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Allred Urges D.A. to Request Death Penalty for Simpson

TIMES LEGAL AFFAIRS WRITER

In another sign of the politicization of the O.J. Simpson murder case, feminist attorney Gloria Allred on Monday called on Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti to ask for the death penalty against Simpson.

Allred contended at a Downtown news conference that if Garcetti declines to seek the maximum penalty of death, it will indicate that he is showing favoritism to a celebrity defendant and manifesting insufficient concern about the plight of battered women.

“Were it not a celebrity defendant, it seems highly likely that (Garcetti) would ask for the death penalty in a case such as this involving allegations of first-degree murder with special circumstances as he has in the Menendez brothers case, where there are the same number of victims as exist in this case,” Allred said.

Wearing a photo of Nicole Brown Simpson on her bright red suit, Allred noted that in recent months the district attorney’s office had asked for the death penalty in two cases in which women had hired “hit men” to murder their husbands.

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“If Mr. Simpson committed the murders with which he is charged, he certainly shouldn’t get a break from the D.A. on the death penalty because he committed the crime himself rather than hiring others to do it,” Allred said.

To strengthen her contentions, she brought along anti-abortion activist Susan Carpenter McMillan and a woman whose husband is in jail for spousal battery. The trio demanded that Garcetti meet with women’s groups about this issue, as he did with civil rights leaders July 19.

At that meeting, ministers, political figures and others, including attorney Johnnie L. Cochran, who later joined Simpson’s defense team, made suggestions to Garcetti designed to ensure that Simpson receives a fair trial.

Moreover, at the end of the meeting, John Mack, president of the Los Angeles Urban League, urged that Garcetti not seek the death penalty. Mack said he opposed it on moral grounds and because Death Rows “throughout California and throughout the nation” are disproportionately filled with black people.

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Garcetti “set a precedent meeting with African American leaders, which has opened the door for him to meet with women’s groups. Had he never met with any group then we wouldn’t have the right to ask for a meeting,” Carpenter McMillan said.

“It is too late for Nicole, but not too late for me to stand up and demand that she and other battered women be remembered and respected,” said Maria St. John Conde, a victim of battering.

The women stressed that they were not making any statement on Simpson’s guilt. Rather, they said that if the jury finds Simpson guilty of murdering his former wife and her friend, Ronald Lyle Goldman, it should be able to decide whether the death penalty is appropriate.

An eight-member, all-male committee of Garcetti and senior deputy district attorneys is to make a decision before the trial’s scheduled Sept. 19 start on whether to seek the death penalty. Under California law, Simpson would be eligible for capital punishment because the murder charges carry the special circumstances that more than one person was killed.

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Legal experts said that Garcetti faces a thorny decision and that Monday’s news conference adds another dimension that has been beneath the surface.

On the one hand, UCLA criminal law professor Peter Arenella said, “the seriousness and pervasiveness of male violence against women cannot be ignored.” Considerably more resources need to be devoted to that problem, he said, including “many more shelters for battered women, domestic violence units in prosecutor’s offices, significant penalties for first-time male offenders, and greater compassion for battered women who lash back against their abusers.

“But asking for the death penalty in the Simpson case would not advance any of these goals,” Arenella said. “When Simpson was convicted of spousal abuse in 1989, he should have received a sentence that reflected the gravity of his crime, rather than the slap on the wrist he got"--no jail time, a fine, community service and a counseling program.

“However, seeking the death penalty now would only be a futile exercise in symbolic politics,” Arenella said. “And the symbolic message behind such a request would only perpetuate the myth that our criminal justice system somehow depreciates the seriousness of an unjustifiable homicide when it imprisons a convicted murderer for the rest of his life.”

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Loyola Law School professor Laurie Levenson also expressed reservations: “You have to be careful about using the death penalty to advance political causes. Each decision on whether to seek the death penalty must be based on the facts of the case, including the background of the defendant, the nature of the crime and any mitigating or aggravating factors.”

Cochran called Allred’s suggestion “outrageous.” While emphasizing that he considers spousal abuse a serious problem, he said Allred “knows that there has been no linkage established that these killings were a result of spousal abuse.”

“I think it is tragic that she would use this forum to exploit this situation,” he said.

Cochran added that the district attorney’s office should make its decision “using the standards it uses in every case.”

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The district attorney’s office declined to comment on Allred’s statements.


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