'Wise' ruling provokes calls of double standards: No death penalty for OJ Simpson

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The Independent Online
O J SIMPSON was not about to 'lose any sleep', according to his lawyers, over the decision late on Friday by Los Angeles prosecutors not to seek the death penalty in the double murder case against him. But in the streets and over the airwaves, an explosion of conflicting reactions has occurred.

Black leaders, who have lobbied the district attorney's office for weeks not to seek the death penalty against the former football star, expressed relief. But others, including feminist leaders, suggested that a double standard was at work: a famous figure was receiving special treatment.

Whatever the decision, controversy was inevitable. Mr Simpson, 47, is charged with the killing in June of his former wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, 35, and aspiring model Ronald Goldman, 25. Under Californian law, multiple murder is a 'special circumstance' in which the death penalty can be sought.

After weeks of delay, which only added fuel to the debate, a special panel of the office of District Attorney Gil Garcetti, said that it would seek imprisonment without parole, but not execution.

The decision will take some of the drama out of the case, which is due to begin with jury selection on 26 September. And it will deprive America of what surely would have been an unprecedented debate about the death penalty itself and its appropriateness as a deterrent to crime. Never before would someone so well-known have faced the gas chamber.

The move came as no surprise to most legal experts, who had been predicting that the death penalty would not be sought. In particular, it would have made it more difficult for the prosecution to obtain a first-degree-murder guilty verdict from a jury.

The decision was 'very wise, very smart', said LA civil rights attorney, Leo Terrell. 'It was legally correct, and definitely politically correct.'

What particularly prompts accusations of double standards is the case of the brothers Erik and Lyle Menendez, charged with murdering their parents, and for whom Mr Garcetti is seeking the death penalty. Their defence claimed that they were victims of repeated parental abuse.

'What kind of moral or legal decision would merit the death penalty for 18- to 20-year- olds who killed their abusers, but not for a wealthy, independent adult who, they believe, killed the person he was abusing?' asked Leslie Abramson, the attorney for Erik Menendez. 'The only answer is that if you are a celebrity . . . you are going to be given considerations and privileges the average citizen does not get.'

But John Mack, head of the Los Angeles chapter of the black Urban League, praised the decision, saying there were already too many blacks on Death Row. 'We don't need another one there,' he said. And it has been argued that, as a celebrity and role model for so many blacks, Mr Simpson is unlikely to receive a fair trial.

Meanwhile, rumours surface almost daily about the impending trial. Black comedian Bill Cosby was forced last week to deny reports that he was helping to finance Mr Simpson's defence, the cost of which is expected to run to millions.

(Photograph omitted)