnie L. Cochran Jr., right, of "a low blow and a cheap shot." CAPTION: TRIAL UPDATE DEVELOPMENTS YESTERDAY IN THE SIMPSON CASE THE PROSECUTION: Prosecutors decried the "unfairness" of defense tactics in the double-murder trial of O.J. Simpson and asked Judge Lance A. Ito:
*To allow a 30-day continuance to investigate the additional witnesses;
*To strike defense remarks Wednesday based on witnesses added at the last minute;
*And to allow the prosecution to reopen its opening statements.
Both sides are legally required to share information in a timely manner. Prosecutor Christopher Darden stopped short of asking for a mistrial or that members of the "Dream Team" defending Simpson be cited for contempt. THE DEFENSE: Opening statements by lead defense attorney Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. remained suspended while the court wrangled over the defense's last-minute release of its full witness list. Cochran defended the list in court as merely the first opportunity for airing of evidence favorable to Simpson. Stating he would never intentionally mislead the court, Cochran asked Ito to "allow me to get back to that jury without any unreasonable delay." Defense attorney Carl Douglas called the new witnesses on the list a "clear and understandable mistake." THE JUDGE: Ito recessed court until noon EST Monday to consider the prosecution's arguments. He told the defense to be prepared to continue its opening statement at that time. HOSPITALIZED ATTORNEY: Prosecutor William Hodgman, admitted to Torrance Medical Center late Wednesday complaining of chest pains, showed no evidence of heart disease and would return to work next week, according to doctors. His wife, court reporter Janet Hodgman, said her husband had been working on the case seven days a week.