LAS VEGAS – Defense lawyers in the O.J. Simpson kidnapping and armed robbery trial are fighting to seat a racially diverse panel that hasn't prejudged whether the former pro football star and his golfing buddy should go to prison.
Jury selection was to continue Tuesday after Clark County District Court Judge Jackie Glass, prosecutors and defense lawyers used most of the first day of jury questioning Monday to try to find jurors unaffected by Simpson's celebrity and his 1995 acquittal in the slaying of his ex-wife and her friend in Los Angeles.
"I'm not kidding around," Glass said. "Can you put that aside and understand that the case we are trying here and the information you're going to hear about here is totally separate from that case?"
No jurors were seated, and 16 people were excused for various reasons, including an inability to understand English and hardships related to starting new jobs or college classes.
Questioning by Simpson lawyers Yale Galanter and Gabriel Grasso hinted at some defense strategies: question whether words match transcripts of key tape recordings and find independent-minded jurors.
"No rule says you have to follow the crowd," Grasso told a group of about 40 jurors.
A lawyer for Simpson co-defendant Clarence "C.J" Stewart raised the issue of race, arguing that the predominantly white Las Vegas jury pool had too few blacks to fairly deliberate the fate of the two black defendants.
"It is not representative of the county, in terms of a jury of your peers," Charles D. Jones, a former Louisiana state legislator, said before Glass rejected his request to dip deeper into the jury pool to enlist more black jurors.
The discussion happened outside the presence of the jury prospects. Jones argued that blacks make up about 10.2 percent of the population of Clark County, including Las Vegas. But he maintained that only about 5 percent of the 248 jurors remaining going into Monday were black.
Prosecutor Chris Owens said an initial jury pool of 500 had at least 50 blacks, and that defense lawyers had not shown a "systematic exclusion of a group."
Glass also denied a motion by The Associated Press and the Las Vegas Review-Journal to immediately disclose contents of a 26-page questionnaire given to the 500 prospective jurors.
Glass said she would release the blank questionnaires when the jury is seated and had not considered releasing the completed forms.
Attorney Don Campbell argued that the blank questionnaires should be released immediately and the filled-out questionnaires of those who are seated on the jury should be released after they are sworn in.
Citing decades of First Amendment law, Campbell said courts have concluded that written questionnaires are part of jury selection process and should be open to the public. Glass said she would research the issue.
Glass told prospective jurors that she was determined they not focus on Simpson's past but on current allegations stemming from allegations that Simpson, Stewart and four other men robbed two sports memorabilia peddlers at gunpoint a year ago in a Las Vegas casino hotel room.
Simpson, 61, and Stewart, 54, have each pleaded not guilty to 12 charges, including felony kidnapping, armed robbery, conspiracy, burglary, coercion and assault with a deadly weapon.
The stakes are high, but their energy level sometimes drooped. Simpson sat at a table between his lawyers, taking notes and glancing at the prospective jurors. Occasionally, he yawned and rubbed his face. Stewart returned from a lunch break with a couple of energy drinks and stashed them under the defendant's table.
The two men face mandatory prison time if convicted of armed robbery. A kidnapping conviction carries the possibility of life in prison with the possibility of parole.