Judge discharges Simpson grand jury

A JUDGE yesterday dissolved the grand jury considering a murder indictment against O J Simpson, saying some members of the panel may have been prejudiced by the publicity surrounding the case. The ruling apparently clears the way for a 30 June preliminary hearing at which prosecutors must present their evidence supporting murder charges filed by police.

At the very moment prosecutors were swearing they would stop leaks of damaging information about O J Simpson to the media, others involved in the government case were telling the Los Angeles Times how, in 1985, he shattered the windscreen of his wife Nicole's car with a baseball bat. Police were called but were told by Simpson: 'It's my car, I'll handle this. There is no problem.'

Ever since Nicole Simpson and Ronald Goldman were murdered on 12 June police and the district attorney's office have dominated news coverage of the case by leaking at least one story a day. The Los Angeles District Attorney, Gil Garcetti, now says: 'I do not want this case tried in the media.'

In practice this is exactly what the prosecution has wanted. After losing a string of celebrity cases the district attorney's office is deeply anxious to convict Simpson. As a first step in doing so it needs to deflate his popularity and in this it is being largely successful. A CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll shows 10 per cent believe the charges against Simpson are definitely true and 56 per cent think them probably true. Only 3 per cent believe he is innocent.

The poll was taken before the police released the tapes of the 911 emergency calls placed by Nicole Simpson on a number of occasions appealing for help as her husband rampaged through her house. Mr Garcetti now says he opposes the release of the tapes - just in time for the evening news - because it will make it difficult to give Simpson a fair trial.

The 911 tapes, giving a vivid impression of Simpson as a violent and obsessively jealous man, also overshadowed criticism of the police for leaking misleading information. Reports of Simpson having severe scratch marks, blood stains in his house and the finding of a bloody ski mask have all been denied.

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