LAPD Criminalist Takes Stand in Simpson Trial
LOS ANGELES(AP) _ A police technician who has admitted mislabeling O.J. Simpson’s blood vial described for jurors Wednesday how evidence was handled, trying to fend off defense accusations of evidence tampering.
Collin Yamauchi, one of the first technicians to handle key evidence in the case, appeared nervous as he listed his credentials and gave jurors an overview of his limited experience in the area of DNA testing known as PCR.
Yamauchi said he has performed the tests in the Los Angeles Police Department crime laboratory for about 1 1-2 years and has testified in court about PCR just twice before Simpson’s murder trial.
During a hearing last summer, he portrayed himself as a careful technician who took great pains to avoid contaminating evidence. But he admitted that a vial of Simpson’s blood labeled No. 60 should have been No. 61.
``It was a clerical error,″ he said of the mistake, which has become a key element in the former football star’s defense.
Yamauchi also was one of the first police lab employees to take cuttings from a bloody glove found on Simpson’s estate. Experts have testified that the glove contained a mixture of blood from Simpson and victims Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman.
Yamauchi testified that the day after the murders, he was assigned to the case. He said he believed he was chosen because he had been taking courses in PCR and had worked at a private laboratory involved in DNA research before he joined the LAPD in 1990.
The criminalist’s long-awaited testimony was preceded by that of Department of Justice DNA expert Renee Montgomery, as well as a heated session of wrangling between two lawyers outside the jury’s presence over the proposed questioning of Yamauchi.
Also before Yamauchi took the stand, the judge threatened to bar a defense witness because prosecutors complained they had yet to receive the witness’ report from work he completed in January. The prosecution suggests the defense may have told the DNA witness, John Gerdes of Denver, not to write his report until the last minute.
Montgomery, a self-assured specialist in the field of PCR testing known as D1S80, testified that wishful thinking by the defense could not change crime lab results that incriminate Simpson.
``Can you make a 24,25 result look like an 18 by wishful thinking?″ prosecutor Rockne Harmon asked, referring to the numbers assigned to genetic markers of Ms. Simpson and her ex-husband.
``No,″ Montgomery said.
She defended her reading of DNA test ``gels″ as accurate and passed around to jurors the X-ray films on which she based her conclusions. The jurors, who have been schooled in DNA jargon and science over the past two weeks, held the films up to the light to examine them.
The panelists, however, appeared to be wearying of the minutia of DNA testimony, and Judge Lance Ito warned Harmon outside the jury’s presence that his occasional sarcastic questioning wasn’t making a hit with jurors _ or with the judge.
``Mr. Harmon,″ Ito said, ``as much as I enjoy your style, I don’t know if you were watching the jury, but when you asked the question, `Can amplicons suddenly turn left,′ did you see the look on the jurors faces when you said that?″
``You know, I’m old enough to appreciate what I do. And I appreciate your observation, your honor, and I understand,″ Harmon said.
With jurors present, Montgomery disputed the facts on a defense chart that showed Simpson’s blood had been identified on only one spot on the leather glove _ an area around the wrist notch. Under Harmon’s guidance, she used a computer display to draw a red circle-slash mark on the notation showing there were no Simpson genetic markers anywhere else on the glove.
Defense attorney Robert Blasier, pushing the theory that the blood was planted, asked Montgomery why testing would show Simpson’s blood only at the wrist and not on the palm or fingers of the glove.
``Have you ever taken a pair of leather gloves off by pulling them off at the wrist?″ Blasier asked. Ito sustained an objection and it was never answered.
The defense has attacked DNA test results as irrelevant, contending that it was planted by police or contaminated when it was collected and handled by sloppy technicians.
With no eyewitnesses to the June 12 slayings, prosecutors have built their case on the DNA tests that show Simpson’s genetic fingerprints were in blood near the bodies and the victims’ genetic fingerprints were on evidence in and around Simpson’s estate.