INDIANAPOLIS -- The question of whether the former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson can get a fair hearing in the trial that starts here today has become a hot speculative issue.
Already, T-shirts, at $12.50 apiece, are being sold that show a blindfolded Tyson holding a scale of justice in both hands with the words "Can Mike Tyson Get a Fair Trial?" underscoring an apparently growing belief among locals that maybe he can't.
Tyson is charged with raping an 18-year-old woman, a beauty pageant contestant, last July 19. If he is found guilty, he will face a jail term of up to 63 years.
In a phone-in poll that the NBC affiliate here, WTHR-TV, took last week, viewers of the station's nightly newscasts were asked to register their opinion on whether Iron Mike can get a fair shake in Judge Patricia J. Gifford's courtroom.
"We call it our Pulse Survey Poll," said Ronnie Duncan, a sportscaster at WTHR. "And 70 percent of those who responded said no, he can't get a fair trial. We talked to a lot of people earlier this week, and many of them were leaning toward Tyson, saying that, in spite of his checkered past, the victim did, after all, go to his room late at night."
The trial also has the attention of news media from around the world.
On Friday, in room G-20 in the basement of the City-County Building here, reporters and radio and television broadcasters were beginning to pick up credentials that will allow them to cover the trial. Ordinarily, G-20 is used for voter registration, but over this weekend it was transformed into a media center that will accommodate more than 100 accredited newspeople. On Saturday, several television sound trucks were parked on Washington Street, just outside the City-County Building, whose Courtroom 4 will be the site of the trial.
In G-20, on rows of tables in the low-ceilinged room, television monitors and phones were set up, ready for today's start, the selection of the 12 jurors who will ultimately decide which story to believe: Tyson's, that he was engaging in consenting sex, or the woman's, that she was a victim of a sexual assault.
The general frenzy over the trial has been building for months.
On Tyson's last visit here, in September when he was arraigned, Joe Gelarden, a reporter for The Indianapolis Star, observed many businessmen standing outside the City-County Building and waiting up to an hour just to catch a glimpse of Tyson arriving.
"When he came in and surrendered for arraignment, and the cops processed him, deputy clerks went into the processing room where he was being fingerprinted to get his autograph," Gelarden said. "Tyson signed for them. Which led to a directive, later, from the county clerk, Faye Mowery, telling her employees to stay off the second floor this time around."
Gifford's courtroom is on the second floor of the City-County Building.
"Mowery visited with her clerks and suggested that that conduct was inappropriate and while no action was taken back then, they better stay at their post during the upcoming trial," Gelarden said.
Not everybody in this city views Tyson's visit with the excitement of those clerks. At the National Institute for Fitness and Sport, Jerry Harkness, just finishing a workout, was saying he wished that the trial had landed somewhere else.
Harkness, who was a starter for the Loyola of Chicago basketball team that won the NCAA championship in 1963, pooh-poohed the notion that the trial is a big event.
"It's sad, that's all," said Harkness, who now works for the United Way and does commentary on Loyola basketball telecasts.
The Rev. Charles Williams is another Indianapolis resident who would like the trial to go away. He is the head of Indiana Black Expo, the yearly event that last July included the Miss Black America contest, to which Tyson became more than a footnote. The 18-year-old woman who has accused the fighter of rape represented Rhode Island in the contest.
For Williams and his Black Expo, none of the developments in the Tyson case have been exactly a public relations bonanza. On Saturday, when a reporter asked Williams what he thought about the trial, he arched his brows and let out a sigh before saying, "I can't wait 'til it's over."
Given the Monday-through-Saturday schedule Gifford wants to follow, the verdict is expected to come in two to four weeks.