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Case of the Century' goes before jury

By
TERRI VERMEULEN

LOS ANGELES, Jan. 22 -- O.J. Simpson, who once captivated the nation on the football field, will again be the center of attention Monday in a downtown courtroom as his attorneys try to convince jurors he's innocent of two brutal killings. As the world watches, the jury will hear opening statements describing evidence against the NFL Hall-of-Famer and determine if he should spend the rest of his life in prison for the vicious June 12, 1994, stabbing and slashing deaths of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ronald Goldman. The trial is expected to focus on results from DNA tests on blood from the crime scene and Simpson's estate and Ford Bronco, as well as the football legend's alleged history of domestic violence against his former wife. Simpson's so-called 'dream team' of high-powered defense attorneys had battled to keep jurors from hearing the allegations of domestic violence, contending it would prejudice the panel and make them believe Simpson was more likely to commit the murders. Simpson pleaded 'absolutely 100 percent not guilty' soon after his June 17 arrest following a 90-minute low-speed pursuit across several Southern California freeways and a standoff with police at his estate, all of which was watched live worldwide by an enthralled TV audience. Simpson's attorneys contend the athlete-turned-actor and TV pitchman is wrongly accused, and that police never looked for other suspects. They have implied that Simpson was framed. Key evidence against Simpson is expected to include results of DNA tests on blood stains found at the crime scene, on the driveway of Simpson's estate and in his Ford Bronco.

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Media reports have indicated the tests point to Simpson, and that Simpson's DNA was mixed with that from his ex-wife and Goldman in a sample police discovered in his Bronco. Defense attorneys will argue the DNA evidence has been compromised -- either by incompetent handling at the scene or in the laboratory. They may also argue the tests themselves are not reliable enough to hang a man's future on. The most emotional testimony is likely to come from Nicole's family and friends, who will testify about what prosecutors call a pattern of physical and emotional abuse that started the year the famous athlete met the striking 17-year-old blonde. In recent weeks, prosecutors have said they believe Simpson stalked and killed Nicole in an ultimate act of control after he realized their relationship was over. They believe Goldman, a young waiter returning some eyeglasses left at his restaurant, came upon the murder and was killed by a raging Simpson who thought he was courting Nicole. Defense attorneys have indicated they will attack the credibility of key prosecution witnesses, and -- in classic defense strategy -- attack the victims. Simpson's legal team also is likely to focus on police detective Mark Fuhrman, who testified at the preliminary hearing that he found a bloody glove at Simpson's estate that apparently matched one found at the scene of the killings. They have called him a racist cop and hinted he had a personal reasons to set up Simpson. The highest drama, of course, would be if the handsome, strapping, hero-to-many takes the stand in his own defense. His attorneys have told reporters they would like Simpson to testify, and he reportedly is champing at the bit to tell his side, but no final decision has been announced. Legal experts say the potentially vital decision probably will not be made until the last minute. The trial, which began nearly four months ago with jury selection, is expected to take at least four more months.

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