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Monday, September 8, 2008
Jury selection in O.J. case could take a week or longer

Associated Press

LAS VEGAS -- O.J. Simpson went on trial for kidnapping and robbery Monday with a judge determined to find a jury unaffected by his long-ago "Trial of the Century."

"What happened then, happened then," Judge Jackie Glass told prospective jurors.

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"If you are here and think you are going to punish Mr. Simpson for what happened in 1995, this is not the case for you," she said, urging them to confess if they had such a motive. All stayed silent.

While asking many questions about the past, the judge stopped short of asking the big question that Simpson's lawyer wanted: Do they consider Simpson a murderer?

"My determination is no, we are not going there," Glass told lawyers outside the prospects' presence. "We are not here to re-litigate that case. The jury reached a verdict in that case and people have strong feelings about it. This case is about what happened here in Las Vegas last year."

The new case debuted as a pale postscript to the murder trial that riveted America in the 1990s when Simpson, a former pro football star, was charged with murdering his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ronald Goldman, and ultimately acquitted.

Missing were the crowds that surrounded the courthouse when Simpson was arrested last year for allegedly robbing two sports collectibles dealers in a hotel room, and the media throng that has followed him over the years was dramatically diminished.

Simpson has a co-defendant this time, Clarence "C.J." Stewart, an old friend who went along on an ill-fated mission which Simpson claims was intended to reclaim personal property. But Stewart was barely mentioned Monday as the judge focused on how much prospective jurors knew about Simpson and how they feel about him.

O.J. Simpson

Simpson

When she asked how many of them knew of Simpson, hands shot in the air from most of the 87 panelists initially brought to the courtroom. They were not asked if they knew Stewart, who has repeatedly tried to have his case severed from Simpson's on grounds he would be tainted sitting next to the celebrity defendant.

Simpson and Stewart have each pleaded not guilty to 12 charges, including felony kidnapping, armed robbery, conspiracy, burglary, coercion and assault with a deadly weapon.

Simpson maintains he didn't ask anyone to bring guns to the hotel room and that he didn't know anyone in the room was armed.

The stakes are high -- a robbery conviction would mean mandatory prison time, and a kidnapping conviction carries the possibility of life in prison with the possibility of parole.

When he was acquitted of murder in 1995, police on horseback had to surround the Los Angeles criminal courts building to keep back crowds. And a cast of sideshow characters was present throughout the yearlong trial.

On Monday, one lone figure, local radio producer John Tolson, 28, stood wearing a sign saying "Photo with OJ. $1." No one took him up on his offer to have a picture snapped with the bottle of orange juice he held.

"I'm trying to make a buck off O.J., like everybody else," said Tolson.

Court spokesman Michael Sommermeyer said more than 472 print, photo, video and radio journalists were credentialed for the trial, but some national networks were waiting for jury selection to be completed.

Simpson's murder trial had a strong racial component and Stewart's lawyer raised the point that the Las Vegas jury pool for this case is predominantly white with only a few African-Americans. He told the judge the jury pool is not diverse enough to provide a representative panel for two black defendants.

Simpson, 61, and Stewart, 54, chatted with each other and acquaintances in court before proceedings began. Simpson spoke about his children and his worries that Hurricane Ike might hit his home in Miami while he's gone.

He sat at the counsel table between his lawyers, taking notes and occasionally glancing at the prospective jurors.

The judge said she would allow lawyers to question some prospects but did not want to explore their feelings about Simpson's acquittal.

"We're not going to be here examining their psyches," she said.

But when she asked if prospects who followed Simpson's first trial could put their opinions behind them, two said they could not and were dismissed. By day's end 14 others were also excused because of scheduling and other problems.

The judge noted she is worried about "stealth jurors" who may have ulterior motives for getting on the jury.

"If you're looking here to become famous and write a book and be on TV," she told them, "This is not the case for you."

Prosecutor David Roger told the judge outside jurors' presence he's worried about reports that in Las Vegas bets are being taken on the trial's outcome. He worried aloud that someone might try to bribe a juror to win a bet.

The judge later told the prospective jurors that there supposedly was wagering going on and she warned them to not go on the Internet.

Jury selection was to continue Tuesday.