`Racist cop' issue takes centre stage in OJ trial

EDWARD HELMORE

Los Angeles

As OJ Simpson's trial enters what was supposed to be its final week,the question of guilt or innocence has been obscured by Mark Fuhrman's racist views. Few are prepared to predict what may happen.

Mr Fuhrman is the Los Angeles Police Department detective who discovered a bloody glove behind Simpson's guest house on the night of the Simpson- Goldman murders. His fondness for racial epithets and vigilante justice have not only come to overshadow the trial of the black former football star but also threaten to re-open the deep wounds of police brutality and racism in Los Angeles.

If the defence call Mr Fuhrman back to the stand today he will probably plead the Fifth Amendment - essentially the right to avoid self-incrimination. The defence will then be able to motion that all of Mr Fuhrman's testimony be struck from the trial.

When on the stand in April, Mr Fuhrman testified that he had not used the word "nigger" in 10 years. Interviews recorded by an aspiring screenwriter have shown that he not only perjured himself, but also elicited boasts that he had fabricated evidence during 20 years as a serving police officer.

However, by ruling that only two relatively slight instances of Mr Fuhrman's prejudicial and copious uses of the word "nigger" could be played to jurors, Judge Ito has not only deprived the defence of a dramatic conclusion but increased the possibility that Simpson may testify.

While acknowledging that the N-word was "the single most insulting,inflammatory and provocative term in use in modern day America", he found that the evidentiary value of a full admission would be "overwhelmingly outweighed by the danger of undue prejudice".

Under the ruling,Laura Hart McKinny,the screenwriter who recorded Mr Fuhrman's remarks,will not be allowed to tell jurors about his boasts of police brutality and planting evidence. Judge Ito's decision has clearly favoured the prosecution. Most trial-watchers agree that had the full blast of Mr Fuhrman's venom been admitted OJ would have been able comfortably to predict the A-word - acquittal.

The defence has said it is unlikely to play the tapes but will call 10 new witnesses,including an assistant district attorney,to testify to Mr Fuhrman's alleged racist views. "I'm the key witness in the biggest case of the century," Mr Fuhrman told Ms McKinny in July 1994 in a self- realising prediction. "If I go down,they lose the case.The glove is everything.Without the glove - bye-bye."

So incendiary are the tapes that Mr Fuhrman's lawyer,Robert Tourtelot,has dropped his client, citing his "despicable statements of hatred and ignorance" and his private investigator,Antony Pellicano has called his attitude reprehensible.

Sections that were played to the court,but not the jury, have effectively become the soundtrack to the silent film of Rodney King's beating.

In them he spews venom against women,liberals and criminals,gang members, drug dealers,pimps andblacks. He says,in a normal,casual tone, "nigger" 41 times and gives 17 instances of the ways to frame a suspect. He described his former 77th St precinct as "a place awash with the smell of niggers that have been beaten and killed "and that arresting police officers did not need evidence because "You're God".

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