Curiously enough, just as the O.J. Simpson trial has come back into the public’s consciousness through FX’s ‘The People v. O.J. Simpson’ TV series, now we have ‘bombshell’ news. Reportedly, a construction worker found a knife buried on the Rockingham property as it was being demolished by the new owners. The construction worker gave it to an off-duty LAPD officer who apparently kept it in his possession for presumably 17 years or so.
DNA seems to be the headline, but is this finding really that sensational? First of all, no matter what is found on the knife, O.J. Simpson in all reality cannot be re-tried. Secondly, it may not even require DNA to decide if this knife is a potential murder weapon. Depending on what could be gleaned at autopsy by the wounds, it may be possible to eliminate this new knife purely by size, shape, serration, etc. Perhaps fingerprints will play a role as well.
What is potentially interesting is that if this knife is somehow tied to the crime, could someone other than O.J. be prosecuted for concealing murder evidence? In other words, did someone other than the assailant hide this in 1994?
If the evidence handling procedures of the LAPD were hammered at the 1995 trial, imagine what can be said about an officer not turning in evidence for 20 years! How was the knife kept and how many people had contact with it?
As this news is breaking, most people only want to know whether there is ‘DNA evidence’. The good news is that if in fact this were the murder weapon and it had not been cleaned, there should have been a significant amount of blood on it. Even if it had been cleaned there are crevices and screws, etc. on knives that can retain minute traces of blood even after washing. The bad news is that soil is one of the worst environmental insults for DNA. If there was a lot of blood on the knife when it was buried, then there is some chance DNA results could be obtained. On the other hand if there were a smaller amount of blood, it may well be too degraded.
Touch DNA is valuable evidence for weapons such as knives. In 1994, this type of analysis really was not possible due to the state of the technology. If the evidence were analyzed today, there would have no doubt been swabbings of the Rockingham glove and Bundy glove and knit hat to determine wearer DNA. The odds of obtaining any meaningful touch DNA results from this buried knife are slim and none. The amount of DNA would be highly diminished if the knife were buried for a significant time period. Also, it’s likely that numerous people have touched the knife since its discovery and therefore any result may be highly complex, partial, and therefore uninterpretable.
My dog digs up all sorts of things in my yard that are of unknown age. Finally, this whole thing could of course be a hoax! Let’s see what happens, if DNA evidence is developed I’ll make some further comments. The fun aspect of DNA analysis is that you just never know what you’ll get until you try.