Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Can O.J. Get a Fair Trial? Debate on Fairness of Media Coverage Continues

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Can O.J. Get a Fair Trial? Debate on Fairness of Media Coverage Continues

Article excerpt

THE QUESTION OF whether O.J. Simpson can get a fair trial despite cascading media coverage is developing into a hot issue as the story continues to break in startling and controversial ways.

The debate on fairness quickened after the print and broadcast media disclosed frantic 911 calls to the Los Angeles Police Department from Simpson's ex-wife, Nicole, pleading for protection from Simpson, who is charged with murdering her and her friend, Ronald Goldman.

After a 1989 call, according to police records, officers saw Nicole running out of bushes near her home, bruised and scratched.

"He's going to kill me, he's going to kill me," she reportedly told the patrolmen.

Other LAPD documents obtained by a media request under the California Public Records Act, alleged that during a New Year's Eve party, Simpson punched and kicked his wife, pulled her hair and screamed, "I'll kill you."

On June 23, the Los Angeles Times published partial transcripts of two 911 calls made Oct. 25, 1993, by Nicole Brown Simpson in which she asks police to send someone to her house, saying that Simpson had broken down the door and was yelling and swearing at her.

"He's fucking going nuts" she tells the police dispatcher.

The day after the Times and other media revealed those 911 calls, a grand jury considering an indictment of Simpson was removed from the case by a Los Angeles judge who declared its members had been tainted by media reports of the case.

In the stunning development, Superior Court Judge Cecil Mills ruled that the panel had "become aware of potentially prejudicial matters," apparently referring to the 911 tapes.

Mills issued the order after Simpson's lead attorney, Robert Shapiro, filed a motion to halt the grand jury proceedings, saying he was acting to "protect the due process rights of Mr. Simpson and the integrity of the grand jury system."

Mills took the case away from the panel, sealed all related records and ordered jurors not to discuss details about their deliberations in public. But one juror told the Times: "Almost everything that the jury knows has been reported in the paper."

District Attorney Gil Garcetti said he also sought the grand jury's dismissal in the case, saying he was concerned about heavy news coverage of the tapes.

However, both Shapiro and Garcetti seemingly have lost no opportunity appear before the local and national media with their side of the case.

With the grand jury out of the picture, the charges against Simpson were being aired at a preliminary hearing. Unlike grand jury proceedings, the defense will have an opportunity to cross examine prosecution witnesses at the hearing, which was being covered by a huge swarm of reporters.

Famed trial attorney F. Lee Bailey, a member of Simpson's legal team, reportedly played a major role in the motion to dismiss the grand jury.

In an interview with the Times, Bailey recalled his handling of the 1966 murder trial of Dr. Sam Sheppard. He said the prosecution disclosed evidence to the news media that was never presented at the trial.

On June 28, the Times published the results of its poll in which 67% of the 1,023 respondents believed the media have been irresponsible in reporting on the murder's, a criticism that has been heard around the country in oped pages and public affairs broadcast programs. …

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