Defence brace for OJ double jeopardy

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The Independent Online
Lawyers are preparing to launch a ferocious legal battle to secure the freedom of OJ Simpson if his case collapses in a mistrial because of a lack of jurors. Defence attorneys believe that if prosecutors carry out their vow to bring double murder charges against the American former football hero for a second time, they will have violated his constitutional protection against double jeopardy, which protects him from being tried twice for the same offences.

On Monday the likelihood of a mistrial rose still further with the dismissal of two more jurors, reducing the number of alternates to only two, even though the case is expected to drag on into the autumn. The departures particularly angered the defence, as they included a black postal worker, Willie Cravin, who has since made clear he was sympathetic to Mr Simpson.

Defence lawyers claim that if there is a mistrial, it will be the fault of the prosecution, whom they accuse of targeting jurors believed to be sympathetic to Mr Simpson in the hope of securing their dismissal.

Yesterday Johnnie Cochran, Mr Simpson's lead attorney, demanded - and was granted - a hearing next week over whether prosecutors had selectively "used or benefited from" investigations and dismissals of jurors, whose numbers have shrunk by 10 since January.

If jury numbers drop below 12, it is widely believed that the case could continue if both sides agree, although Californian law is contradictory on the issue. But it would present the Los Angeles District Attorney, Gil Garcetti, with a serious political dilemma.

There will be a storm of criticism and anger, particularly among white voters, if he allows the case to continue with fewer than a dozen jurors and Mr Simpson is acquitted by the predominantly black panel. But a retrial will cost many millions of tax dollars - $5m (pounds 3.2m) has already been spent on the case - and will certainly lead to accusations from black leaders that Mr Simpson is the victim of a vendetta. If a second trial fails to secure a conviction, the fall-out will be even greater.

As the DA ponders these difficult issues, the US has been treated to another glimpse of the tensions within the jury, who have been sequestered since mid-January. On television Mr Cravin - who was dismissed for allegedly intimidating another juror - complained about his colleagues talking during film shows and hogging exercise equipment.

Far more ominously for prosecutors, he said he believed that the Los Angeles police may have conspired to frame Mr Simpson, agreed that Detective Mark Fuhrman, one of the chief prosecution witnesses, may be a racist, and seemed bewildered about the large amount of apparently damning DNA evidence.