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OJ lawyers score few points with racism claim

No one can second-guess a jury, but legal opinion yesterday was leaning heavily towards the view that OJ Simpson's prosecutors have emerged triumphant from what threatened to be the stormiest and most precarious chapter in the double-murder trial.

For more than three days, F Lee Bailey, billed as one of America's most formidable courtroom brawlers, sparred with Mark Fuhrman, a Los Angeles police detective, whom the defence is trying to portray as a racist who framed the former football star.

But the showdown produced few bruises and no knock-out blow. Mr Fuhrman walked away from the witness box calmly, having weathered question after question about his alleged racism, without losing his composure or wavering in his denials.

It was only round one. But from early on, Mr Simpson's "Dream Team" of lawyers have built much of their case around the theory that the detective was so racist and so opposed to interracial couples that he was willing to go to great lengths to set up the black celebrity.

After failing to dent Mr Fuhrman during cross-examination, they are now talking of producing a parade of witnesses who will contradict him, shoring up their effort to prove to a black-dominated jury that Mr Simpson was the victim of a familiar affliction, a racist Los Angeles police department.

Matters are not helped by the tendency of their potential witnesses to fizzle out in a puff of self-contradiction. The latest was Max Cordoba, a Marine, who this week appeared on television saying Mr Fuhrman once called him a "a nigger" and "boy". The claim angered prosecutors, because he had told them he had never heard the detective make racist remarks. Mr Cordoba explained this away by saying the incident had come back to him in a dream.

Trial-watchers are accusing the defence of clutching at straws, pointing to the scatter-gun approach of Mr Simpson's lawyers.

If you knit together the threads that they have spun to weave doubt in the jury's minds, a bizarre storyline emerges:

r OJ Simpson was too crippled with arthritis to stab to death his ex- wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her waiter friend, Ronald Goldman.

r He was at home when the killings happened: Rosa Lopez, the next-door- neighbour's maid, saw his car parked outside his house at around the same time, although she's no longer sure when.

r The murders could have been the work of drug gangsters who went to Mrs Simpson's house, perhaps because her friend, Faye Resnick, a confessed cocaine user who had stayed there briefly, had welshed on a payment.

r The police arrived, including Mr Fuhrman, who spirited a bloody glove away by stuffing it in his sock, barged on to Mr Simpson's property and planted it behind a wall. This was because he was racist, or resentful about being bounced off the homicide investigation, or both. He took this risk although he is unlikely to have known if there were eye-witnesses or if Mr Simpson had an alibi.

The defence is not necessarily arguing that all these things happened, just that some of them could have. But, at this stage in the proceedings, it is fair to say that if you tried hawking their storyline around Hollywood, it would hit the wastepaper basket faster than F Lee Bailey can shout "Objection, your honour!"

n A fifth juror was dismissed from the Simpson panel yesterday. Judge Lance Ito did not disclose the reason, but there was an unconfirmed report in the New York Daily News that computer files had been found indicating that the juror, a 52-year-old teacher, of mixed race, was writing a book about the case. He was replaced by a 60-year-old white woman, bringing the make-up of the panel to eight blacks, three whites and one Hispanic.