Out of America: Gawpers in LA prefer TV to the real thing

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LOS ANGELES - The house where Nicole Simpson was stabbed to death should have been easy to find. I had the approximate address on South Cosby Drive off Wilshire Boulevard. Television said neighbours were complaining bitterly about crowds of gawpers come to see the scene of the crime. All I had to do was to drive until I saw police cars and the mob of sightseers.

I forgot that nobody in Los Angeles goes to look at anything in person. Even if the most famous crime in the city's history takes place around the corner, they watch it on television at home. When I did find 875 Bundy Drive, in the forecourt of which Nicole and her friend Ronald Goldman were killed with a knife, there was nobody there apart from a Mexican worker putting up a sign, on behalf of local residents which read: 'Please Respect Our Privacy.'

Not that their privacy seemed under threat. In the 15 minutes I stood outside the house there was only one visitor, who darted up and said: 'Which house is it? I'm writing a book about it.' Then he jumped back into his car and disappeared. 'Otherwise, apart from the Mexican, the only people to pass by were dog-walkers and joggers showing no interest in the scene of the crime.

All this explains how two people could be hacked to death with a knife - which must have taken some time - without neighbours hearing screams or the sounds of a struggle. Nobody in Brentwood walks anywhere. If Nicole Simpson and Ronald Goldman died at about 11pm it would be too late for joggers, and people not in bed would be watching television.

Even at OJ Simpson's house on Rockingham Avenue there were fewer than a dozen sightseers. The iron gate to his house is festooned with supportive notices such as: 'We love you OJ.' Little bottles of orange juice (OJ) were placed symbolically beside the gate. Another sign said: 'Let Da Juice Loose'. Inside the gates two bored-looking guard dogs sat under a eucalyptus tree.

In the central criminal court in downtown Los Angeles, Pamela Simpson, a small woman who is a cousin of OJ, was complaining that he would not get a fair trial because he is black. The opposite is probably true. If OJ's trial is in downtown LA then most of the jury will be black or Hispanic. If it is in Santa Monica then the jury pool will be largely white.

Employers in Los Angeles are not obliged to give more than two weeks off for jury service, which means that people employed full-time usually avoid serving on juries. 'The majority on a jury are usually public employees and retired people,' says one lawyer. And in Los Angeles, most public employees are black.

He will certainly do better with a jury than with the District Attorney's office. After failing to get a verdict against the Menendez brothers, the DA, Gil Garcetti, knows his career hangs on the OJ case. Mr Garcetti has an important advantage in that OJ talked to police for three hours on the morning after the murder. The prosecution can call him a liar if he departs from anything he said then.

But the prosecution shot themselves in the foot by releasing tapes of 911 emergency calls made by Nicole to the police. It is always in the interest of California prosecutors to go through a grand jury: it acts in secret, is usually made up of retired people and is notoriously pliable. 'They will indict a ham sandwich if you ask them,' says a former prosecutor.

Robert Shapiro, OJ's lawyer, made a serious mistake by allowing his so-called suicide letter to be read out on television on the night of his famous escape. It is full of little falsehoods the prosecution can nail. But with the dismissal of the grand jury, deemed tainted by listening to the 911 tapes, the evidence against OJ will have to be spelled out at a preliminary hearing.