Wednesday, September 17, 2008
LAS VEGAS -- As testimony in O.J. Simpson's trial on robbery charges gets underway this week, one thing is already abundantly clear: When the former football star enters a courtroom, so does a debate about race.
In jury selection last week, defense attorneys repeatedly tried to dismiss the mostly white jury pool and accused prosecutors of systematically excluding blacks. The allegation prompted Clark County Dist. Atty. David Roger to insist that his choice of jurors had "nothing to do with race."
What effect, if any, the absence of African Americans on the jury will have remains to be seen. The charges Simpson faces have no obvious racial overtones. Few prospective panelists, black or white, mentioned the issue during intense questioning about Simpson. But some experts say race is sure to play some role in the jury room.
"If it's just a simple robbery case, then it really doesn't matter if the jury is all white," said Osvaldo Fumo, a Las Vegas criminal defense attorney who has been monitoring the case. "But the problem is it's O.J. Simpson. And then it does matter."
Simpson's 1995 trial over the slayings of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ronald Goldman was televised and watched by millions -- leaving enduring, racially tinged images, including that of a handcuffed Simpson and of Los Angeles Police Department Det. Mark Fuhrman getting caught using racial slurs. The defense turned on allegations of discrimination by law enforcement and possible evidence-tampering, and a predominantly black jury acquitted Simpson. [Mark Godsey]