MANDEL/AARONSON CONTRIBUTION

 


During the defense case, several witnesses were presented to create doubt concerning the time of the murder, specifically, to make it appear to be as late as possible. In "FENJVES/PILNAK CONTRADICTION" we considered one of those, and here we consider another.

THE BLIND DATE: Danny Mandel is a young man who works in the accounting department of Sony Pictures, and at the time of the trial had been accepted to return to college to augment his BA in sociology with an MBA. He is single, and his (unnamed) doctor had "fixed him up" on a blind date with another of his patients, a single young woman who lived in Nicole's neighborhood, Ellen Aaronson. She also works in the entertainment industry, produced videos for children and was involved in toy licensing of Power Rangers. This was their first -- and at the time of their testimony a year later, their only -- date.

Mandel arrived at Aaronson's apartment on Darlington, a block and a half south and a nearly a block east of Nicole's condo, a little after eight. Since Ellen was living with two roommates, the apartment was not a place conducive for schmoozing, and the hour was late, so they left quickly to go to dinner. Danny asked if there was a place in the neighborhood, Ellen suggested the Mezzaluna, and they went to Danny's car. Before they left in the car, however, Ellen suggested that the restaurant was so close (it is about three blocks) that they could walk, so they walked, arriving at the Mezzaluna about 8:30.

Service was slow, and it was not until nearly 10:00 when they had finished and the waitress told them that her shift was over, and she would like to close out the bill. (At that point, Aaronson says, she looked at her watch and it was 9:50.) Mandel offered his credit card and a few minutes later the waitress brought back a receipt -- shown in court -- which was time stamped 9:55 (after making a correction for daylight savings time.) The couple talked for "ten or fifteen minutes," and then left the restaurant by the back door. Mandel realized he had forgotten his keys and returned briefly to retrieve them. They then set out to walk home. They walked west on Gorham, and after a block reached Westgate. A left turn there would have been the most direct route to Aaronson's apartment, and she asked if he would like to take the long or the short route home. Being amiable, he could only say, "the long way." They continued a block further on Gorham, and reached Bundy. Since they had been walking on the north side of Gorham, upon crossing Bundy they found themselves on the west side of the street -- the side of Nicole's condo, about a hundred yards farther on.

(Immediately north of Nicole's condo, Bundy makes a sharp curve to the east, and thereupon becomes contiguous with Gorham. At the east end of this short curve, Bundy itself continues north to Montana and San Vicente. In fact, no part of the actual intersection of Gorham and Bundy is visible to points even a short distance south on Bundy, such as the sidewalk in front of Nicole's condo. The topography is so unusual that Aaronson described it as though Gorham and Bundy were actually the same street which was renamed at the curve. I had never heard such an interpretation, myself, but looking at the map I can see the reason she thought this. It probably happened that in the early days of the development (the 1920s) Bundy did turn east into Gorham, and only later was the northern extension of Bundy added. There appears to be no other reason for that continuous curve to the east in Bundy. Reminders like this of Los Angeles' early erratic development abound around town.)

Aaronson was walking on the traffic side, Mandel on the houses side of the sidewalk. They continued walking down Bundy, past Nicole's place, crossing the intersection of Dorothy, and a few houses before the next street, Darlington, crossed Bundy diagonally to the east side. Thereupon they were at the corner of Bundy and Darlington, and by turning left they were proceeding east on the same side of Darlington as Aaronson's apartment, near the end of that very long block. About halfway down Darlington, Mandel looked at his watch, but did not comment on what he determined to Aaronson. In court he says that it was then "near the bottom of the hour," by which, he explains, he means 10:30, give or take a couple of minutes. Shortly thereafter they arrived at Aaronson's apartment, Mandel came in and had a glass of water, and at 10:35 one of Aaronson's roommates came home. Mandel stayed until a few minutes before eleven, then left the apartment.

Both Mandel and Arronson each individually agree to the foregoing account. They also agree that as they passed the location of Nicole's condo (which at the time they did not understand the significance of) they did not see a body at the foot of the steps, they did not see bloody paw prints leading down the walk, turning on the sidewalk and proceeding to the next cross street. They did not see or hear a dog at all. They did not see any other pedestrians. Through reconstruction of the events over a period beginning about a month after the crime -- not through actual recollection -- the couple estimates that they passed Nicole's condo at 10:25 or 10:26.

The contradiction with barking dog witnesses is obvious: Fenjves and Storfer in particular were quite confident that the dog was barking by 10:20, and yet Aaronson and Mandel did not observe that, and did not see any evidence of the crime having already been committed.

HANSEL AND GRETEL: It was Marcia Clark's belief that the two had returned to Aaronson's apartment via Westgate, the street parallel to, and a block east of Bundy. She thought the young couple had lied to investigators in order to insinuate themselves into the case, which Clark had always considered to be her private property.

In her cross examination of these witnesses, Marcia Clark was so hostile, dismissive, and contemptuous, that she did more to strengthen their account than weaken it. She admits the criticism in her book, and says, "Maybe I'll go to hell for it. But I had no patience with Hansel and Gretel." In her examination of Aaronson, Clark presumed that she and Mandel were not only lying, but were so intoxicated on the night in question that they didn't know where they had gone. She said to Aaronson, "I just have to ask you one question. That credit card receipt in the amount of $47.50... You guys didn't have anything to drink?" Aaronson insisted they did not. Clark badgered her, and Aaronson held firm. As Jeffrey Toobin ("The Run of His Life") says, "...if Clark had called the Mezzaluna -- or any of the other overpriced [cafes] that dot Brentwood -- she would have learned that it was easy to spend fifty dollars on practically no food at all."

At the end of her examination of Aaronson, Clark sneered, "Ms. Aaronson, are you telling the jury that there was no one lying at the foot of the steps at 875 South Bundy when you passed by?" "I have no idea," the witness replied. As Toobin expresses Aaronson's presence, "at this point [she] was looking at Clark as if the prosecutor were insane." Of course, when the witness can credibly regard the attorney as crazy, the attorney has utterly lost. And, so Clark had.

Marcia Clark's ineptitude does not settle the question, however. We would still like to know how this contradiction between Mandel/Aaronson and Fenjves et al can be resolved.

THE RELATIONSHIP: According to testimony, Mandel and Aaronson had only this one date, talked on the phone subsequently (about the Bundy murders) three or so times in July of 1994, and once in 1995. They do not appear to have any relationship to defend by conspiring to commit perjury. But their date was arranged by their common physician, and that fact assures some civility and amiability (one does not want his doctor to get unflattering reports.) According to this, one of them could be expected to go along with the other to the extent that honor allowed. That is particularly true in this case, since events ultimately led to highly publicized court appearances, and great disagreements in that would cast the parties as contentious types. To many people, it might have seemed to be a situation in which it was best to get along by going along.

So, who was going along, Mandel or Aaronson? It was Aaronson who made the first police report (on June 14th). She was interviewed by the LAPD on July 12th, a month after the murders, and Mandel had his first contact with police when he was interviewed two days after that, on the 14th. In the course of Mandel's interview, the subject of the credit card receipt came up, and at the suggestion of the police officer, Mandel called the credit card company to have that receipt mailed to him.

Now, we note that when the couple first left Aaronson's apartment, Mandel took her to his car, but Aaronson suggested that they walk. Then, both Mandel and Aaronson testified that Aaronson "led" them through the streets to the restaurant, and "led" the way back. Along the return trip, Aaronson gave Mandel a choice of the "long way or the short way," and then implemented it. (That was not really a choice, but the appearance of a choice, since the outcome was foregone.) One could rather consider that Aaronson had been in complete control of the entire experience -- at least as was related in testimony. Also, she was living in an apartment with two roommates at the time of the crimes. A year later, she was still living in the same place, but both roommates were gone; she seems to be in control of her living space, too. She was asked by the defense attorney (who apparently knew the answer from a previous interview) if they had done anything else than talk on the walk back from the restaurant. She said that as they walked, Danny had batted at low hanging leaves on trees they passed. This, of course, portrays Mandel in a somewhat childish light, is gratuitous, and was not a fact that could have been guessed or would have been mentioned if she had not volunteered it at some time. (Mandel made no similar disparaging comment about Aaronson.)

Overall, Aaronson seems to have a somewhat controlling personality, and certainly seems to be in control of this matter of giving testimony in the Simpson trial. Mandel is present, it seems, just to give credibility to her account, by agreeing with it. In this respect, the relationship between Aaronson and Mandel, is like that between Pilnak and Telander.

The topography of that neighborhood is incomprehensible for a first time visitor like Mandel. On the surface, it seems like an orderly arrangement: the streets are laid out in a regular grid. But nominal "north-south" directions are really at a great angle from that, and streets that proceed "north" from Wilshire in an orderly way seem to come out on San Vicente in unexpected places. For a person on foot, it is worse. The terrain is hilly and tends up toward the north and east, but not uniformly so. There are ridges and knolls, so that when looking up Westgate, for example, you can see for only a block or so to a local ridge, and only when you achieve that can you see farther. At night it is worst of all. The streets are lined with very old, dense, overgrown, and low hanging parkway trees that block out the streetlights for most of the way. In places the sidewalks are uneven, and to avoid tripping one has to pay as much attention to his feet as to looking ahead. Adding to all of that, the main street through the area, Bundy, is not straight at all, but contains several long and gentle curves down toward Wilshire, as well as the sharp one at Gorham. If Mandel was confused, he can be forgiven. It is a little surprising, though, that he did not study a map before coming to court.

Mandel's independent contribution to the story is very minimal. When he was cross-examined, he did not know the names of any of the streets in the neighborhood, except the ones he said he walked on the way home. He wondered where the intersection of Westgate and Bundy was (they are parallel.) When offered three direct route choices for the path they had followed from the apartment to the restaurant, he was not more sure that one was the actual route than another. (Eventually, he picked one, and was wrong.) But, he was unshakable on the question of the route back from the restaurant. It smelled very strongly that he had been coached on the part of the geography that related to his testimony, and didn't know any other. In the end, his entire testimony seems meaningless; this was strictly Aaronson's show, and he was her stooge.

AARONSON'S MOTIVE: If it was true, as Clark believed, that this testimony was contrived, it was probably Aaronson that engineered it. But, Clark was not convincing, and we ourselves can not see any specific motive that Aaronson had. On the witness stand she seemed modest and unambitious, though she was very confident. It is true that she works in the entertainment industry, and such people are notoriously attracted to publicity. But, this seems too vague and general a motive to persuade us.

In any case, if the testimony is not completely true, one believes that Mandel and Aaronson think it is true, and the simplest variation is that they did not come down Bundy at all, but returned on Westgate. Whatever route they traveled, it is probably true that they did not see a body, did not recognize bloody paw prints, did not see or hear a dog, and did not see any other person on their trip.

Since there is so little indication that they did not come home by way of Bundy, we will now consider that they did actually walk past Nicole's condo.

WHAT'S TO SEE? There are two components to this testimony: what the couple saw, and when they saw it. Consider first their experience: They did not see Nicole's body. It would be expected that it would be Aaronson who would have seen it, if either of them did. She was on the street side, and if one of them looked toward the other, it would have been she who looked in the direction of Nicole's gate, past Mandel.

To give an idea of the period for which Nicole's body would be visible to Aaronson, even at noon, I constructed a scale drawing, assuming that the gate was 15 feet from the sidewalk, the front walk was 4 feet wide, the body occupied the width of the walk between 1 and 3 feet back from the gate, and obscuring foliage occurred halfway to the sidewalk, and back 2 feet from the walk on the north, and 4 feet from it on the south (after an L.A. Times photo.) With this model, the positions from which at least half the body would be visible to one on the street side of the sidewalk extend from about 10 feet north of the walk's centerline to 15 feet south of it. That is; the body would be reasonably visible in daylight over a span of 25 feet. At a walking speed of 3.25 feet per second it would be visible for 7.69 seconds. To have noticed the body, Aaronson would have to have looked in Mandel's direction during that specific 7-1/2 second interval. It is iffy, but not impossible, that she might have done that.

(The velocity determination for the foregoing is made in this way: During courtroom testimony, Aaronson said that she had walked the same route in the company of defense attorneys, attempting to maintain the same pace as on the night of the murders. The attorneys timed the walk from the Mezzaluna to Aaronson's apartment, and also from the restaurant to Nicole's condo. The times were, respectively, 19 minutes and 15 minutes. From the map it is about 2900 feet from the restaurant to Nicole's place. Therefore, the walking rate was 2900 feet / 900 seconds, or 3.22 fps, or 2.19 mph. In a separate determination, Mandel also walked the route in the company of attorneys, but the results were not mentioned.)

However, the actual event occurred at night time. Detective Lange testified (2/21/95) that Nicole's corpse was not directly illuminated. The streetlight did not reach to that location. The body was at the foot of four steps, and so the condo porch light grazing the top step did not reach down to where she was. He said the illumination in the vicinity of the body was "indirect," and "very poor." Louis Karpf (2/08/95), Nicole's neighbor to the north who had gone out front to retrieve mail about 10:45 said about the front of his own condo, "Basically, pretty dark," and agreed that it was dark in front of Nicole's place as well. Steven Schwab, when he tried to examine the Akita he had found in the street about 10:50 said (2/08/95), "That is a very dark corner [Bundy and Dorothy]. That is a dark area -- that side of the street [west side of Bundy, where Nicole's condo was] is dark. Darker than the east side." (He had to lead the dog to a streetlight to examine it.)

Sukru Boztepe, when the dog led him back to the condo and he discovered Nicole's body, said (2/08/95) the location in front of Nicole's condo was "very dark." As the dog led Boztepe to Nicole's front walk, Sukru did not notice anything unusual and would not have stopped and looked carefully at Nicole's gate if the dog had not stopped there and stared in that direction. However, Boztepe, upon having his attention directed to the fact, did recognize from the sidewalk that there was the body of a "blonde lady" at the foot of the steps. His wife, Battina Rasmussen realized that there was a body only after her husband told her so, and testified in the preliminary hearing (7/02/94): "It was like very dark, and like this yellow lighting, orange lighting. So, not very bright, it was very dark."

From all of the foregoing it appears to be close to a certainty that even if Aaronson's head were turned to the west as she passed Nicole's front walk, she would not have realized that there was a body there, even if it did exist at that time. It was just too poorly illuminated.

BLOODY PAW PRINTS: Mandel and Aaronson also did not notice bloody paw prints leading down Nicole's front walk, and thence south on the very sidewalk that they trod. It happens that the lacy jacaranda tree, imported from Argentina in the 1920s, is widely used as a parkway tree in that neighborhood, especially on Westgate and on Granville. These explode with a profusion of lovely purple flowers in the last week of May, and continue for three or so weeks. By the second week of June, they are falling off the trees, and litter the sidewalks conspicuously. At night, of course, these appear only to be a random scattering of dark shadows -- about the size of a dog's paw print. A person who had walked that neighborhood at night in the second week of June would therefore have been accustomed to shadows on the sidewalk that had no significance. It also happens that 1994 was the year of the Northridge earthquake (January 17th) and that had caused considerable damage on the Westside as well as in the San Fernando Valley. By June, building repairs were in full swing, and there were many places in which mounds of rubble and debris were piled in the gutters. A scattering of this onto the sidewalks was not unusual, and that further complicated the interpretation of the shadows that a pedestrian might have seen looking down at his feet.

With regard to the specific issue of seeing dog prints in front of Nicole's condo, Boztepe was asked in the criminal trial, "Were you able to see the paw prints on the walkway, the bloody paw prints?" He said, "No." His wife was asked in the preliminary hearing about this, and also said that she did not see bloody paw prints.

Battina's description of the lighting tells us that the streetlight was of the sodium vapor kind. When its orange light illuminates reddish blood stains on a light colored (concrete sidewalk) background, the amount of light reflected from the stain is not much different than the amount reflected from the bare concrete, and the result is a low contrast image of the paw prints that would be hard to realize existed, even near the corner where the lighting was strongest (and the paw prints weakest).

So, even though Mandel and Aaronson did not see the bloody paw prints on that dark sidewalk, we can not take that as a very reliable indication that there were no bloody paw prints when they passed.

THE BARKING DOG: The most difficult contradiction of the Mandel/Aaronson account is their failure to notice the barking dog. According to Tistart, the dog was barking, running in the street, and pacing up and down Nicole's walk at some point. According to Heidstra at about 10:32 the dog was barking on Bundy in the vicinity of Gorham, and according to my interpretation of the "hey, hey, hey," the dog was running and barking in the street in front of Nicole's condo at 10:35. This conspicuous behavior of the dog would not be missed by Mandel and Aaronson if it had occurred when they were nearby.

But, this was the situation after 10:30, and we are less clear about the dog's location and behavior five minutes earlier when the couple believes they passed by the condo. In the analysis of the Fenjves/Pilnak contradiction, we had been led to believe that it was possible that the dog left Nicole's condo quietly, proceeded to the place that Goldman had parked (Dorothy at the alley), and there began his plaintive wail at 10:20. If that happened, then the sound of the dog would not be generally noticed on Bundy, but Mandel and Aaronson would only be in a position to hear it as they passed through the intersection of Dorothy and Bundy at 10:26. It is possible that non-stop barking and wailing is an unusual experience for a dog, and after five minutes of it he might take a rest for a minute or two before continuing. (No witness could say that the dog barked continuously and without interruption once he started.) Therefore if the dog was in a resting mode during the time the couple passed the intersection of Dorothy, they would not have noticed it.

How long would they have been in that position? Constructing another scale drawing, similar to the one previously at the front gate, but here for the intersection of Bundy and Dorothy, I see that the couple would be in position to have a clear line to the dog for 106 feet as they walked down Bundy. At the previously considered rate of 3.25 feet per second, the couple will be exposed to the sound of the dog, if he is at the alley, for 32.9 seconds. That is, if Mandel and Aaronson crossed Dorothy at a time when the dog was in a resting mode that lasted for half a minute or more, they would not hear him, and because he was 50 yards away in the dark, would not see him either. It is also possible that at the time the couple crossed Dorothy, the dog had wandered a few yards up the alley, and was barking from there. The sound at Bundy would not be conspicuous.

So, even if Mandel and Aaronson are correct about when and where they walked, there are specific reasonable characteristics that can be attributed to the dog that would account for the couple not hearing it.

TIMELINE: The couple did not see other people on their walk, but the opportunities to do this, according to court testimony, do not completely limit the possibilities. Mandel and Aaronson did not pass the intersection of Bundy and Dorothy between 10:23 and 10:25 because Storfer did not see them. They did not pass a point 75 yards south of that between 10:21 and 10:24 because they did not see Pilnak and Telander. Heidstra was walking his dogs down the same street (Gorham) as the couple, between about 10:20 and 10:32, but on the other side of the street, proceeding in the same direction. It is somewhat surprising -- because Heidstra was present for an extended period -- that they did not notice him and his two dogs, or he notice them. This is probably the most important contradiction in their timeline, but it is certainly possible to pass another pedestrian at night on the other side of the same street, and not realize he is there.

The time references for this account were never verified for accuracy. There is Aaronson's wristwatch (9:50) when the waitress asked to close the bill, Mandel's ("bottom of the hour") when they were almost home, the estimate of the period ("ten or fifteen minutes") while they talked after paying, the credit card time stamp (9:55), the time (10:35) that the roommate came home, and the time ("just before 11:00") when Mandel left. Ironically, the only one of these that Marcia Clark questioned was probably the most accurate: the credit card time stamp. Because of their agreement with other references, we can easily accept the 9:50, 9:55, and 11:00 values. If we take the credit card time as 9:55, allow for ten or fifteen minutes of conversation, they leave at 10:05 to 10:10. According to the reconstruction, it is 15 minutes more to the condo, putting them there at 10:20 to 10:25. When the earliest value for the period of conversation is used (10 minutes) the couple passes the area of the crime just before the dog starts barking.

If the period for conversation at the restaurant were really 5 - 10 minutes, instead of 10 - 15 minutes, any possibility of conflict with Fenjves et al disappears. Considering that the estimate was probably made during a reconstruction a month after the fact, and that this estimate could have been made to "make the times work out," it is not entirely reliable. It seems particularly unlikely that the "ten to fifteen minutes" estimate is accurate considering that in Aaronson's original report she thought that she passed Nicole's condo at 11:00. An explanation of a shorter period of conversation is then contradicted only by Mandel's watch ("bottom of the hour"), which is really rather vague, and the roommate's homecoming at 10:35, which is unsupported by any rationale as to why people think she came home at that time.

Overall, there is little compelling reason to believe that Aaronson and Mandel did not leave the restaurant five minutes earlier than they believe, and if that happened there is no necessary conflict with the barking dog witnesses.

CONCLUSION: There are a number of possible explanations for Aaronson/Mandel testimony that do not contradict Fenjves and others:


• Marcia Clark could be right: they might not have gone home by way of Bundy, though there is no compelling indication of this.

• The witnesses could easily be mistaken by five minutes on the time they left the restaurant.

• Even if they are correct about where they went and when the were there, it is not expected that they would have seen either Nicole's corpse, or the bloody paw prints.

• There are specific places that the dog could have been, and things he could have been doing at 10:26 that would account for their failure to hear him, even if they are right about the time.


At the end, the Mandel/Aaronson account does not appear to pose a serious contradiction to the testimony of Fenjves, Storfer, and Stein that they heard the "plaintive wail of a dog" at about 10:20.


Dick Wagner • Van Nuys, CA (8/24/98) NG376

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