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Simpson's Fame More of a Boon, Attorney Says

October 26, 1994|LESLIE BERKMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

DANA POINT — While criticizing pretrial publicity, Johnnie L. Cochran Jr., one of O.J. Simpson's defense attorneys, acknowledged Tuesday that his client's fame from football and TV commercials is more advantageous than harmful to him in his murder trial.

"On balance he has been helped by his celebrity reputation," Cochran said at a conference of magazine publishers Tuesday at the Ritz-Carlton hotel. "We have jurors regarding him as O.J." the public figure, not as an ordinary murder defendant, he said.

After his appearance in a panel discussion, Cochran said in an interview that polls of potential jurors reveal that most "have a favorable image of (Simpson) going in and that is unusual" for a defendant facing murder charges.

Cochran, however, complained that the media emphasize the First Amendment right to free speech over other constitutional protections, particularly the right to a fair trial.

"In our Constitution there is more than the First Amendment," he said. He contended that the extraordinary amount of media attention in the O.J. Simpson case is "debilitating to our ability to get a fair trial." Simpson has pleaded not guilty to killing his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ronald Lyle Goldman.

Cochran complained about the flood of publicity involving an old 911 tape of Nicole Simpson calling for help as a man identified as O.J. Simpson rages in the background. The attorney also criticized KNBC for televising a report that blood on Simpson's socks was a DNA match with his ex-wife's blood, when DNA tests had not been completed.

While Cochran said he has "no faith in the tabloids" and complained about the "spin" of other written news reports, he said he would lean toward wanting Superior Court Judge Lance A. Ito to continue to allow cameras in the courtroom.

Others on the panel discussion--titled "Are Magazines Going Too Far or Not Far Enough?"--also criticized the press for what they called a lack of professional responsibility.

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