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Lawyers: OJ 'wrongfully accused'

By
TERRI VERMEULEN

LOS ANGELES, Nov. 2 -- O.J. Simpson's attorneys repeatedly told potential jurors during questioning Wednesday that the football legend is 'wrongfully accused' of killing his ex-wife and her friend. In questioning that largely resembled closing arguments, the attorneys tried to determine if 41 potential jurors had biases toward or against Simpson or the Police Department. 'He contends he's been wrongfully accused of murder,' defense attorney Johnnie Cochran said. 'It becomes your job to determine if he was wrongfully accused.' Cochran urged jurors to look at Simpson as a person and not as a 'Jekyll and Hyde personality' as they contend prosecutors have tried to portray the athlete-turned-actor. He said it is not up to defense attorneys to identify 'the real killers.' Meanwhile, prosecutor Marcia Clark urged the jurors to remember the victims and speak up if any of the panelists were rooting for or against Simpson. 'Is there anyone here who is rooting for the verdict of not guilty because if you've decided how this case should end, you cannot be fair?' Clark told the jurors. 'Either side, go. We want you to sit in the middle here.' Clark told jurors they should not expect her to shoot down 'oddball theories' about the June 12 slabbing and slashing deaths of Simpson's ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ronald Goldman. She said those theories included rumors that the killings were done by drug dealers, the Mafia, a Colombian cartel or aliens, that the Police Department framed Simpson or that Nicole Simpson and Goldman are still alive.

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Both the prosecution and the defense brought up the issue of race, saying they hoped it would not be a factor in the jury's verdict. Outside of the jurors' presence, Simpson's attorneys asked Superior Court Judge Lance Ito to impose sanctions against Clark for her comments to the panel about a jury's acquittal of four white police officers in the first Rodney King beating trial. Clark had asked jurors if they thought it was right if someone was acquitted because of their race. Ito cautioned Clark not to comment on the actions of other juries, but he did not take any other action. 'It is not appropriate to comment on or criticize a verdict by another jury,' Ito told the prospective jurors. Prosecutors and defense attorneys are expected to begin their peremptory challenges Thursday to kick prospective jurors off the panel without reason. Each side has 20 peremptory challenges. The judge said he believes the attorneys will have to begin questioning a second panel of about 80 jurors to get 15 alternate jurors. The jury would then be whittled down to 12 jurors and eight alternates after a hearing on whether to admit DNA blood evidence. Forty-five jurors have been dimissed for cause, including three on Wednesday. Those excused included a woman who said she believed police had acted improperly by jumping over the wall of Simpson's estate the day the bodies were discovered; one who said she believed Simpson should have to prove his innocence; and one who had heard about a controversial book written by one of Nicole Simpson's friends.

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