OJ loses round one in civil case over killings

Simpson sequel: Judge throws out key trial evidence showing police motivated by racism
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The Independent Online
OJ Simpson's attorneys in his civil trial will not be allowed to raise allegations of racism by the former detective Mark Fuhrman in their opening statements, a judge ruled yesterday.

Judge Hiroshi Fujisaki told the court in Los Angeles: "This is not a case of: did the LAPD commit malpractice."

By outlawing a critical plank of Mr Simpson's claim that senior Los Angeles police officers mishandled or planted the evidence against him, the judge dealt what appeared a significant blow to the defence just as the wrongful- death law suit brought against him by the families of his murdered ex- wife Nicole and her friend Ronald Goldman get under way.

After a series of pre-trial rulings, the trial's opening shots this week are expected to centre on the make-up of the 12-member jury, with jury selection set for today.

Nearly a year ago, Mr Simpson was acquitted of double murder by a jury with nine black members drawn from the area round Los Angeles' dilapidated city centre.

Coming weeks will test the conventional wisdom that jurors from the city's better-off and mostly white west side, where the trial is now located in Santa Monica, will treat him differently.

The stakes will be lower for Mr Simpson in the civil case. At worst he will face a multi-million dollar damages award, not jail, and would typically have ample opportunity to appeal. He may be more concerned by a separate hearing scheduled to open yesterday in Orange County, California, where he is seeking to regain custody of his children, Sydney and Justin.

In many ways OJ, the sequel, promises a drab reprise of the nine-month criminal trial. Judge Hiroshi Fujisaki, in his determination to block a media circus, has barred not only cameras but even sketch writers from the court. He banned both sides from talking to the press.

For the first time, now that he is no longer sheltered by the Fifth Amendment, Mr Simpson will be forced to testify in court, grilled by a battery of nine attorneys working for the victims' families.

This trial, as a result, is likely to focus far more on his contradictory accounts of the night of the murders and his alleged attempt to flee justice in the celebrated chase of the white Bronco truck, and less on an alleged racist plot by the LA police.

The judge's rulings,according to legal analysts, emphasise that this time Mr Simpson's attorneys may have the deck stacked against them. A civil jury can settle the case with a majority verdict approved by as few as nine jurors on the balance of the evidence, and are not required to meet the strict criminal standard of a verdict beyond reasonable doubt.

Mr Simpson's accusers in addition are not the state or figures such as Fuhrman but grieving families. They are led by the formidable Fred Goldman, Ronald's father, who insists that he has brought the case in the name of justice, not money.

The judge said Mr Simpson's defence may not mention allegations that after Fuhrman denied ever using racial epithets, a screenwriter produced tapes of him repeatedly using the word "nigger", or that he later took the Fifth Amendment to avoid questions on the subject.

He also barred the mention of a conspiracy theory that Mr Simpson has aired in press interviews - that Colombian drug lords were somehow involved in the double murder, via his wife's friend Faye Resnick.