By NBC News staff and wire reports
A member of O.J. Simpson's defense team has rebuffed claims that lead defense attorney Johnnie Cochran tampered with a key piece of evidence in order to help Simpson walk away from his Los Angeles murder trial a free man 17 years ago, a newspaper reported on Saturday.
Former Los Angeles deputy district attorney Christopher Darden on Thursday accused Simpson's defense lawyer, the late Johnnie Cochran, of "manipulating" one of the infamous gloves that the prosecution said linked Simpson to the grisly double murder of his former wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman.
After Simpson struggled to fit the gloves on his hands -- in one of the defining moments of the racially charged trial that captivated the nation -- Cochran famously admonished the jury, "If it doesn't fit, you must acquit."
On Saturday, attorney Shawn Holley told the Los Angeles Times in a statement:
"As members of the defense team, Carl Douglas and I were present in court on the day that Chris Darden asked O.J. Simpson to try on the glove ... Mr. Darden's self-serving assertion that Johnnie Cochran tampered with the glove -- or any piece of evidence -- is false, malicious and slanderous ... Almost 20 years later, it seems Mr. Darden is still trying to exculpate himself from one of the biggest blunders in the history of jurisprudence."
A civil jury in 1997 found Simpson liable for the deaths and ordered him to pay $33.5 million in damages to the murder victims' families. Simpson, the former National Football League star and Hollywood actor, is currently serving up to 33 years in prison for a 2007 armed robbery in which he claimed he was trying to recover his own sports memorabilia.
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'Johnnie tore the lining'
On Thursday, during a panel discussion about the trial at Pace Law School in New York City, Darden, a member of the prosecution team, declared: "I think Johnnie tore the lining. There were some additional tears in the lining so that O.J.'s fingers couldn't go all the way up into the glove."
Darden said in a follow-up interview on Friday that he noticed that when Simpson was trying on a glove for the jury its structure appeared to have changed. "A bailiff told me the defense had it during the lunch hour." He said he wasn't specifically accusing anyone, adding: "It's been my suspicion for a long time that the lining has been manipulated."
He said he had previously voiced similar concerns in TV interviews, but could not recall the details.
Darden's charge surprised key participants in the trial and related legal action. Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz, who was a member of Simpson's defense team, and Paul Callan, who represented Nicole Brown Simpson's estate in a successful civil trial against Simpson, said it was the first time they had ever heard the allegation.
On Friday, Dershowitz called the claim that the defense had an opportunity to tamper with the gloves "a total fabrication" and said "the defense doesn't get access to evidence except under controlled circumstances."
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Dershowitz said in a follow-up email that he "was certain" in this case that the defense team did not have access to the glove before it was tried on by Simpson in open court.
"Having made the greatest legal blunder of the 20th century," Dershowitz said of Darden, "he's trying to blame it on the dead man."
Reuters contributed to this report.
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