O J defence team attacks `rush to judgment'

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The Independent Online
The defence in the trial of OJ Simpson, a case that bears more resemblance to the sport that made him famous than a criminal hearing, fired their opening salvo yesterday with an attack on prosecutors for "rushing to judgement" in their effort to f ind the ex-sports star guilty of murder "by any means necessary".

In his opening statement, Johnnie Cochran, Mr Simpson's lead attorney, attacked the case against the former American footballer, denouncing the police, undermining their DNA blood tests and unveiling witnesses whose evidence suggests others may have carried out the murders.

These included a woman who, he said, was walking past the house of Nicole Brown Simpson at 10.45pm on the night that she and Ron Goldman, a waiter aged 25, were found stabbed to death in a trendy neighbourhood of West Los Angeles.

She saw four men - two Hispanics and two Caucasians - walking from the scene and jumping into an unmarked car, Mr Cochran said. Several wore knitted caps - a fact the defence will see as significant, as a skiing hat was found at the murder scene.

But, when she tried to report what she saw to the police, she was told that they had "got the case all wrapped up".

When she called the District Attorney's office in Los Angeles, she was brushed off. The police and prosecutors engaged in a "rush to judgement", a desire to "win at any cost and by any means necessary", he said.

In an emotional speech, Mr Cochran, one of the most prominent black defence lawyers in the United States, painted a portrait of Mr Simpson that differed dramatically from the stalker, wife-beater and obsessively jealous husband described by prosecutors on Tuesday.

The packed public gallery listened in silence as he described how Mr Simpson was brought up as "a spindly-legged kid" from a San Francisco ghetto, gave anonymous gifts to black inner city organisations, and raised thousands of dollars for children with cancer.

Nicole Simpson was depicted as a domineering and impulsive woman to whom Mr Simpson gave big allowances and two flats - one in the fashionable southern Californian beachside town of Laguna Beach and the other in San Francisco. When they split up, she begged to get back together, sending him a video of their wedding. Once, she struck the housekeeper in Mr Simpson's mansion whom she wanted fired, said Mr Cochran.

He opened his case by unveiling witnesses whose testimony suggests other murderers. There was a couple who walked past Nicole Simpson's house about 10 minutes after the estimated time of the murders but who saw nothing - even though the gate was open. There was a man who heard shouts of "hey, hey, hey" coming from Ms Simpson's home at 10.40pm.

There was a woman working in a neighbouring house to Mr Simpson's who, he said, heard a prowler at the sportsman's mansion when he went out to McDonalds in his Bentley earlier that evening.

The trial got off to a delayed start after a row over television coverage that arose from an incident on Tuesday. A camera operator for Court TV, which is supplying pictures of the trial to the world, mistakenly caught a glimpse of a female alternate juror who leaned into the shot while Marcia Clark, the leading prosecutor, was showing the jury a diagram. She was visible for eight-tenths of a second.

Court TV informed Judge Lance Ito. The camera operator was a stand-in, unfamiliar with the remote control mechanism; Instead of quietly ordering the television company to tighten up its proceedings, the judge erupted. He halted proceedings, infuriating Mr Simpson's lawyers who wanted to begin their opening statement before the end of the day, to counteract the prosecution's words. Judge Ito, known to some as "Judge Ego", threatened to pull the plug on the cameras. Yesterday he relented, imposing tighterrestrictions on televised coverage.