Don't be too surprised if Simpson beats charges

January 27, 1995|By MIKE ROYKO

After hearing the opening statements, my bets would be on O.J. Simpson's walking out a free man.

It isn't that the prosecution doesn't have an arsenal of persuasive evidence -- trails of blood, DNA samples and a portrait of Simpson as a jealous and violent stalker.

And it's possible that when all the testimony is over, the majority of people watching TV will be persuaded that he is guilty.

But it won't matter what you or I and all the other spectators think. We're just part of the world's biggest gapers' block.

It will take only one person -- a member of that California jury -- to dig in his or her heels and say: "I don't believe it." And hold to that view. If that happens, it's a hung jury, and the prosecutors will have to decide whether to go through the whole thing again.

Something in Johnnie Cochran's opening pitch makes me believe that he and the defense team will be able to plant enough doubt in at least one juror's mind to prevent a guilty finding.

That something is Mark Fuhrman, the eager-beaver detective who was involved in so much of the early Simpson investigation and seemed to have an uncanny knack for coming across important clues and evidence.

He was also in on one of those past domestic squabbles between O.J. and Nicole.

But most important, the defense believes it has evidence that Fuhrman said things in the past that indicate he is a racist.

If he is, that shouldn't be much of a shock. Many cops are racists. So are many other Americans in other jobs.

But Fuhrman isn't just any cop or any American. And that's why Cochran made a point of mentioning Fuhrman in his opening remarks.

It's a safe guess that Cochran is going to try to put Fuhrman on trial. The goal will be to try to establish that he is a racist cop who didn't like seeing a black man become a big success and marry a gorgeous white woman.

And that Fuhrman's dislike of Simpson was nasty enough to prompt him and possibly others to plant evidence -- the bloody glove, for example -- to hang Simpson for crimes someone else committed.

Does that sound implausible or even far-fetched? It depends on your background.

If you have lived most of your life in a friendly small town or a quiet

comfortable suburb, yes, it might be unthinkable that your nice Officer Friendly would try to railroad an innocent person.

But if you are a black person, you might say: "So what else is new?"

Few blacks, especially in big cities such as L.A., would be shocked by the suggestion that a white cop might find it in his heart to try to frame or railroad a black person.

And there are valid reasons for their feeling that way. Blacks have indeed been framed by racist cops and prosecutors. If not framed, then pushed around and deprived of a fair shake. There's nothing new in that. It is part of our legal heritage.

I doubt if there are many adult blacks who haven't had bad experiences with cops. And few who can't talk about someone they knew being given a bad deal in a courtroom or a police station.

We don't know a lot about the 12 Simpson jurors. But we do know that eight are black, and all but one of the others are Hispanic or Native American.

It's possible, I guess, that those eight black jurors are unique, that they have had amazingly carefree lives, somehow sheltered from the tensions and nitty-gritty of a multi-racial society that isn't always friendly and filled with brotherly love.

Sure, it's possible. It's also possible to draw three cards to an inside straight.

It's far more likely that one or more of those eight black jurors already believe that white cops are capable of railroading a black man. If they know that J. Edgar Hoover and his FBI waged a campaign to malign Martin Luther King Jr., why should they have faith in the honesty of some L.A. cop with a possible history of using the N-word?

Yes, all of those jurors promised that they have open minds and would consider only the evidence and testimony. That's what jurors always say.

But no lawyer believes that. To the contrary, a good trial lawyer is looking for jurors who will lean in the direction of his client, whatever the evidence shows. If they wanted someone impartial and influenced only by the evidence, testimony and law, they'd ask for a bench trial and take their chances with the judge.

So Cochran will try to show that there was a bad cop -- maybe more than one -- out there, trying to nail an innocent man. Such things have happened.

And all it will take is for one juror to believe that it is happening again. Don't bet against it.

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