Long hold-up over in OJ trial

LAS VEGAS - Nearly a year after OJ Simpson walked into a casino hotel room intent on reclaiming sports memorabilia, lawyers in his robbery-kidnapping trial are finally set to begin picking a jury.

LAS VEGAS - Nearly a year after OJ Simpson walked into a casino hotel room intent on reclaiming sports memorabilia, lawyers in his robbery-kidnapping trial are finally set to begin picking a jury.

What will be a lengthy jury selection started yesterday morning in a Nevada court for the fallen 61-year-old NFL star, actor and advertising pitchman and his remaining co-defendant, Clarence "CJ" Stewart, a 54-year-old golfing buddy from North Las Vegas.

Both have pleaded not guilty to 12 charges stemming from a heated encounter last September with two sports collectibles dealers peddling Simpson memorabilia.

Simpson said last autumn that he put his faith in the jury system and was confident of an acquittal - a conviction could put him away for life.

"If I have any disappointment it's that I wish a jury was here," Simpson said in November, after a contentious four-day preliminary hearing in which prosecution witnesses were cast as opportunists, pimps, con artists and crooks out to make a buck off him.

Lawyer Robert Lucherini lost several last-ditch bids to get the Nevada supreme court to postpone or sever Stewart's trial from Simpson's. He argued Stewart can't get a fair trial before a jury who knows about Simpson's acquittal in Los Angeles in the 1994 slayings of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ronald Goldman. Simpson was found civilly liable for the deaths.

In March Clark County district court judge Jackie Glass postponed the trial from April until September to give the defence more time to prepare.

In granting the delay, Glass acknowledged it took longer than expected for prosecutors to analyse and enhance tape recordings, transcripts and fingerprints and turn them over to the defence to prepare for trial.

Prosecutors, defence lawyers and Glass have used 26-page questionnaires to identify prospective jurors with biases and cut a jury pool of 500 to fewer than 250. Jury selection could take a week or longer, court officials said. - Sapa-AP

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