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Simpson Panel Gets Both Sides' Views on Trial


In comments that could preview opening statements in the O.J. Simpson murder trial, prosecutors and defense lawyers urged prospective jurors Wednesday to set aside issues such as race and celebrity in weighing the evidence against the football Hall of Famer.

Each side was given 75 minutes to address 41 people who have undergone weeks of questioning about their suitability to serve on the jury, and the lawyers made the most of it, mixing philosophical lectures with more pointed remarks addressed to specific panelists.

Simpson's lawyers took the opportunity to again raise the theory that more than one killer committed the June 12 murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Lyle Goldman--and that Simpson has been tragically and falsely accused of those crimes. Prosecutors, meanwhile, called on jurors to trust their common sense and not be misled by conspiracy theories or wild speculation about how the killings occurred.

"There will not be a sign outside the jury room that says: 'Check your common sense at the door,' " said Deputy Dist. Atty. William Hodgman, one of the lead prosecutors in the case. Hodgman repeatedly emphasized that jurors should rely on their common sense, advice that several pledged to follow.

The comments from the lawyers came as both sides prepared to begin exercising peremptory challenges, those used to excuse jurors without having to state a reason. Superior Court Judge Lance A. Ito and the lawyers had hoped to embark on that phase Wednesday, but delays forced them to wait a day.

Instead, they are scheduled to begin this morning, resuming a jury selection process that has bogged down repeatedly as the two sides have winnowed out jury candidates with biases or other obstacles to their service. On Wednesday, Ito said it is likely that some of the estimated 200 prospective jurors who are on call for possible service in the case will be brought in and questioned as well. That could take almost a month, and may force opening statements to be postponed until early next year.

Before starting to exercise their peremptory challenges, the lawyers were given the opportunity to question the panelists one more time and to address all 41 at once--one prospective juror called in sick, leaving the group short of its full complement of 42.

That was a rare chance to address the people who may decide the case, and the lawyers took full advantage. Attorneys on both sides approached the prospective jurors graciously, effusively thanking them for their efforts so far and gently pitching the defense and prosecution versions of the murder case under the guise of questioning panelists about their preconceptions.

First up was Johnnie L. Cochran Jr., one of Simpson's lead attorneys and one of Los Angeles' most experienced trial lawyers. Cochran reminded prospective jurors that the Los Angeles County district attorney's office has lost a number of high-profile cases in recent years and that law enforcement officials, like other people, sometimes lie under oath.

"Everybody here is an adult," Cochran said. "Everybody here lives in the real world. . . . We know that people will sometimes swear to tell the truth and then absolutely lie."

Cochran's gentle lecture, in which he suggested that several people may have been responsible for the June 12 murders but that Simpson was not one of them, was in contrast to the more pointed questions of his colleague, Robert L. Shapiro. Shapiro questioned jurors one at a time, challenging two who seemed to indicate that they would hold Simpson responsible for establishing his own innocence, rather than forcing prosecutors to prove his guilt.

"That's what keeps me up at night," Shapiro told the panelists. "It's (the prosecution's) burden. It never switches."

Simpson's lawyers and prosecutors met later with Ito outside the presence of the jury panel. The two prospective jurors who expressed confusion about whether it was Simpson's responsibility to prove his innocence were excused by Ito.

"I felt I would be an excellent juror," said Abe Englander, a 77-year-old World War II veteran who had lobbied hard for a spot on the jury. "It was something of a letdown."

In his questioning, Shapiro also touched on a key strategic decision that awaits Simpson's attorneys by asking prospective jurors whether they would hold it against Simpson if he chose not to testify. That decision, Shapiro said, would be made by Simpson and his lawyers--and was one that jurors were not to second-guess.

Both Shapiro and Cochran used their time to insist that jurors see Simpson as a human being, not merely as someone charged with a horrible crime. Pointing to Simpson, Cochran reminded prospective jurors that he is not just a "defendant," as prosecutors typically refer to him.

"That's Mr. O.J. Simpson over there," Cochran said. "This is about human beings."

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