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Poll of American lawyers puts O J Simpson in the clear

Seven out of 10 lawyers in the United States believe that the double- murder trial of O J Simpson will end in an acquittal or a hung jury, according to a poll.

While Americans continue a fierce debate about the case, a survey by the National Law Journal indicated that lawyers are increasingly convinced that he will not be convicted by the jury of murdering his former wife, Nicole, and Ronald Goldman, a 25-year-old waiter.

Of the 301 surveyed, 39 per cent predicted that his trial will end in a hung jury, while 31 per cent expected an acquittal. The remaining 30 per cent either believed he would be convicted, or expressed no opinion.

There has long been considerable scepticism about the likelihood that the 47-year-old former American footballer will be found guilty of the killings, especially after the selection of a predominantly black jury from Los Angeles.

This month a nationwide poll confirmed that the trial had fractured public opinion along racial lines; 68 per cent of blacks said they believed Mr Simpson was innocent, while 61 per cent of whites said he was guilty.

But speculation has increased markedly following reports that, within days of the start of his trial, the jury was divided by racial tension. A 63-year-old white legal secretary - one of two whites on the panel - departed this month, leaving a jury that now comprises nine blacks, two people of mixed race and one white.

Although officials said she left after it was discovered that she had been treated for arthritis by a doctor also used by Mr Simpson, there were unconfirmed reports that she had been in a shoving match with a black juror whom she regarded as too sympathetic to Mr Simpson.

Meanwhile, prosecutors were concerned to note that, during a jury tour of his Los Angeles mansion, one juror was wearing a hat bearing the logo from the San Francisco 49ers - one of Mr Simpson's former teams.

Signs that the prosecution's case may not have convinced some of the jury come despite the fact that Mr Simpson's "Dream Team" of expensive criminal lawyers has suffered several recent setbacks.

The prosecution revealed that they have found what they believe is another spot of Mr Simpson's blood on a gate at the murder scene. And the defence has been unable to budge police witnesses who say that they found only one bloody glove at the crime scene.

Mr Simpson's lawyers - mindful that Los Angeles' blacks are far more sceptical about the police than other groups - have been hammering away at the police handling of the case.

They have argued that there were two gloves at the scene, but that one was moved and planted in the grounds of Mr Simpson's estate by an allegedly racist detective in the Los Angeles police department.