'Absolutely, 100 percent not guilty'

July 23, 1994|By New York Times News Service

LOS ANGELES -- His voice forceful and animated, his shoulders squared as he faced the bench, O. J. Simpson pleaded "absolutely, 100 percent not guilty" when formally arraigned yesterday in Superior Court on twin charges of first-degree murder.

The arraignment, the point at which the accused in a case officially responds to charges, was the final major judicial step before Mr. Simpson goes to trial in the killings June 12 of his former wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ronald L. Goldman.

No date was set at yesterday's hearing for beginning the trial, which promises to be one of the most closely watched in decades. Defense and prosecution lawyers were ordered to return to court next Friday to set a trial date.

Both sides have indicated they would like to begin sooner rather than later, perhaps as early as Sept. 20. That will be 60 days after Mr. Simpson's arraignment, and under California law he can demand that his trial start then.

The job of presiding over the trial was assigned to Judge Lance Ito of Superior Court, a 43-year-old former prosecutor.

Yesterday's brief, nationally televised arraignment began with the presiding judge of Superior Court, Cecil J. Mills, explaining to Mr. Simpson that he faced two first-degree murder charges because it had been alleged that "you did, with malice aforethought, murder Nicole Brown Simpson, a human being," and "Ronald Lyle Goldman, a human being."

"Do you understand the charges against you, sir?" Judge Mills asked.

Mr. Simpson, dressed in a dark blue suit, quickly and forcefully replied, "Yes, Your Honor."

Then, in a moment that in most cases is a foregone conclusion but nevertheless is always a good piece of drama, Judge Mills went to the heart of the day's work.

"How do you plead?" he asked.

Mr. Simpson, who had seemed subdued in many earlier court appearances, noticeably squared his shoulders, then declared, "Absolutely, 100 percent not guilty."

A few minor legal exchanges and asides followed between Judge Mills and the lawyers. Among other things, the judge noted that the defense team, already stacked with nationally renowned criminal lawyers, had added another, Johnnie Cochran Jr. of Los Angeles, whose clients have included entertainer Michael Jackson and Reginald Denny, the white trucker beaten during the Los Angeles riots.

Mr. Cochran, 56, a former top prosecutor in the Los Angeles County district attorney's office, is known for his skills as a trial lawyer.

With family members of the victims looking on, the judge closed the proceedings, saying, "The defendant is remanded to the custody of the sheriff without bail."

As Mr. Simpson was being escorted from the courtroom, he flashed a thumbs-up sign.

Mr. Simpson is not eligible under California law to go free on bond because he is charged with two counts of first-degree murder.

His defense team spent most of the past week filing motions and leaking stories intended to seed doubt about the prosecution's case in the minds of potential jurors. Before that, the prosecution was on the offensive with leaks and statements meant to chip away at Mr. Simpson's celebrity.

Immediately after yesterday's hearing, the defense team filed still more motions, this time trying to cast doubt on the prosecution's blood-testing methods and demanding, as it had earlier, that its forensic experts also be allowed to test blood spots found at the scene of the killings and elsewhere.

The motions expressed fear that the prosecution serologists would use up all the spots before defense serologists could gain access to them, and asked that such access be granted immediately.

Should the motions be denied, the defense team argued, there was a danger that "some crucial evidence in this case will be needlessly consumed and destroyed without the defense ever getting an opportunity to conduct its own independent testing."

Judge Ito set a hearing on the motions for Monday.

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