OJ defence rails at racist police 'devils'

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Los Angeles

O J Simpson's attorney yesterday lashed out at two white detectives as "twin devils of deception" who he said had framed the black football hero on murder charges.

"Stop this cover up! Stop this cover up!" the leading defence lawyer, Johnny Cochran, told a rapt, mostly black, jury, with the fervour of a preacher giving a sermon. "It has to be stopped by you."

In his closing arguments for the defence, Mr Cochran told the jury that Mr Simpson had been framed for murder by former detective Mark Fuhrman, whom he called "a lying perjuring genocidal racist", and by other detectives. He asked the panel to set Mr Simpson free - a verdict that would reverberate across the nation.

"Your verdict talks about justice in America, and it talks about the police and whether they are above the law," he said, dismissing the prosecution's case as one that could not be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. "O J could not, would not, did not commit these crimes," he declared, echoing words spoken by Mr Simpson during an impromptu address to the court last week.

He charged that Mr Fuhrman had a racist vendetta against Mr Simpson that began in 1985, when the detective responded to an incident of domestic violence between Mr Simpson and his wife, Nicole Brown Simpson. Excerpts from tapes of a conversation involving Fuhrman showed he was "sickened" by mixed-race couples, and "from that moment on, any time he could get OJ Simpson, he would do it," said Mr Cochran.

Mr Cochran accused the other lead detective in the case, Philip Vannatter, of lying when he denied that Mr Simpson was a suspect when detectives first went to notify him of the murder of his ex-wife, and lying to obtain a search warrant.

"You are seeing and you have seen this code of silence, this cover-up," Mr Cochran told jurors. "You can't trust this evidence, you can't trust the messenger. You can't trust the message. "

Mr Cochran tried on a ski cap to show that it would have been a poor disguise for Simpson. "If I put this cap on,who am I? I am Johnnie Cochran with a knit cap." In closing arguments on Tuesday Marcia Clark, leading the prosecution, had offered the cap as evidence of premeditation.

Mr Cochran tried on a pair of gloves similar to those found by police, invoking jurors' memories of Simpson struggling to put them on. "No matter what they do they can't make them fit," he said. "If it doesn't fit, you must acquit."

Proof of the conspiracy to frame his client could be found in several areas: authorities should have found even more blood at his house and fingerprints at the murder scene. He charged that there was not enough blood around the glove found behind Simpson's house, showing that it had been planted.

Conversely, he asked why the glove would be moist and sticky unless Mr Fuhrman had smeared it with the victim's blood and planted it there. Mr Cochran recalled a defence expert's testimony that five or six hours after the murders the blood should be dry.

In a final tour-de-force he issued a challenge to the jury to speak up for life, liberty and justice for all.

"This is a case about a man wrongly accused. You have the keys to his future. You have the evidence to acquit him.You have the integrity and courage to do the right thing," said Mr Cochran.

Barry Scheck, DNA expert and defence lawyer, is now expected to attack the scientific evidence in the prosecution's case before Mr Cochran returns to address the jury. Then the prosecution has the opportunity to present its final arguments.

The case is expected to reach the jury by the weekend. The Los Angeles County Sheriff announced yesterday that a tactical alert would be issued when a verdict was imminent. Sheriff Sherman Block said he expected a "major outpouring" regardless of the outcome.