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Few Doubt Simpson’s Guilt, but One-third Would Oppose Retrial

May 29, 1995

NEW YORK (AP) _ After months of testimony in the O.J. Simpson trial, many Americans have a reasonable doubt _ not about his guilt but about whether the prosecution should start over if the jury deadlocks.

If the jury can’t reach a verdict, 59 percent of the respondents in an Associated Press poll say the prosecution should start over with a new jury, as would ordinarily be done in a murder case. But 33 percent, or one-third, would oppose a retrial, including six in 10 blacks, five in 10 of those who are following the case very closely and even two in 10 of those who are fairly sure of Simpson’s guilt.

Twenty-one percent of the poll respondents believe Simpson killed his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman _ up from 14 percent in January _ and an additional 40 percent think he’s probably guilty. The rest are uncertain. ``Don’t know″ responses dropped just 5 points since January.

Fewer than a fifth of the poll respondents doubt the murder charges, including 6 percent who say they are definitely not true and 12 percent who say probably not.

Blacks are about four times as likely as whites to doubt the charges, and twice as likely to think of Simpson as a hero and role model, the poll found.

Interest in the trial appeared to have fallen, with 29 percent saying they’re following it closely, down from 38 percent in January.

Results have a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. ICR Survey Research Group of Media, Pa., part of AUS Consultants, polled a random sample of 1,004 adults by phone May 17-21.

By then, the trial had shifted into repetitive, arcane testimony about scientific blood analysis. And for the four previous weeks, the Oklahoma City bombing had displaced the Simpson trial as the lead story on most TV newscasts, said Andrew Tyndall, whose Tyndall Report monitors the nightly network news.

``You could easily claim it is being flogged to death,″ Tyndall said. ``The media overplayed it and when something of real importance came along, people asked themselves, `What was I doing wasting my time on this?‴

An overwhelming 84 percent said the news media are giving the Simpson case too much attention. Nevertheless, one in four people who hold this view report they are following the case closely.

``What people say they want and what they actually do are not the same thing,″ said Jay Mattlin, director of news audience research at NBC. He said ratings for ``Dateline NBC″ segments showed that running a Simpson story caused no drop in numbers of viewers.

Then why do only 7 percent say they are following the case ``very closely,″ and 71 percent say they are not following it closely?

One possibility is that respondents were trying to give a socially acceptable response, like the exaggerated number who tell pollsters they vote. Or, despite knowing all the personalities and oddities of the Simpson case, they may think they’re not following it closely because they’ve tuned out mountains of dry data and DNA details.

Asked about the common description of Simpson as football hero and role model, only 45 percent said they ever felt that way and barely half of those people still feel that way. Another way to look at it: Simpson has lost the respect of almost half his fans or a fifth of all respondents.

Seventeen percent of those who think the charges are true still see Simpson as a hero.

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