Sacked juror says OJ trial is in chaos

FROM PHIL REEVES

in Los Angeles

The OJ Simpson trial was in disarray last night as the judge ordered an investigation into a dismissed juror's allegations that fellow panelists may have committed serious misconduct.

The 38-year-old black woman also bolstered prosecutors' suspicions that opinions are splitting along racial lines by attacking their performance as "a whole lot of nothing", and lavishing praise on Mr Simpson and his "wonderful" lawyers.

In remarks which produced a flurry of speculation that the "trial of the century" is destined to end in a mistrial, Jeanette Harris told a Los Angeles television station that sheriff's officers had not always monitored jurors' telephone calls at their hotel, where they have been sequestered since 11 January. "Anyone who wanted to say anything can say it, because the deputies weren't always on their job. We had free conversations."

She also reportedly said jurors had been talking about the case outside the courtroom - a serious violation of the court rules.

Ms Harris was dismissed for failing to disclose during jury selection that she had experienced domestic violence - a sensitive issue as prosecutors say Mr Simpson repeatedly abused his ex-wife, Nicole Brown. Ms Harris, who denied the allegation, said she expected the case to produce a hung jury.

Mr Simpson's lawyers accused prosecutors of using "Big Brother" tactics by probing into jurors' backgrounds, and spying on and harassing top DNA experts whom the defence intends to call as witnesses.

Ms Harris's views will fuel the belief - particularly among whites in the divided city of Los Angeles - that black jurors are likely to be biased in favour of the former Buffalo Bills running back. Most legal experts agree that the prosecution's evidence that he knifed to death his ex-wife and her friend Ron Goldman has seemed powerful.

Now there are increasing predictions that Mr Simpson will be acquitted or the jury will be unable to reach a decision. The panel of eight blacks, three whites and one hispanic must agree unanimously to convict under Californian law.

Ms Harris, an employment counsellor, told KCAL-TV that she did not believe Mr Simpson had received a fair trial. She was "totally amazed" by the impressive way he was handling himself, and complimented his lawyers for their "wonderful" performance. She believed defence claims that a detective, Mark Fuhrman, (whom she called "really cocky") may have planted a bloody glove to frame Mr Simpson. Tearful testimony by Denise Brown - Nicole's sister - had struck her as "acting".

Concerns about the jury have been growing for weeks. There have been reports that the pressure of being imprisoned in a hotel was leading to squabbling. Yesterday testimony was delayed after three reported sick. There are fears that the court will run out of jurors. Six have been dismissed, diminishing the alternates to six - and the trial appears to have months to run. California law allows a jury of fewer than 12 to reach a verdict, but only if both sides agree.

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