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The Simpson Verdicts : Trial Watchers Worldwide Have Mixed Reaction : Some Contend Race, Wealth and Celebrity Affected Outcome; Others Hail Jury

October 04, 1995|WILLIAM D. MONTALBANO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LONDON — It was hardball in a Los Angeles courtroom, and for months, people all over the global village savored every play. On Tuesday, the world absorbed the dramatic final inning with a gasp, a shrug and "I told you so's" in uncounted millions.

"He did not do it. I think he went home and found it and ran away. I am pleased and delighted," said Martha Simpson, 63, a community care worker here.

"He's guilty as sin. I'm appalled. That's all I have to say. I'm screaming at the telly, and I'm sick that we live in a world where money is all that matters," said Rowena Goldman, a London television producer.

"I suspect he was found not guilty because he is such a well-loved celebrity," said Pamela Brown, 40, a senior civil servant.

"Will we ever know who did it?" wondered Mary Brown, 26. "The jury obviously just didn't trust the police--but didn't he look surprised!"

"It went on so long I got bored. It wasn't a trial. It was a soap opera," said J.R. Simpson, 67.

In England, Sky television broadcast almost 600 hours of trial coverage since January. In a pre-verdict call-in poll, its viewers declared Simpson "guilty" by a 2-1 margin. The British chorus found instant echoes across airwaves and living rooms worldwide Tuesday, and in many corners dismay and consternation prevailed among those interviewed.

"Oh my God, that really says something about the legal system in the States. I had hoped to see that guy put behind bars for a long time," said Caroline Pichot, 30, a Paris language school director.

"It's not true. It's not possible," Salah Ferhat, 31, a Moroccan-born security guard in Paris, said on hearing the jury's decision.

"Obscene," declared Italian senator and film director Franco Zeffirelli. "My American friends can no longer criticize Italian justice, which in their view is characterized by long trials, a magistracy which becomes a spectacle and unpunished culprits."

In El Salvador, Rosa Lopez, whose testimony on Simpson's behalf was taped but never seen by the jury, ignored the verdict, spending the morning at her farm outside the town of Sensuntepeque. "God knows why He saved him," she told reporters later, talking through a window beside her front door. "It was for the jury to decide, not me."

State-run television in Kenya interrupted its broadcasts to carry a rare flash about Simpson. Argentina's Rio de la Plata television also interrupted a talk show for live coverage. Julian Weich, the talk show host, followed up with a question: "If O.J. Simpson wasn't the murderer, who was?"

For many around the world, it seemed that the American judicial system was on trial as much as Simpson.

"The thing about this that compels attention here is the moral decay that seems exemplified by this case," said Ralph Benmergui, who hosts a daily televised call-in show on the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.'s all-news channel.

Mexicans and Colombians agreed with this view, also seeing the verdict as a chance to turn the tables on Americans who routinely belittle their courts.

"They are always criticizing the Mexican justice system, but it is the same in the United States--a man with money and fame hires the best lawyers and wins, even though he is guilty," said Miguel Pizano, 27, a student standing outside a Mexico City cantina.

Frank Ramirez, an actor in Bogota who lived in Los Angeles for 15 years, noted: "If the defendant had been a poor black man in Watts or Central L.A. with $10 instead of $10 million, he would have been sentenced to 350 years, just for good measure."

Among the mostly male crowd packing the Sports Bar, a watering hole and pool hall on Moscow's New Arbat Street, cheers and applause erupted when Simpson's acquittal was announced live on Cable News Network.

Many overseas argued that the Simpson jury had been swayed by racial concerns.

"The decision was influenced by the fact that O.J. is Afro-American," Marina Avakova, 27, a secretary for Sumitomo, said in Moscow. "The white people were afraid of stirring up black riots. Is this real democracy? I do not think so."

At Hong Kong's L.A. Cafe, when the verdict came in past 1 a.m. today, Vastine Pettis, a saxophonist from South Carolina, jumped up to award the television a "high five."

"That's my man!" he shouted, then added more quietly, "O.J. is guilty. I can feel it in my bones. Obviously, the police messed up. That's the only way they could acquit him. What this case really showed was that the LAPD is definitely racist."

Francoise Simpson of Brussels said she had no inkling of the media focus on her American namesake. "I've never heard of him," she said. "Should I care?"

Contributing to this report were Times staff writers Scott Kraft in Paris, Craig Turner in Toronto, Juanita Darling in Mexico City, Richard Boudreaux in Moscow, William R. Long in Santiago, John Balzar in Nairobi and Maggie Farley in Hong Kong, as well as Times special correspondents Janet Stobart in Rome, Steven Ambrus in Bogota, Christena Colclaugh in Guatemala, Diego Aleman in San Salvador, Patricia Grogg in Havana and Shasta Darlington in Mexico City.

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