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Judge wins fight to keep on case

OJ Simpson trial: prosecution backs down after questioning impartially of Ito towards key police witness

Associated Press

Los Angeles - Prosecutors in the O J Simpson trial yesterday decided against seeking the removal of Judge Lance Ito, a day after the trial threatened to collapse into chaos.

At issue was whether Judge Ito could rule impartially on matters related to Detective Mark Fuhrman, a controversial prosecution witness, after learning he had made disparaging remarks about the judge's police-officer wife, Captain Margaret York, in taped interviews. Deputy District Attorney Marcia Clark had asked Judge Ito to disqualify himself from the trial of the former American-football hero, saying he could not be impartial. But yesterday she drew back.

She said she believed Judge Ito should decide all matters involved in the case, including the admissibility of tapes of the interviews. On Tuesday, an emotional Judge Ito removed himself from the narrow issue of whether the tapes should be admitted.

The detective is said to use racial slurs on the tapes, and to speak of framing suspects . The defence claim Mr Fuhrman perjured himself earlier this year by saying he had not referred to blacks as "niggers" in the past 10 years. Court transcripts revealed that on the tapes, Mr Fuhrman describes police brutality, calls Mr Simpson's lawyer Robert Shapiro a "Jew" and predicts the prosecution is doomed without him. Exactly what he said about Judge Ito's wife was unclear, but it clearly upset the judge.

Still, the content of the tapes was in dispute. A lawyer for their owner, a North Carolina scriptwriter, said Mr Simpson's attorney Johnnie Cochran had mischaracterised them.

The defence alleges that Mr Fuhrman was part of a police conspiracy to frame Mr Simpson for the June 1994 knife murders of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ronald Goldman. Mr Simpson has pleaded not guilty.

Another Simpson attorney, Gerald Uelmen, said the defence believed an outside judge, already appointed, should decide if Capt York, who was once Mr Fuhrman's superior officer, is a material witness in the case. Then, he said, Judge Ito can decide if jurors should hear the tapes. Judge Ito agreed to read the Fuhrman tape transcripts - with all references to Capt York edited out - and determine if the tapes should be played for the jury. The separate issue of whether his wife is a relevant witness in the case will be decided by another judge.

Mr Fuhrman was the prosecution's star witness at the preliminary hearing, recounting how he found a bloody glove on Mr Simpson's estate hours after the murders. It matched one found at the scene of the killing.