GATES AT ROCKINGHAM
[This is the third in a series of four articles that resulted from images captured from the Simpson interview videotape. To facilitate discussion, the figures in these four articles are numbered sequentially, Figures 1 thru 6 appear in the first article, 7 thru 18 in the second article, and 19 thru 25 here.]
ISSUES: The two principal issues in Simpson case discussions involving gates at Rockingham revolve around 1) the vehicle gate at the Rockingham street entrance to the driveway, and 2) the pedestrian gates on the south passageway. The Simpson interview tape gave images that are useful in answering questions on both topics, and both are considered here.
THE ROCKINGHAM VEHICLE GATE: Simpson's estate is on a corner, and his driveway goes from Ashford St. to Rockingham Ave.; there are hydraulically actuated and remotely controlled vehicle gates at both entrances. On the video tape, Simpson lectures about blood drops found near the Rockingham gate, goes outside and talks about the Bronco that was found parked there on the morning after the murders, then comes back in and stands near his Bentley and talks about what he was doing while waiting for the limo that Sunday night. In the course of this he demonstrates a pedestrian mode of operation for the Rockingham gate, though that does not seem to be his purpose, and he does not comment about it.
The sequence of interest begins in Figure 19 [RGATE.JPG] when the cameraman is in the street of Rockingham looking through the closed gate and into Simpson's driveway. To all appearances, the gate is completely and securely closed. (Simpson said in his civil trial deposition that before the firestorm of crowds descended on his house after the crimes, he seldom locked his gates.) In Figure 19 we see Simpson approaching his gate from the inside. In Figure 20 [RGATE1.JPG] he is opening it, and he does so without using a key, and apparently without unfastening a latch. It appears that the gate is designed so that gravity or a spring holds it slightly closed when it is not being deliberately operated, and only a small force is required to push it open.
Simpson is talking constantly during his traverses through the gate, and so it is possible to evaluate the sound made by the gate. In no case does it interfere with Simpson's talking, and generally it is not even noticeable, unless one deliberately listens for it. When Simpson opens the gate upon going out there might have been a slight whisper, as though the gate was brushing against some of the foliage by the edge of the gate.
After lecturing from the street, Simpson returns to the gate, which now appears to be securely closed, and opens it -- again without a key -- in Figure 21 [RGATE4.JPG]. This time there appears to be a slight click or rattle, but one could not hear that sound from the garage, I am sure, and it certainly could not be heard from the front porch where Park and Kato were during the time the limo was being loaded.
Simpson's statement that he seldom locked his gates before the crime needs some qualification. The gates were apparently locked on Rockingham on the morning after the crime, and the fact caused the police to send Fuhrman over the wall to open the gate from the inside and admit the others. It is possible that Simpson meant that in his pre-crime routine he usually left the gates open during the daytime, but locked them at night. Or, maybe he left the gates locked when he was out of town (as he also had the special precaution of having Gigi stay at the house overnight when he was away). However, once the gate was unlocked (or perhaps simply opened from the inside) it could be freely entered until locked again. We know this because Fuhrman tells us in his book that cops were easily going through that gate all of Monday morning.
RELEVANCE: It has been asserted in discussions in AFOJS that the only mode of operation for the gate was the powered mode in which a motor and hydraulic system in a box beside the driveway opened the gate upon an electric command. This command could be generated at the box, by a key from the outside on the gate pilaster, or by buttons on the intercom panels in the house. In any event, it was further asserted that the operation of the powered mode would have been loud enough that Park would have heard it from the Ashford gate while he was waiting for someone to let him in if Simpson came home through the Rockingham gate at 10:45, and it was also alleged that Simpson could not have (as he asserts) "gone out to his Bronco briefly" at about 11:10 while Kato and Park were near the front porch. It was argued than any such operation of the gate would have been heard.
It has also been asserted that Simpson made the trip to Bundy without his house keys, and so -- with the Rockingham gate locked when he left -- he would not be able to get back in. The simple observation of the tape show that all of these ideas are false. There was a physical method of using the gate whereby it was essentially silent, and it could be opened without a key.
Now, Simpson said in the civil trial that when he "went out to his Bronco" during the time when Kato and Park were near the porch he used the powered mode for the gate. In that event, there is a question of whether Kato and Park would have heard the power gate mechanism. (It was not demonstrated on the videotape.) It is possible that the powered mode is quiet enough that the two men would not have noticed it. It is also possible that Simpson is mistaken about how he went out his gate at that time and he used the manual, not the powered mode. (It seems a relatively small point to remember under the circumstances that most attention was presumably focused on getting the limo loaded and getting on the road for LAX to catch a plane.)
THE SOUTH WALK GATES: On and off over the years there has been discussion about the gates on the back walk. This arises because the testimony appears superficially to be in contradiction between the condition of the gates when Kato last saw them Sunday night and when Fuhrman first saw them Monday morning, and that contradiction appears to suggest that there was an unknown person on the back walkway (or one of the witnesses is testifying mistakenly).
Specifically, there are two chain link gates at issue. The "first gate" is six feet tall and can block the path at the place where the garage ends and the utility area begins. There is also a half height (3 feet tall) gate, the "second gate," where the utility area ends and the narrow walk behind the bungalows begins. Kato says that in his aborted investigation of the cause of the "three thumps" he went back there twice. On the first trip the first gate was closed (but broken) and he opened it and, since it was "broken off its hinges" leaned it against a tree; he only went about five feet farther and did not come to the second gate. On his second trip he went through the first gate opening and up almost to the second gate, but says he "did not open it." (Some people take that to mean that the second gate was closed when Kato was there, but he does not exactly say so.)
When Fuhrman came to the back walk a few hours later, he found the first gate was not in his way, and the second gate was "half open." The first controversy is whether there is a contradiction between the way Kato left the back walk and the way Fuhrman found it. Because of Kato's imprecise language, it is possible that when he encountered the second gate, it was as Fuhrman found it, "half open." Then when Kato says he did not open the second gate, what he meant was that he did not open it the rest of the way -- completely open. If this is the situation, then there is no contradiction, and no reason to think that some unknown person had been down that walk in the middle of the night. (Also, realize that when Kato was behind the house it was pitch dark there and he was frightened, equipped only with his puny pen light; Fuhrman had adequate seeing conditions.)
There is a second controversy, and that is the idea that if Simpson had been on the back walk making the noises against the wall that Kato heard, then exited along the pathway to the front yard, he would have passed both of these gates. It is claimed that in the dark Simpson would not have taken the care to close the second gate and that he could not have replaced the first gate which was broken off its hinges. (Simpson would have been in even a worse condition of seeing, since he did not have even a pen light.)
As to the second gate's position, there seems to be little effort or attention required to close a low gate behind oneself, so the fact that the second gate was "half closed" as Fuhrman found it does not seem remarkable -- even if Simpson had been back there. However, the problem of negotiating the first gate, "broken off its hinges" in the pitch dark seems more troubling at first glance. To better understand the situation, it is useful to understood how this "broken off its hinges" condition might come about. More than you ever wanted to know about chain link gates is illustrated in Figure 22 [HINGE.JPG].
"BROKEN OFF ITS HINGES": In Figure 22 we see a schematic diagram of the most common type of chain link gate hinge (around Southern California, at least). The gate assembly consists of a fixed "gatepost," a moveable "gate" and two "gate hinges" connecting the gate to the gatepost. The hinge consists of two parts; one part rigidly attaches to the gatepost, and the other part rigidly connects to the gate. The part that connects to the post has a pin (male part) and the part that connects to the gate has a socket (female part) and the two fit together (see Figure 22a).
In a correct installation (Figure 22b) the two hinges have opposite orientation; that is, the bottom hinge has the pin pointing upward and the top hinge has the pin pointing downward. In this way, the entire weight of the gate is born by the bottom hinge and the top hinge only resists the gravity torque tending to pull the outer edge of the gate down. But also, in this configuration, the top hinge prevents an upward force from removing the gate from the bottom hinge. The gate is "trapped" between the two hinges and can not be removed from the gate post without tools to unfasten the hinges. However, the nature of these hinges also allows a careless kind of installation in which both hinges are installed with both their pins pointing up. (For the uninitiated, that may appear to be the obvious way to use these hinges.) But, when a gate is installed in this way, it can easily be lifted off its hinges by hand. If this is done mistakenly, it is awkward to get the gate back over both pins, and a person might just set the bottom socket over the bottom pin, as shown in Figure 22c, and let the outer edge of the gate drag on the ground.
A person (Kato) encountering a gate in the condition of Figure 22c might describe it as being "off its hinges," and in the dark, when preoccupied by other thoughts, such a person might grasp the gate in both hands and lift it, in which case the gate would become completely detached from the gatepost, and then would truly be "off its hinges." However, it is also possible that a person (Simpson) encountering the same gate of Figure 22c would only apply enough upward force to the outer edge of the gate to keep it from dragging on the ground (particularly if he knew from experience the condition of the gate). In that case, he could open and close the gate without causing it to become separated from the gatepost.
I think that is what happened. Simpson went through the gate being careful, and was able -- with one hand -- to handle the gate with the Figure 22c configuration in such a way that he could open it on the inbound trip and close it on the outbound trip without taking it off the lower hinge. A few minutes later, klutzy, frightened Kato came through and manhandled the same gate in such a way it came off its hinges. In this way, there in no contradiction between the fact that Simpson made a trip down that walk to bang on Kato's wall and lose the glove, then a few minutes later Kato came though and found the gate closed and "off its hinges."
SEEING THE GATES: From the Simpson interview video we can see two gate rather clearly. But first, a detail that slightly bothered me from that production. In Figure 23 [GATE1.JPG] Simpson is just starting down the back walk and is just at the threshold of the steps going down to the garage side door. Notice that at his right elbow is a steel post about the diameter of a chain link gatepost. I thought at first that this was the location of the "first gate," but I did not see a gate associated with this post, so I am not sure what it is. But since I later found two other clear-cut and functioning gates, I consider that this was not the "first gate."
In Figure 24 [S_WALK09.JPG] we see Simpson in the utility area addressing the laundry room door; the camera is still beside the garage. Between the camera and Simpson, at the corner of the garage where the utility area begins, is a chain link gate and gatepost, apparently six feet tall. I take this to be the "first gate." I was very interested to notice that the top hinge on this gate is set with the pin pointing upward -- the incorrect way to install the gate, and inviting a careless use of the gate to take it off its hinges. I take this as confirmation that the theoretical explanation in the previous section to resolve the "gate off its hinges" issue did actually happen -- whether on this gate or another at the hypothetical location of Figure 23, that could have been incorrectly installed by the same careless workman.
In Figure 25 [S_WALK13.JPG]we see Simpson beginning down the narrow walk behind the bungalows. He has just left the utility area and the corner of the building where there is a low chain link gate, the "second gate." Notice that the latching gatepost is more toward the viewer (against a tree) than the hinge gatepost. Apparently, the walkway through here is so narrow that there is not width enough for a standard gate to fit square, and so the latch post is provided to catch the gate when it is about 30 degrees short of square with the building. Also notice that the gate is carelessly mounted to the gatepost, and is not parallel to it. In many ways Simpson seems to have had a casual attitude about his back walk gates.
REMAINING AMBIGUITY: Complicating the question of the location of the "first" and "second" gates is the fact that Kato is presented with a VERY crude prosecution exhibit (map) and asked to indicate the location of the first gate. He indicates a location that appears to be halfway between the gate of Figure 23 and that of Figure 24. This somewhat increases the credibility that the first gate was near the entry corner of the garage, in which case the gate of Figure 24 was simply "unmentioned" by the witnesses.
Also, the Simpson interview video gives a fleeting glimpse of a chain link panel behind the tree at the head of the steps leading to the back walk. This could be the first gate that Kato set against a tree, but we also note that there are several stray chain link panels in the utility area, so the back walk is a place of such things without their necessarily being gates. (There is no gate post for the location of Figure 23 on the garage side of the walk visible in the video.) In the end, we identify three locations that could be the two gates discussed in testimony. These locations are identified by their distance from the beginning of the path at the front of the garage, and their significance depends on whether one judges by the ambiguous images of the Simpson interview tape or the vague words in court...
Location By Kato's Testimony By Video Images
4' "First Gate" Unmentioned gate
36' Overlooked gate "First Gate"
67' "Second Gate "Second Gate"
CONCLUSION: After careful study of the images on the videotape, I could not find any factors that were inconsistent with the ideas that...
* Simpson came home from Bundy and went in the Rockingham gate without creating any noise for Park to hear.
* Simpson may have gone to his Bronco while Park and Kato were at the porch, without their hearing the gate. (However, I don't believe Simpson actually did this.)
* Simpson came and went to Kato's wall about 10:50, half closing the second gate, and being careful with the first gate to not let it off its remaining hinge. Kato came through a few minutes later, manhandled the first gate, got it loose from its hinge, and set it against the tree. On Kato's second trip, he went to but did not touch the second gate which Simpson had left "half open." When Fuhrman encountered the first gate it was as Kato had left it, and when Fuhrman encountered the second gate it was as Kato had also encountered it the night before. There are no contradictions or suspicious circumstances with the gates.
(The gates at Simpson's estate: much discussed, but nothing suspicious.)
Dick Wagner ( Van Nuys, CA (12/20/02) GATES.TXT