Video alibi for O J

FROM PHIL REEVES

in Los Angeles

There was an unexpected twist in the O J Simpson case yesterday when the judge ruled that his only known alibi witness need not tell her story in person before a jury but could testify on a video tape for later use when the defence case opens.

Judge Lance Ito's decision came moments before Rosa Lopez, a former maid, was to take the stand, after claiming to have seen Mr Simpson's Bronco outside his Los Angeles mansion at the same time as prosecutors say he was on a murder spree several miles away.

On Friday, the judge ruled that Ms Lopez should testify in person after she informed him that she planned to return to her home in El Salvador. Speaking in Spanish, she complained of being harassed by the media.

But yesterday Judge Ito changed his mind after Marcia Clark, a Deputy District Attorney, complained that Ms Lopez's testimony would disrupt the prosecution's case, which is still being presented.

According to the defence, Ms Lopez, who used to work for a next-door neighbour of Mr Simpson, claims to have seen his white car outside his mansion about 10.15 on 12 June - around the time prosecutors say he was stabbing to death his ex-wife and Ronald Goldman. The loss of her direct evidence is likely to have a mixed effect. While appearing in person can make a greater impact on jurors, on Friday prosecutors caught her in several discrepancies and she seemed weak and contradictory. However she has an important part to play, especially in bolstering allegations that Simpson was framed by a racist LA police detective.

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