Attorneys for O. J. Simpson asserted Thursday that prosecutors were attempting, through needlessly persistent and provocative questioning, to keep black people off the jury.
The assertion, made in twin impromptu news conferences by two of Simpson's attorneys, followed a testy exchange between Deputy District Attorney William Hodgman and an elderly black man, one of six candidates screened Thursday for the Simpson jury.
"You're pumping me as if I'm on trial or something," exclaimed the man, a 71-year old retiree from South Central Los Angeles. "I don't like that. You're sort of riling me."
Simpson's principal attorneys, Robert Shapiro and Johnnie Cochran Jr., were quickly out in the corridors, denouncing Hodgman's conduct.
"We are very concerned about the tenor of questions and that they go after certain jurors," Cochran said. "In order for this jury to have credibility, it must have people from all walks of life."
In fact, the potential jurors who have survived the first round of questioning are an extraordinarily diverse group in which white people are a distinct minority.
A few minutes after Cochran spoke, and 12 floors below, Shapiro swung into action. He maintained that the prosecution was harassing black candidates, hoping they would talk themselves off the jury by betraying bias.
"It implies an insidious effort to try to get black jurors removed for cause because they are black, because they have black heroes and because O. J. Simpson is one of them," Shapiro said.
"There's no other reason. I'm not saying they don't want them. They question them differently, and I don't think that's right."
Their comments brought a quick and angry retort from Hodgman, who had pressed the unidentified man to elaborate on a number of statements he made on his questionnaire _ that he considered the Los Angeles Police Department pushy, for instance, and that he had read about the case in various tabloids.