The robbery and kidnap trial of O J Simpson's began in Las Vegas yesterday, with a small city of satellite trucks and an army of broadcast news crews on hand to report it.
Judge Jackie Glass opened the proceedings with a warning to prospective jurors to disregard Mr Simpson's well-known acquittal in the 1995 double-murder trial. This time Mr Simpson, 61, is being tried for his role in a Las Vegas hotel room confrontation that allegedly involved guns, stolen sports memorabilia and the suit he wore at his 1995 acquittal.
If convicted, the former American footballer could be sent away for life. Judge Glass rebuffed a request from Yale Galanter, Mr Simpson's defence lawyer to ask the jurors if they thought he was a murderer. Then, when the panel was brought in for questioning she delivered a stern lecture: "If you are here thinking you are going to punish Mr Simpson for what happened in Los Angeles in 1995, this is not the case for you," she said. "If you're looking to become famous because of your service in this case, write a book, then this is not the case for you."
Mr Simpson faces 12 charges stemming from the confrontation last September during which he and several gun-toting associates allegedly left with pillow cases stuffed full of sports memorabilia. Mr Simpson later claimed he was repossessing items stolen from his own house. The charges against Mr Simpson and Clarence Stewart, include kidnapping and armed robbery. Either one could see him sent to jail for life in the state of Nevada.
Yesterday's proceedings were to winnow out a dozen jurors along with six alternates to decide Mr Simpson's fate. Acutely aware of the publicity surrounding the case, District Judge Glass intended to trim the pool from 248 to around 40 who will then be questioned by both sides.
Judge Glass said "a significant issue" is whether prospective jurors who disagreed with the 1995 verdict can "put aside your feelings about that verdict".
"I mean really, truly, folks," Glass said. "I'm not kidding around. Can you put that aside and understand that the case we are trying here and the info you're going to hear about here is totally separate from that case?"
Mr Simpson and his associates are accused of storming a room at the Palace Station Hotel-Casino to retrieve memorabilia, much of it related to the former football star's sporting career. The items were being held by two collectibles dealers, Bruce Fromong and Alfred Beardsley who had come to the hotel hoping to sell them.
Mr Simpson claimed he did not realise two of the men with him had guns. He also says he did not see them pull out their weapons. Four of the five men who accompanied Mr Simpson to the casino – Charles Cashmore, Walter "Goldie" Alexander, Michael "Spencer" McClinton and Charles Ehrlich – have struck plea deals and will testify for the prosecution in return for reduced prison sentences.
According to Mr Fromong, Mr Simpson and his associates took hundreds of collectibles from the careers of various notable American sports figures. Judge Glass said she is concerned some juror's judgment may be clouded because they admire the former athlete too much.
Mr Simpson is a football Hall of Fame inductee. He was a comic film actor and advertising pitchman before the 1994 double murder trial. "Is there anybody here who's such a fan of Mr Simpson that you wouldn't be able to be a fair and impartial juror in this case?" the judge asked. Two potential jurors could not put aside what they knew about the 1995 murder case and were dismissed. A dozen others were dismissed because of hardship. In 2006, Simpson wrote a book called If I Did It, which set out how he might have murdered his wife, had he been so inclined. But the book was withdrawn and pulped by HarperCollins shortly before being published.