LAS VEGAS (AFP) — Jury selection began Monday in the kidnapping and robbery trial of O.J. Simpson, with the judge warning prospective jurors to disregard the former football star's famous acquittal in a 1995 double-homicide trial.
Simpson, 61, faces 12 charges stemming from a confrontation in a hotel room last September after which he and a gang of gun-toting cohorts left with pillow cases stuffed full of sports memorabilia.
The charges against Simpson and one of those men, Clarence Stewart, include kidnapping and armed robbery, both of which carry potential life sentences in the state of Nevada.
The process of seating a jury actually began in mid-August when 500 prospective jurors filled out a 26-page questionnaire. From that, 248 were not excused, leading to the proceedings that began this week to find a dozen citizens along with six alternates to decide Simpson's fate.
District Judge Jackie Glass was acutely aware of the publicity surrounding the case as she planned to work through about 100 of the 248 on Monday. Glass intended to reduce the 248 to a pool of 40 who will then be questioned by prosecutors and attorneys for Simpson and Stewart. Of greatest concern has been that the jurors not be vying for placement on the panel in order to personally profit or because they remain outraged that Simpson was acquitted of the 1994 slaying of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ronald Goldman.
The case was among the biggest legal spectacles in US history.
"If you are here thinking you are going to punish Mr. Simpson for what happened in Los Angeles in 1995 this is not the case for you," Glass said.
"If you're here looking to become famous because of your service in this case, to write a book, then this is not the case for you."
Glass said "a significant issue" is whether prospective jurors who disagreed with the 1995 verdict can "put aside your feelings about that verdict."
"I mean really, truly, folks," Glass said. "I'm not kidding around. Can you put that aside and understand that the case we are trying here and the info you're going to hear about here is totally separate from that case?"
In the current case, Simpson and his group allegedly stormed the room at the Palace Station Hotel-Casino to retrieve memorabilia largely related to the former football star's sporting career that he has insisted was stolen from him.
The items were in the possession of two collectibles dealers, Bruce Fromong and Alfred Beardsley.
Simpson later insisted he did not know that two of the men with him were carrying guns, and did not see them brandish their weapons. Four of the gang, including the two who carried firearms, have struck plea agreements with prosectors for reduced prison sentences in exchange for their testimony against Simpson.
Fromong said Simpson and his alleged accomplices took hundreds of items including his new mobile phone and many collectibles that were related to the careers of various American sports figures.
Simpson, a football Hall of Fame inductee, also was a television advertising pitchman and Hollywood comic film actor before the 1994 murders.
Glass said she is concerned that some jurors may admire the former athlete too much.
"Is there anybody here who's such a fan of Mr. Simpson (that) you wouldn't be able to be a fair and impartial juror in this case?" she asked.
Jury selection is expected to take several days and the trial is expected to last about five weeks.
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