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Simple Truths

WHAT might be called ``Round 2'' of the O.J. Simpson case began yesterday. Mr. Simpson described himself as ``absolutely, 100 percent not guilty'' on Friday. The defense now faces the judge for the trial, Lance Ito, a Japanese-American, who will decide perhaps this week on defense motions that the prosecution must share evidence of blood, hair, tissue, and DNA. Judge Ito must also decide on a trial date, one no later than Sept. 20.

The case brings unprecedented media attention, with networks and news channels offering live coverage of every courtroom twist, with talk shows, polling data, a book, and numerous E-mail groups. Everyone has a theory or opinion about it. In this sense, whether we like it or not, the Simpson case, with its many controversial elements of celebrity status and money, of domestic violence and gender relations, of race, of media - will affect public feeling about how justice is conducted in this country.

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It is heartening in one way to find many Americans now versed in finer legal points about constitutional questions of search and seizure and admissible evidence. The intention of fairness built into the American legal system is not something to be scoffed at, but to be learned from. Yet we have some concerns, in an event so many of us are watching, that the Simpson case will exhibit all the worst or demoralizing aspects of the justice system. That is, that with enough money and the right lawyers, any simple truth can be sufficiently distorted to allow for a hung jury and ``no verdict.''

Ideally, a trial should help determine some approximation of truth about charges raised - whether they are merited. In the Simpson case, the ``dream team'' of lawyers assembled show how far the defense may go in refuting charges. There are specialists for admissible evidence, for DNA, for picking the jury, and so on. There is a media strategy involving an 800 number, and the sowing of doubt. While such an approach is legal, it is hardly typical.

Thus, we might remember, in this incredible media event, that the legal process will not be about finding simple truths. As a professor of law at McGill University wrote in the New York Times, ``Even if 20 people testified they saw O.J. Simpson stab Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman to death ... defense counsel could still try to refute that evidence on cross-examination by claiming they are all lying or suffering from some kind of mass hallucination ....''

At the same time, we should not forget that in this case, and elsewhere, truth does exist. We hope it is found.

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