In Los Angeles, Even Whispers in Case Are Heard

LOS ANGELES--"Bullshit," the defense attorney muttered during a pre-trial hearing last month, nor realizing he could be heard.

Robert L. Shapiro, the lead lawyer for football star and accused murderer O.J. Simpson, may be the most media savvy attorney in America, but even he can't get used to the trial he helped create.

The courtroom where Simpson's trial will take place is wired like a Hollywood sound studio, and whispered sound carries with the speed and spark of the Santa Ana winds which warm and occasionally burn this sprawling metropolis. Shapiro, who made the remark after a Los Angeles County prosecutor made a statement with which he did not agree, later apologized.

People around the country may think the fuss over the Simpson case is just what Shapiro whispered too loud, but those people don't live in Los Angeles. Local television stations cover the most minor of evidentiary hearings the papers labor over the details and everyone in town offers you an opinion on the case.

"There's no way he did it," says David Walsh, a 37-year-old bus driver. "He's smart man, and no one that smart would put everything he had at risk over a woman."

The Los Angeles criminal courts building as the scene of the mayberry Vendors hawk O.J. souvenirs preachers recruit souls and people argue. A woman identifying herself as Mary Carter says she wants to tell The Harvard Crimson's readers about her friend Jesus, but she wants to be paid first.

"You got some money? You got to have some money to have some talk," she says. "Okay, I'll give you this much for free. You see the attorneys trying the case. Well, I'm trying God's case."

Lawyers and clerks who work in the building are so overwhelmed, so shell-shocked by the almost daily barrage of public and media that they no longer answer reporters' questions about the inconvenience. Instead, they look weary, shrug their shoulders, and sigh.

The ninth floor, where Judge Lance Ito presides, is a fortress. A visitor must pass through two metal detectors and by a dozen guards to get there. A glass wall separating the courtrooms from the elevator landing is made of bullet proof glass, a guard a guard says.

The floor of the hall outside the courtroom looks as though a group of giants had played a massive game of Twister on it. Tape of various colors marks off space for the cameras of various local TV stations, and the floor tile is checkered by extension cords and black camera stands.

Inside, Judge Lance Ito, looking even more tired and impatient than he appears on television, sits several feet above the rest of the courtroom, looking imperiously down on the Lawyers Small bags have formed under his eyes, and his beard seems to stand on end.

On this day, lawyers for both sides have little to say, Judge Ito, bitter over news leaks to the Los Angeles Times, is considering a gag order on attorneys.

But it is clear that the prosecutors feel enormous pressure. The defense attorneys, in contrast, appear to be having fun Simpson, the most famous murder defendant in American history sits stone-faced and relatively silent Speak up even a little in this case, and for better and worse, you will be heard