Simpson Jurors in the Dark


Jurors in the O. J. Simpson trial will have to wait till they see the movie before they can write their accounts of the trial. They know less about what has been going on in the courtroom than the average newspaper reader and television watcher. Trial junkies with cable know far more than the often-excused jurors: CNN, Court TV and E! provide gavel-to-gavel coverage. This is unprecedented in the justice system.

The latest example of this boggles the mind. Judge Lance Ito ruled that all of the lengthy taped interviews and transcripts retired Detective Mark Fuhrman gave a script writer had to be broadcast to the panting nation, but that only a few seconds of excerpts could be presented to the jury. It is in these taped interviews that Mr. Fuhrman reveals his racism, his brutishness and his willingness to frame black men.

Judge Ito made the right decision in not allowing the jurors to hear all the Fuhrman tapes. There is no evidence to suggest the detective had an opportunity to frame Mr. Simpson, no matter how much he may have been inclined. In fact, the Los Angeles Police Department has made a good case that its "chain of Fuhrman" -- akin to a chain of evidence -- proves he could not possibly have picked up a bloody glove at the murder scene and taken it to Mr. Simpson's yard, where Detective Fuhrman testified that he had found it.

But the judge made the wrong decision in allowing the Fuhrman tapes to be played in a jury-less courtroom while the sound cameras rolled. The public has a right to know about what Mr. Fuhrman said -- whether true or just maniacal lies. But not this way. That material should first have gone to the Los Angeles County district attorney and the U.S. attorney for the Central District of California and the Los Angeles Police Commission. If a tenth of what Mr. Fuhrman said is true, he broke a lot of laws -- and so did other police officers.

When, and if, a movie based on the Fuhrman tapes and/or other aspects of this trial is produced, it will be a shocker. It will also be, we hope, a historical drama. Perhaps this trial will persuade the LAPD finally to clean up its act. A crash effort toward that goal is under way. Led by a determined black police chief, the force, which is now majority non-white male, is becoming much more professional and community-oriented. To one degree or another that is true of many urban police departments with unsavory racist pasts. Change cannot come too fast in this regard.

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