The Dogg has his day in court

Edward Helmore reports from New York on the opening of rapper Snoop Doggy Dogg's trial for murder

The murder case against the rapper Snoop Doggy Dogg in Los Angeles is echoing loudly the trial of the last famous and wealthy black defendant to see the inside of the Central Criminal Court House.

As if by rote, Snoop Dogg's defence, led by Johnnie L Cochran, has targeted the LAPD for abusive and sloppy investigation. Investigators have admitted to losing the shell casings from the murder weapon and the victim's bloody clothing. The defence contends that the police destroyed evidence, prosecutors maintain that what was lost is insignificant. "Want me to say those famous words?" Cochran asked reporters last month, alluding to his closing arguments to the OJ Simpson jury. "If it doesn't fit, you must acquit."

Snoop Dogg, aka Calvin Broadus, is charged with the murder of Philip Woldemariam in Los Angeles on August 25, 1993. Prosecutors allege that Dogg ordered his bodyguard and co-defendant, McKinley Lee, to shoot Woldemariam from a black jeep driven and owned by the rap star in a gang-related drive- by murder.

Law enforcement sources say that Woldemariam, 20, and Dogg, 24, had connections with different street gangs. The victim, a member of the By Yerself Hustlers, apparently resented Dogg, listed as a member of the Long Beach Insane Crips, for moving into his neighbourhood during the recording of his four- million selling record, Doggystyle.

On the evening of the shooting, an argument erupted between the two in front of Dogg's apartment and a car chase ensued that ended with a fatal shot into Woldemariam's back. The defence contends that Lee shot Woldemariam in self-defence after he drew a gun on Dogg who is currently free on $1m bail.

This week, after a month of pre-trial hearings and weeks of probing panellists about their attitudes toward the LAPD, the criminal justice system, OJ Simpson and rap music, the sides agreed on members of what is described as an "OJ-neutral" jury.

One prospective juror was rejected after he opined that since the Simpson verdict, panellists should be subject to IQ tests. Another said that though she had listened to and read magazine articles on rap she "still hated it". Meanwhile Snoop Dogg, like Simpson, has been playing down his image as bad boy; he turns up to court each day in a smart blue suit and shows little emotion, perhaps because, given the reputation of the LAPD and Cochran's record for securing acquittals, he has little to fear.

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