LAS VEGAS – A jury with no blacks in the main panel was chosen late Thursday to judge O.J. Simpson and a co-defendant on kidnapping and robbery charges after a contentious courtroom battle in which defense lawyers argued African-Americans were being systematically excluded by the prosecution.
District Attorney David Roger defended the final makeup of the jury, saying that two of six alternate jurors are black.
Clark County District Judge Jackie Glass said she saw no evidence of a systematic exclusion of African-Americans.
Roger gave the judge what he called "race neutral" reasons for removing two African-American women from the main jury panel with his peremptory challenges.
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Both of the women who were removed had strong religious views, and the prosecutor said he thought one of them would be inclined to "forgive" Simpson while the other said she was hesitant to send anyone to prison.
Defense attorneys for Simpson and co-defendant Clarence "C.J." Stewart, who are both black, moved to dismiss the entire jury — nine women and three men — and start again. The judge turned down the motion.
Simpson's 1995 acquittal on murder charges came from a predominantly black jury.
The jury in Simpson's robbery trial consists of 10 whites and two Hispanics.
Lawyers and the judge worked into the night to select the final group. As they left the courthouse in darkness, Simpson attorney Yale Galanter said he was confident of his case.
"I don't think my client did anything wrong, I don't think he broke any laws. I'm glad that we're finally at the point where we can get these issues resolved," he said.
As Simpson drove away, he paused to sign a T-shirt for some fans. It was emblazoned with the words, "Pray for O.J."
Opening statements were scheduled for Monday, and the trial is expected last five weeks.
Not among those chosen for the final panel was a former policeman who sparred with lawyers over his declaration that Simpson was a murderer. He claimed he could be fair to the former football star.
Peremptory challenges are reserved for removing prospective jurors without stating a cause. The final pool of prospects included a number of people who disagreed with Simpson's acquittal in the murders of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman. But they said they could put that aside and weigh the Las Vegas case on its own merits.
Simpson, 61, is accused with Stewart, 54, of kidnapping, armed robbery and other crimes for allegedly stealing items from two sports memorabilia dealers in a hotel room confrontation last year. They have pleaded not guilty. Each could face life in prison with the possibility of parole if convicted of kidnapping, and mandatory prison time if convicted of armed robbery.
Earlier in the day, the judge issued an order refusing to release questionnaires filled out by the jurors who make up the panel. She said she had promised the panel she would keep their answers secret.
Colby Williams, a lawyer representing The Associated Press and Las Vegas Review-Journal who sought disclosure of the questionnaires, said he has filed an appeal with the Nevada Supreme Court on grounds that the public and the media have a First Amendment right of access to information about jurors in a criminal case.