OJ lawyer sows seeds of doubt in jurors' minds

Athletics

EDWARD HELMORE

Los Angeles

The defence in the OJ Simpson case raised a catalogue of questions in its last opportunity to sow doubt in the minds of the jury, which begins considering its verdict on the double murder charges against the former sports star on Monday.

Sounding like a preacher, the defence lawyer, Johnnie Cochran, challenged the prosecution to answer 15 questions in their final rebuttal arguments. If they failed, he contended, Mr Simpson must be set free. Mr Cochran said: "If it don't fit, then you must acquit."

Each question, the lawyer argued, presented reasonable doubt enough for his client's acquittal. The list sought to highlight the main weaknesses in the prosecution's case, principally forensic mix-ups and the behaviour of Mark Fuhrman, the police detective who allegedly found the key piece of evidence, a blood-soaked glove, on Mr Simpson's property.

Mr Fuhrman, who denied on the witness stand that he had used the word "nigger" in the previous 10 years, was proved to have lied when tapes of an interview he gave to a screenwriter were played in court.

Attempting to fix the jury's mind on the central point of the defence case - that Mr Simpson was framed by Mr Fuhrman and his colleague, Philip Vannatter, who typified the racism of the Los Angeles police - Mr Cochran exhorted the 12 jurors: "Stop this cover-up! Stop this cover-up!" It has to be stopped by you."

The jury, the longest sequestered in Californian history, is made up of nine blacks, two whites and one Hispanic, nine of whom are women and three of whom are men. For the last nine months they have been virtual prisoners, and restricted from watching the news or reading newspaper reports referring to the trial. For their duty as citizens they received the sum of $5 (pounds 3.30) per day.

But it is doubtful the environment they have endured has been truly hermetic and both sides have been concerned about what is euphemistically termed "pillow talk" during conjugal visits.

What they have heard has been far less than the public has from the media and they may have decided what verdict they will return months ago, despite Judge Lance Ito's daily admonitions not to discuss it amongst themselves.

Given the racial tensions that are now simmering in Los Angeles it is unlikely that they will return without at least appearing to give the case a reasonable period of deliberation.

The current wisdom holds that a white female juror who asked to leave the jury a month ago but was persuaded to stay on, would not have done so if she did not believe the jury would return a guilty verdict.

Many observers believe Mr Cochran may have over- emphasised the race issue in comparing Fuhrman to Hitler.

"I think we should be vigilant as to where racism may lead but you must be careful before you compare a rogue cop's remarks to the murder of 6 million Jews," says a trial analyst, Laurie Levenson. "Maybe in advocacy it doesn't, but in conscience it should. "

In recent days he has come to court flanked by burly members of the Nation of Islam, a militant Muslim organisation well-known for its aggressive attitudes toward Jews and the white establishment.

In the prosecution's final rebuttal yesterday, Chris Darden told jurors no one was above the law and that their verdict was not, as Johnnie Cochran has urged, an opportunity to send a message to America about racism and police conduct.

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