No death penalty sought in O J case

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The Independent Online
PROSECUTORS in Los Angeles announced last night they will not seek the death penalty against the former American football hero, O J Simpson. The move threatens to re-ignite a fierce debate about capital punishment in the US.

Instead, they said they would pursue life imprisonment without parole against the star, who is accused of murdering his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, 35, and her friend, Ronald Goldman, 25. They were found stabbed to death outside her luxury Los Angeles townhouse in June.

The prosecutors' decision, revealed two weeks before Mr Simpson's trial is due to start, brings an end to weeks of intense speculation over the possible fate of the former running back and occasional film actor.

The issue has polarised public opinion. Influential black political organisations in Los Angeles lobbied hard against the death penalty, which they argue discriminates against minorities. But many feminist groups took the opposite stance, arguing that spousal murder should be punished as severely as any other form of murder.

The decision was undoubtly a difficult one for Los Angeles' District Attorney's office, as Simpson's alleged crimes met at least two of California's criteria for capital punishment: there were multiple slayings, and the killings were savage. But prosecutors are certain to have taken into account the difficulty of obtaining a conviction against a popular celebrity from a jury that is aware that they could be sending him to his death. Their private research has confirmed this. Moreover, it would certainly lead to years of expensive appeals.

Last night the move was already stirring criticism from those who point out that it exposes a blatant double standard within the justice system. Mr Simpson has lavished hundreds of thousands of dollars on a high-powered legal team, including some of the most formidable defence lawyers in the US.

The same privilege was not been extended to the 386 convicts of California's death row, who were almost all represented by court- appointed, often over-worked and under-funded, lawyers. As a black conservative writer, Armstrong Williams, observed before the decision was announced: 'There is little doubt that your average vagrant or poor working man in similar circumstances would be subject to a capital charge for such a savage, brutal, double killing.'