Jury Selection Begins In O.J. Simpson Trial
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Melissa Block.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel. A high-profile trial got under way today in Las Vegas, and it's a good bet the defendant is more familiar than the crime he's accused of committing. O.J. Simpson is charged with a dozen felonies, including kidnapping and armed robbery. The former football star, actor, and murder defendant was arrested in Las Vegas. Jury selection started today, and NPR's Ted Robbins joins us from the Clark County Courthouse. Hi, Ted.
TED ROBBINS: Hi, Robert.
SIEGEL: Kidnapping, armed robbery. I want you to refresh us on the details of the crimes that O.J. Simpson's charged with.
ROBBINS: Right. The latest trouble began last year. Police say that O.J. Simpson and a group of men broke into a Las Vegas hotel room brandishing guns, and they say they stole sports memorabilia from two memorabilia dealers. Now, Simpson says he was just trying to recover items that belonged to him, and he says he didn't know anyone had guns.
The dealers say they had bought the items long ago or, in some cases, had paid Simpson to autograph pictures and footballs. Now, four of the men arrested with Simpson have agreed to testify against him in exchange for lighter sentences. Only one, a man named C.J. Stewart, is standing trial with him.
SIEGEL: Now, how is the judge finding a jury of unbiased citizens, given the notoriety surrounding Simpson from his murder trial?
ROBBINS: That's the big question. Judge Jackie Glass is asking, I mean, whether jurors will be influenced by O.J.'s acquittal in 1995 of killing his wife, Nicole, and her friend Ron Goldman. That was in Los Angeles. This isn't so far from there. We've got some tape about what she had asked the potential jurors this morning, and we can play that now.
Judge JACKIE GLASS (O.J. Simpson Trial): Can you put aside your feelings about that verdict? I mean, really, truly, folks, I'm not kidding around.
SIEGEL: She's not kidding around.
ROBBINS: Right. Now, she asked variations on that theme all morning long. Earlier today, she had denied a defense motion to ask potential jurors if they thought Simpson was a murderer. You know, this is after the court had sent out 500 unusually long questionnaires weeks ago, then whittled down the pool to 248. Then, a group of those prospective jurors are being questioned today. They expect jury selection to last the week.
SIEGEL: What's the scene like at the courthouse, Ted?
ROBBINS: Well, you know, outside, it's the proverbial media circus. In fact, a street is blocked off. A court spokesman said it was like planning a military operation or a block party. Inside, it's pretty much business as usual, interestingly enough.
SIEGEL: How long is this trial expected to run? And should Simpson be convicted, how long might - how long a sentence might he face?
ROBBINS: Well, the judge says the trial is going to last about five weeks. If he is convicted on all counts, he could face life in prison, and he is - he's 61 years old now. No one, of course, is taking bets - well, it's Las Vegas, so someone probably is taking bets somewhere. But no one here is taking bets on the outcome. After all, this is a defendant who seems to have as many lives as a cat, judicially speaking.
SIEGEL: And is Simpson free on bail right now, or is he in custody for this trial?
ROBBINS: Yes. In fact, he was - he has been on bail. He was, in fact, stopped on the freeway yesterday. Somebody reported that he was driving drunk. The police stopped him. And, in fact, he wasn't, and they let him go. He has been in Las Vegas for a while with some friends, though he lives in Miami these days.
SIEGEL: Thanks, Ted.
ROBBINS: You're welcome.
SIEGEL: We've been speaking with NPR's Ted Robbins as jury selection started today in Las Vegas in the trial of O.J. Simpson.
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