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Let's take it slow, said Vannatter. He knew the case was a big one, perhaps the biggest in his career. He and his partner Tom Lange were popular, old-time cops who worked hard and enjoyed a drink or two, spending nights at the Central Cafe in a grimy section of downtown. But Lange and Vannatter were also known as "Mutts" or "Dumb and Dumber"--by the D.A.s who had to work around their sloppiness in court. By the luck of the duty roster, Lange and Vannatter were called to the crime scene shortly after midnight on June 13. Some homicide investigators are so meticulous that they record their arrival at a crime scene with a video camera, making sure that nothing is touched and preserving that fact for posterity. Not so Lange and Vannatter--and for that matter Fuhrman, who linked up with them later that night.
BUNGLING THE CHASE
ON THE MORNING OF JUNE 17, CRIMINAL defense attorney Robert Shapiro informed O.J. Simpson that he would be arrested for the murders of his ex-wife and Ronald Goldman. "Mr. Simpson looked depressed and under a lot of pressure," said Henry Lee, who arrived that morning with fellow criminologist Michael Baden at the house of Simpson buddy Robert Kardashian to start sifting through evidence. The last either scientist had seen of Simpson, he had gone upstairs to say goodbye to his family; the next thing they knew, the suspect had vanished with his friend A.C. Cowlings. According to a confidential interoffice memorandum from the D.A.'s office, Simpson's cellular-phone records show that three calls were received or placed from a location near the cemetery where Nicole was buried. In a nontaped interview, Cowlings told police he saw a marked police vehicle near the cemetery when they arrived there and hid the Bronco in an orange grove.
At 6:25 p.m., however, two motorists spotted the white Bronco on the San Diego Freeway and called the police. The infamous chase then ensued--with one until now unpublicized stop. According to the D.A.'s memo, Cowlings, who was driving the car, pulled the Bronco over after police ordered him to stop. The cops, however, drew their guns as they approached the car. "F--- no!" yelled Cowlings, slamming his fist against the driver's door. "He's got a gun to his head," he screamed, referring to O.J., and then sped off. The pursuit resumed until the Bronco ended up at Rockingham, where Simpson and Cowlings were taken into custody.
Potentially incriminating evidence taken from the Bronco would never make it into court, including $8,750 in cash and six checks in a sealed envelope, items that might have been used to argue that Simpson was planning to flee the country (he had his passport with him). Lange and Vannatter, however, entered those items not as evidence but as the property of Cowlings--who was not charged with a crime. Reversing the designation would make the items procedurally suspect--and open to attack--as exhibits in court. "The detectives' decision to book the cash as Cowlings' personal property and not as evidence would be damaging to prosecution at trial," concluded the internal memo, dated Oct. 27, 1994. The chase, which was never mentioned to the jury, was a "mixed bag,'' according to prosecutor William Hodgman. "If you knew some of the evidence we were dealing with, you would understand what the cost-benefit analysis was."
DARDEN AND CLARK