Judge orders O J Simpson hair test

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WASHINGTON - Ten hairs will be taken from the head of the sports superstar O J Simpson and matched against those found in a cap left near the murdered bodies of his ex-wife and a friend, a judge decided yesterday at the preliminary hearing in Los Angeles, writes Patrick Cockburn.

Watched live on television by much of the US, the hearings will decide if there is enough evidence to bring Mr Simpson to trial. Given that many of the leaks from the police linking Mr Simpson to the crime have turned out to be untrue or exaggerated, they will also provide the first chance to establish the real strength of the evidence.

If the prosecution has no witnesses it will be dependent on forensic and circumstantial evidence putting Mr Simpson at the scene of the crime on 12 June. Much of this revolves around the identification of bloodstains reportedly found in the forecourt of 875 Cosby Drive, where Nicole Simpson and Ronald Goldman were killed, as well as in Mr Simpson's Ford Bronco and the driveway of his house in nearby Rockingham Avenue.

There has also been much speculation about a pair of gloves, one found at the scene of the crime and the other at his house. Leaks about a bloody ski mask also being found in Rockingham Avenue have turned out to be untrue. The police returned to Mr Simpson's home this week to dismantle and take away drainpipes and sinktraps. The police were also apparently looking for - but failed to find - a long knife that an informant had said was buried in a sandbox in the house.

The preliminary hearing follows the dismissal of the grand jury which had been considering the evidence after it was tainted by the release of emergency calls by Nicole Simpson complaining that her ex-husband was rampaging through the house. Despite this, polls indicate that 49 per cent of people sympathise with Mr Simpson.

In a move critical to the outcome of the trial, the defence is trying to exclude evidence obtained at Mr Simpson's house in the hours after the crime, on the grounds that they did not have a warrant. This would presumably not exclude evidence given by Mr Simpson voluntarily in a three hour interview on 13 June which lawyers say may be fatal to the defence.