Murder Trials Here Light-Years Away from O.J. Simpson Saga

Article excerpt

THERE ARE NO television cameras for the trial of Sheila Lacey's accused killer. Lacey's mother sits alone in the front row of the courtroom. The defendant's relatives sit in the back. In between, the benches are vacant.

A public defender's cross-examination of a police witness lasts 60 seconds. Off to one side, a deputy sheriff thumbs through a magazine. Another dozes. A juror yawns.

This is what a murder trial looks like 2,000 miles east of Los Angeles.

In the Municipal Courts Building in downtown St. Louis, Santino Walker is standing trial on charges that he murdered Lacey when she tried to give him fake money for cocaine.

The trial started Monday. Opening statements were Tuesday. Closing arguments will be today. So far, the murder has attracted a single paragraph in the newspaper.

The Santino Walker trial shows that a real-life murder trial in St. Louis resembles the O.J. Simpson trial about as much as Grand and Gravois resembles Hollywood and Vine. Here:

Lawyers take a day to two to pick a jury, not months.

Most murder trials last a week, not a year. Trials longer than two months are unheard of.

Judges rein in lawyers and cut off challenges to police conduct.

About 90 percent of murder defendants are convicted.

"It's like a different planet," said Robert McCulloch, St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney.

McCulloch found that out a decade ago when he prosecuted Kelvin Malone for a Missouri-to-California murder spree. He took a week to convict Malone; California took four months.

McCulloch got another glimpse of California justice while preparing for last summer's two-week trial of Thomas L. Brooks Jr. in the Cassidy Senter murder. The same FBI expert on hair and fiber testified in both the Brooks and Simpson cases. The expert's testimony took two hours here, but four days there. …

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