Good cop? Bad cop? | SierraSun.com
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Good cop? Bad cop?

Bill Kunerth

For years, former Los Angeles Police Department Detective Mark Fuhrman blended in with tourists and locals during his regular visits to North Tahoe.But after his controversial testimony in the O.J. Simpson trial thrust him into the national spotlight, Fuhrman’s anonymity vanished.Sierra Sun senior publisher Bill Kunerth caught up with Fuhrman at Gar Woods Grill & Pier this summer and took the opportunity to ask a few questions about the infamous murders, Fuhrman’s new book, the LAPD and life after O.J.As a cop, Mark Fuhrman was more than prepared when he received a call to investigate a double homicide in Brentwood on June 13, 1994.Fuhrman, who was born in Tacoma, Wash., joined the LAPD after serving in the Marine Corps, where he rose to the rank of sergeant. In the police academy, he graduated second in his class. As a beat cop, he spent four years working in the rough neighborhoods of South Central Los Angeles and was promoted to detective status in 1988. In total, he spent 20 years on the police force and received 55 commendations.But nothing could prepare Fuhrman for the series of events that would follow that fateful day.History will remember Fuhrman for his pivotal testimony in the O.J. Simpson murder trial. The public will likely forever remember him as the cop who lied about saying the “n” word.Fuhrman remembers the murder scene and his role in the infamous trial in his recent book Murder in Brentwood.In his book, Fuhrman said he and his partner, Detective Brad Roberts, were first on the crime scene. Fuhrman, having no initial idea of who was involved or who the victims were, said he systematically reviewed the crime scene, taking detailed notes.When lead detectives Phil Vannatter and Thomas Lange took over the case, Fuhrman handed the notes to the detectives who took over the investigation.According to Fuhrman, his notes indicated that there was a distinguishable bloody fingerprint on the lockset of the Bundy residence. Fuhrman contends, however, that Lange never looked at the notes and did not realize until three weeks after the murders that the fingerprint had not been examined.Fuhrman also said that he and Detective Roberts found an open Swiss Army knife box in O.J. Simpson’s bathroom, but this piece of evidence was never pursued.Fuhrman, who now makes his home on a ranch in Sandpoint, Idaho, agreed to an interview with the Sierra Sun in June.The following comments are highlights from Kunerth’s conversation with Fuhrman:SS: What brings you to Lake Tahoe?Fuhrman: I have good friends from Napa Valley who have a cabin here. I’ve always liked Lake Tahoe and have been coming up here 12 years on a regular basis. When the Simpson fiasco isn’t going on, I usually come up twice a year.SS: You recently came out with the book Murder in Brentwood. What inside information or insights do you have in your book that the others don’t?Fuhrman: This is the only complete book about the investigation. Detectives Lange and Vannatter wrote theirs to basically come up with excuses of why they didn’t take evidence, why evidence wasn’t looked at, why search warrants were bad and why interrogations were incomplete and incompetent. And I don’t have to do that, because no matter what anybody says about me, I was a good detective.SS: Is there one single point where this case was lost by the investigating team of Vannatter and Lange?Fuhrman: Yes. When Vannatter stuffed my notes in his briefcase and never read them. We had a fingerprint in blood. You don’t have to be a detective to understand something. You’ve got a fingerprint that everybody has recognized for decades as absolute ID. Now it’s in the guy’s own blood and DNA’s got to be what, one in 57 billion? I mean how much more inclusive can you get?Now if you have that and you’re the defense attorney, how are you going to explain, because it, one, puts that cut finger occurring at that night, at that time, and he’s at the scene now. It’s not just blood, it’s not a drop, it’s his fingerprint. It’s not somebody dropping a vial of blood. What do you do? You either make an excuse that he was there and trying to help the victims when they were being assaulted, or you cop a plea. but you are in very, very, muddy water right then.SS: Even with the tainted evidence, didn’t the prosecution still have a mound of evidence to still use in the case? Where did they go wrong?Fuhrman: The prosecution had to first live with what Vannatter and Lange brought them. They lost the fingerprint, they wrote a terrible search warrant, they lost half the evidence at Rockingham, they made a terrible judgment on the knife they ignored the evidence of the Swiss Army knife, which was so powerful.(There was evidence of) him acquiring a bag full of (Swiss Army) knives three days before the murder and his statement (to the chauffeur) that this knife, and he unfolds one ‘this knife could hurt someone this knife could kill someone.’Those things with the knife box and no knife are more powerful than having the bloody knife with all the victims’ blood on it in his house, an empty box of the very knife that fits in that box, that he acquired three days ago, but is not there matches all the wounds to the body. Now the obvious question is ‘Where is the knife, Mr. Simpson?’ Its absence, but evidence of its presence, is more powerful than finding it because it implicates his guilt.I think they (the prosecution) were overconfident at the mountain of evidence they had DNA wise I think they were overconfident and they relied too heavily on the DNA and they didn’t really address issues that became big sticking points.SS: The defense accused you of planting the glove and the LAPD of conspiracy in planting evidence. How do you refute that?Fuhrman: Oh, it’s easy. I’m the only person who couldn’t have done it. Even if it was possible. I found the bloody fingerprint. I put it in my notes. I made documented proof of a person who was there. Whether it was the suspect, another victim or a witness they were there, right? They had blood on them. That means they were at the murder, or shortly thereafter and bleeding themselves. I’m the only one who brought forth a piece of evidence that would make it absolutely impossible for me to even think of tampering with anything.But once Vannatter and Lange don’t read the notes, you lose the fingerprint, and that becomes a lost issue. Marcia Clark can’t do anything with it. Clark admits they didn’t read my notes, which means they fessed up to her, which eliminates that whole argument, because then, ‘OK. What happened to the fingerprint?’ (And the response is:) ‘Well, we didn’t read the notes.’ Now their two lead detectives are incompetent. But at every corner they had to do that. If you did any research, you’ll find that my testimony stopped with my discovery of the glove. Why? I’m making observations that whole day.SS: What went through your mind when you found the glove?Fuhrman: The first thing I thought of? I mean youlook at it and think ‘some old gardening glove.’ I mean this is it can’t be. You look closer and it isn’t dirty. It looks damp. It looks sticky and it looks like the glove at Bundy. Who left it here? And then it kind of hits you like when your face flushes with blood, like when fear hits you. Like that. Is somebody watching? Did somebody leave that there six hours ago? Ten hours? Five minutes ago? Or five seconds? So when I walked past the air conditioner and hit spider webs, that means nobody’s walking upright. I see no drag marks, but I still have to check it out.SS: When did you start thinking that O.J. was a suspect?Fuhrman: He became a suspect as soon as I found the glove. I was standing out in the driveway and Detective Phillips came out and he told me, because he had talked to Simpson on the phone, that Simpson left last night around 11 o’clock. We already knew what time the Akita was found and probably bracketed some of the time of death. We just looked at each other. We both thought the same thing. I mean could this be possible that O.J. Simpson is a suspect? Because we’ve got blood at his house, we’ve got a bloody glove in the back, we’ve got him not here him leaving at 11 o’clock, and there’s blood on his Bronco. He’s a suspect. And if he’s not a suspect he needs to be interviewed because he knows who the suspect is. So, of course, everything focused on him from that point.SS: What do you think happened on the night of the murders?Fuhrman: We know he stalked, and controlled her. We know he hid out in front of her house. This is all post-murder information. He had a stocking cap, which is not incredibly suspicious since half the city of Los Angeles wears a stocking cap when they’re out at night. The gloves, I can’t say why he would or wouldn’t wear gloves. Maybe his hands got cold. We know he had arthritis, maybe that bothered him. He’s going to be sitting in the bushes watching her with a date. Candles are burning.If he went over to stalk her, like I truly believe he did, a lot of people say, ‘What about the knife?’ Well, the stiletto wasn’t the murder weapon. That’s absolute. The Swiss Army knife was. My wife has one, I have one, everybody I know has one. O.J. was a spokesman (for the manufacturer of Swiss Army knives). The knife isn’t too hard to explain. I’ve used a knife of similar size to get into every metal gate that I ever responded to at an apartment building or house that’s got a metal gate, so I didn’t have to let the people know I’m there.I think Nicole was inside in the upper family room, and she heard him park in the back. The reason I concluded this is that there was a phone up there and on the coffee table there was one menu from California Pizza Kitchen. That struck me as odd because there’s another menu that’s underneath her right leg. Lange blew that off as a takeout menu that somebody put in the yard.She was looking at both menus, she saw him, she bolted for that door with that menu in her hand. She got outside, she threw the door open, she walked outside and he’s there.The medical examiner said she was struck on the top of her head. Three feet away there’s a stationary fence with a big metal pipe fence. If he would’ve shoved her and she hit the top of her head on there, it would’ve looked almost exactly the same as a blunt-force injury. She would’ve bounced off and landed exactly where she ended up.If that truly happened, (Ron) Goldman is the one he hears coming up. He hides in the bushes, Goldman runs in, sees her down, sees no blood and cradles her head cradles her head to see what’s wrong. Twenty-five hairs (of hers were found) on his (Goldman’s) shirt. Where did he get those? He just came from work. He got them because he cradled her head. Simpson sees this. This is her lover; we know he’s got an incredibly – raging doesn’t even sound sufficient – but he is out of control.He comes down there, wraps his left arm around Goldman while he’s down there. Now Goldman is on the defense. He doesn’t have a knife, he’s got a guy choking him, he goes for the arm choking him and pulls the glove off. The left glove goes down, and he reaches back for (Simpson’s) head and stocking cap. The fight’s on. (Goldman) is stabbed in the right side of his body, which shows he had his arm up. He’s trying to pull the arm off, and he gets stabbed three times. Simpson cuts his throat and cuts his own finger in the process.(Goldman) was stabbed within 10 seconds on the right side, and one of them was lethal. So he’s already bleeding badly and not only that but his right lung is punctured. It’s over in a minute.SS: Then Simpson went over to Nicole?Fuhrman: He had to because the fight wasn’t in her blood. He had to, because her throat was cut through to the spine. That would’ve put out enough blood that people would’ve described it as gallons, and they would’ve fought in that blood. Had they fought in that blood, they would’ve fallen down.I think he went back to Goldman to make sure he was dead after he killed Nicole. You’ve got the heel print that’s definitely in her blood.SS: Could Robert Shapiro have won the case without bringing in Johnny Cochran?Fuhrman: Yes, with that jury. This is where hindsight comes in, because I actually thought the jury would do the right thing. But in hindsight when I listen to them I realize that, one, we were asking them to do something – and I still think they should do it, because it’s their job or else don’t be on a jury – but we were asking them to go back to areas of the city that looked at O.J. Simpson as the No. 1 black hero in this country. And we are asking them to go out there, convict him and send him away to life in prison. I don’t think it was going to happen. That is not the criminal justice system, it’s not even the jury system. It comes down to what kind of people have we created that will allow murder to be less than ‘I like football.’SS: How much effect did the Rodney King trial have on the O.J. case?Fuhrman: I think it had a lot of effect, but it had absolutely nothing to do with it. I think Rodney King has absolutely nothing to do with race.SS: Give me your play on that incident. Were you on the force during the Rodney King beating?Fuhrman: It looks bad, but tell me a good way to beat up somebody. This is my play as a citizen: Rodney King is driving down the freeway – I don’t care if it’s 75 or 175, because he’s driving erratically and 75 is too fast for that little car he was driving. He attracts the attention of the police, and the police try to pull him over. He doesn’t pull over, so they’re in pursuit. They get the car stopped and his two friends are also black. They take them into custody without incident. But Rodney King wants to fight.There’s a point where adrenaline and maybe size comes in and yeah, there’s a point where – and I’m not saying they did or they didn’t because I have not seen the tape from beginning to end and I did not hear all the evidence – but from what I know from being involved in a lot of situations is, yes, there can be times when somebody goes one too far with one too many kicks or punches or whatever. That comes down to being human but they didn’t stimulate this. It wasn’t like the police are driving along and say, ‘Oh, let’s go talk to that guy. Let’s start shoving him around, let’s take him.’ That’s not what it was. These guys are just going to get a cup of coffee and this guy comes (roaring by) and they pull him over.So he wasn’t singled out because he was black. He singled himself out for being a jerk. So, Rodney King for whatever reason, PCP, mental illness, a lack of judgment, he wants to fight.SS: But you wouldn’t condone the beating?Fuhrman: I wasn’t there and I haven’t even heard the audio of the commands. I haven’t heard what was going on. But I think a lot of people better understand that if we still had the choke hold in the LAPD, this would’ve been a 10-second incident. Just somebody take out his lights, another guy get on him, choke him out, handcuff him and put him in the car. Over.SS: You worked in the ghettos. What is that experience like and is there mistrust between the neighborhood people and the cops?Fuhrman: No. Good people of any minority want you chasing down the gang members, drug dealers, burglars and robbers. And, yes, they’re not going to come out and be an informant, but they’ll help you out when they can. They want you there, whether they say so or not.It’s easy to work the ghetto, because it’s very clear who the good people are and who’s just out there and you know they are doing something but you can’t put your finger on it.The good people of any community are at home watching TV and the kids are doing their homework and you don’t see them. You work day watch and you see them. I worked day watch for about four months in the 77th division and you get invited in for coffee and talk to people in their front yard. They’re having a barbecue and you get invited in. The people are just like you. It doesn’t matter what color, but you don’t see that at night. Predominantly, 12 years out of 13, I worked nights.A lot of people are held hostage in the ghetto. There’s reasons there’s bars on the windows, there’s a reason people don’t turn their light on or look out the window when they hear gunshots. I feel sorry for those people.SS: In your book, Chris Darden asked half kiddingly, ‘Now you haven’t used that word in the last 10 years?’ So he was preparing you for that testimony. When they, the defense team, asked you if you had used the “n” word in the last 10 years, you said you hadn’t. Why did you respond like that?Fuhrman: First thing is it had nothing to do with the tapes. I hadn’t even thought of those in years. I hadn’t even thought of the screenplay selling. We had an agent. It was copyrighted. It was done. It just wasn’t going anywhere. I hadn’t even thought of that, but people ask how could you not? But it’s not like you murdered someone and buried them in a shallow grave. It’s like I was writing a fictional screenplay. That’s a freebie, and you say whatever. It’s like, would you worry about what you wrote in your diary? It’s not something that haunted me or weighed on me heavily. I never thought about it, and if I did I would’ve told the prosecutors.SS: If you had to do it over again, how would you have testified?Fuhrman: Of course I would’ve said ‘yes’ but now you have an LAPD detective there admitting he uses the word in L.A. that everybody hates the most. And where’s my career going? Doesn’t make any difference.SS: What are the ramifications of your no contest plea (to the perjury charge)?Fuhrman: Of course probation. I have to obey all laws, and of course I did that. That’s not a tough one to follow. I can’t vote. I can’t have guns. I have to notify my parole officer if I’m going out of state. There are inconveniences. Yes, I’ve never been in the woods since I was eight years old without a rifle. Yes, I’ve hunted all my life. But you know, what’s the old saying, ‘I complained I didn’t have shoes until I saw a man with no legs.’ You pick up the pieces and you just go on. I’ll do something about it in the future. If I get a pardon that’s fine. But for the very least I’ll get my record expunged.SS: What’s the toughest question you’re asked and how do you respond to it?Fuhrman: “Do you miss being a cop?” It’s one of those questions when asked I think about all the partners I had. Think of all the good times. Think of all the satisfaction I got from catching guys. I loved the chase. I just love tracking people down. I was going to do that in the private sector. I even had an offer to be an international bounty hunter, too. That was kind of a loose one (laughing.)SS: What are you doing now, and are you getting your life put back together? What’s the future of Mark Fuhrman?Fuhrman: I might write another book about another real homicide. It’s the only way I can be a detective. And I’ll be really frank about this, I don’t need it. I don’t need to have notoriety. I don’t need to be on TV, but if somebody thinks I can write something of value analyzing or breaking down a case that’s already been solved or never been solved, it would be really rewarding for me.SS: You’re now living in Sandpoint and have a farm?Fuhrman: I could spend everyday working on that place, riding horses, working on tack, taking care of the animals. That’s a full-time job. I’ve got something to do and I’ll always have something to do.


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