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Nicole Brown Simpson

January 24, 2012 by staff 

Nicole Brown SimpsonNicole Brown Simpson, Philip Vannatter, who as a Los Angeles police detective helped lead the investigation of the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald L. Goldman in 1994 and who was a major prosecution witness in the failed attempt to convict O. J. Simpson of the crime, died on Friday in Santa Clarita, Calif. He was 70. The cause was cancer, said his wife, Rita.

Detective Vannatter was a 25-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department and no stranger to high-profile crimes — he arrested the film director Roman Polanski in 1977 on charges of having unlawful sex with an under-age girl — when he was called before dawn to the home of Ms. Simpson in the Brentwood neighborhood on June 13, 1994. There he found the slashed bodies of Ms. Simpson, the former wife of Mr. Simpson, the football star and broadcaster; and an acquaintance, Mr. Goldman.

After surveying the scene, Detective Vannatter and three other detectives — Mark Fuhrman, Ronald Phillips and Tom Lange, who was the other lead investigator — visited Mr. Simpson at his home nearby in order to tell him of his former wife’s death, Detective Vannatter testified.

Mr. Simpson was not at home, but Detective Fuhrman found blood spots on Mr. Simpson’s car, a white Ford Bronco, parked in front of the house. Concerned for Mr. Simpson’s safety, he and Detective Vannatter later said, Detective Fuhrman leapt a fence and opened a gate to let the other detectives onto the property. Shortly thereafter, Detective Fuhrman found a piece of evidence that was featured crucially in the trial — a bloody glove. (A matching glove had been found at the crime scene.)

Much of what happened among the investigators that morning — as well as when Detectives Lange and Vannatter questioned Mr. Simpson — was criticized in the news media and used by defense lawyers to paint a portrait of an inept and vindictive police team that had decided that Mr. Simpson was the killer and that may have fabricated evidence to gain a conviction.

Tape recordings proved that Detective Fuhrman had lied when he said he never used offensive language to refer to blacks, and the defense raised the suspicion that he had planted the glove. Detective Vannatter’s testimony that Mr. Simpson was not yet a suspect when they first visited the house was widely disbelieved, and his and Detective Lange’s interrogation of Mr. Simpson was criticized as lacking thoroughness; it lasted only 32 minutes, and they failed to press Mr. Simpson after he gave vague and elusive statements.

Detectives Vannatter and Lange defended their work in a 1997 book, “Evidence Dismissed,” written with Dan E. Moldea, saying that the documentation they provided for Mr. Simpson’s guilt was a solid “mountain of evidence” and that defense lawyers, led by the flamboyant Johnnie L. Cochran Jr., “used a handful of police errors and the racist views of one rogue detective, Mark Fuhrman, to create a courtroom firestorm that, in the eyes of the jury, caused our ‘mountain of evidence’ to melt down like a cup of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.”

Philip Lewis Vannatter was born on April 18, 1941, in Griffithsville, W.Va. His father was a coal miner who died when Philip was a boy. He moved with his mother to Culver City, Calif., when he was 14. He went to Santa Monica College and later Humboldt State University, where he played football, but left after his junior year. He was working at an auto parts store when he met a nurse, Rita Freeman, and soon married her. He served in the Army in South Korea, and after his discharge in 1968 he enrolled in the Los Angeles Police Academy.

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