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A split decision in Baltimore area Local response is strong, but sentiments divided; Schmoke urges calm; THE O. J. SIMPSON VERDICT


Word of O. J. Simpson's acquittal set off an emotional wave in the Baltimore area yesterday, prompting rejoicing by those who believe the football idol was framed and angry disbelief from others who felt the judicial system let a killer go free.

Local politicians sought to calm tensions, and Marylanders tried to make sense of a trial that captivated America and culminated in a quickly reached verdict of not guilty.

"I don't know of any one thing that would have swayed the jury for an acquittal -- but I bet you we'll find out from the jury's book and movie deals," said Geoffrey R. Garinther, a former assistant U.S. attorney who now works for the law firm of Venable, Baetjer and Howard.

As hundreds streamed out of the BGE merchandise store in downtown's Charles Plaza, where 65 televisions broadcast the verdict, some cheered with fists raised while others grumbled and shook their heads.

"Somebody got away with murder today," said Debbie Tomko, 42, an insurance writer at Fidelity & Deposit Company of Maryland. "The police would have been busy, busy bees to have planted that much evidence."

She said she thought racial pressures influenced the verdict. "I think when they throw race into anything, it makes people scared," said Ms. Tomko, who is white.

Polls showed that most whites believed Mr. Simpson guilty and most blacks thought him innocent. At the BGE store, a predominantly black portion of the crowd cheered as the verdicts were read.

At the LeFall & Co. barbershop in the 2000 block of Edmondson Ave., owner Waymon LeFall, who is black, proclaimed, "Justice has been served," and blamed the prosecution for failing to meet its burden of proof.

"The verdict wasn't racist," Mr. LeFall said. "Any jury would have found the same thing." Of prosecutor Marcia Clark, he said, "All that woman had was rhetoric."

Like most of the nation, Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said he was surprised at how fast the jury reached its verdict. And as a former city prosecutor, he said he recognizes that "juries are unpredictable."

"I think most people would have bet they would have come back with some conviction, but a lot of people I talked to felt the prosecution hadn't really made its case," Mr. Schmoke said.

The mayor and other politicians urged people to move on and not dwell on the Simpson case.

Kenneth Lee, whose 21-year-old son, Joel, was fatally shot in a robbery in September 1993 in Northeast Baltimore, has been openly critical of the system since a city jury two months ago acquitted a man accused of killing his son. The jury found the man not guilty after hearing testimony from four eyewitnesses who said they watched the suspect shoot Joel Lee in the face.

"I'm laughing. I'm just laughing today. This is the American judicial system," said Mr. Lee, an environmental engineer. "I feel a lot of sympathy for the victims' families. We have hope in America for fair justice. But unfortunately, we don't get it."

At the City Jail, prisoners -- who apparently felt a kinship with a man on trial -- were banging on tables, drumming on trash cans, and calling out words of Simpson support through steel mesh and bars.

Said Skip Myrick, 42, a black prison guard from Columbia, "The [Los Angeles] cops tainted the whole case. It was totally unnecessary. And they just paid for it, big time."

Adrienne Hall, a data processing worker at T. Rowe Price, summed up a year's worth of evidence: "The gloves didn't fit, there was no murder weapon and no witnesses. That's enough reasonable doubt.

"Can you believe it? Money can buy you anything. That's what got him free," she said.

Marisol Metcalf and Adam Gooch, both of Los Angeles, have been camping in Patapsco State Park near Ellicott City for two days without a television. Yesterday, as the verdict approached, they sought one out at the Judge's Bench restaurant in Ellicott City's historic district.

"I'm shocked," said Ms. Metcalf, 23. "I feel emotional for both sides, but I disagree with the verdict."

On a lighter note, one restaurant owner made plans to name a sandwich after the occasion.

George "Buzz" Suter said the Simpson case has made its historical mark on his restaurant, noting that his 52-inch television brought in a larger than usual lunchtime crowd.

"I think I'm going to have to name a sandwich 'The Verdict' now," he said. Maybe the restaurant's as-yet-unnamed chicken breast sandwich, he mused -- "with a glass of orange juice on the side."

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