O.J. Unplugged? TV Fans May Lose Out

`CONVICT O.J. Simpson, the Othello of California,'' screamed an Italian newspaper Tuesday as the long-awaited and sensationally built-up trial of the football star accused of murdering his ex-wife opened.

The trial shared front-page space and broadcast billing from coast to coast with President Clinton's State of the Union address and sometimes edged him out. And around the world, newspapers and TV stations took part in the trial's media frenzy.

This atmosphere points to a fundamental clash: the public's fascination with the case versus the defendant's right to a fair trial. Already the conflict has found its way into the California courtroom.

On Tuesday, Superior Court Judge Lance Ito cut short the opening court session, sent the sequestered jury back to its hotel, and threatened to remove the camera from the courtroom. This tiff, yet another between Judge Ito and the media, was prompted by the accidental broadcast of an alternate juror's face for 8/10ths of a second.

Coverage of the first day of Simpson's trial on charges of killing his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and a friend, Ronald Goldman, was front-page news in Australia, Britain, and Canada. It was carried on television in Hong Kong, Canada, Japan, and South Africa.

``It is virtually impossible to convey the extent of America's obsession with the Simpson affair,'' wrote commentator Ian Katz in The Guardian.

Housing sales soar

SALES of previously owned homes jumped 4.3 percent in 1994 to the second-highest level on record, despite increased costs caused by rising mortgage rates. Sales were up in every region.

But the National Association of Realtors said today that prospective home buyers were signaling a growing unwillingness to enter the housing market because interest rates were driving up costs.

The real estate group said single-family sales in 1994 totaled 3.97 million units, up from 3.80 million in 1993 and second only to 3.98 million in 1978. Helping boost the 1994 total was a seasonally adjusted annual sales rate of 3.89 million in December, 1.8 percent higher than November, when the rate was 3.82 million.

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