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SIMPSON SEES FIRST OF THOSE WHO MAY DECIDE HIS FATE

With the official start of his trial, O.J. Simpson saw for the first time the faces of those who could be impaneled to judge him on murder charges, including a juror identified in court as No. 0032.

For the former National Football League hero charged in the knife slayings of his former wife and her friend, the mention Monday of the jersey number he donned for University of Southern California and the Buffalo Bills - 32 - brought a grin of acknowledgment."I don't know if this is an omen," Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Lance Ito said, looking at Simpson, according to a pool report filed by three reporters allowed to cover proceedings.

By day's end, Juror No. 0032 - a woman in her 30s, and the first to undergo questioning during the hardship phase of the long jury selection process - was one of the people referred to by the judge as "the survivors."

In all Monday, the judge excused 112 jurors of the first 219 summoned.

Surviving panelists were told to fill out a 75-page questionnaire probing their personal lives as well as their attitudes toward the Simpson case. Some groaned when Ito described the length of the survey.

Mostly older, a cross-section of races and occupations - county workers, a phone company employee, a homemaker, an Internal Revenue Service worker, a retired school teacher - the survivors were told to return to court Oct. 12, when general jury questioning is set to begin.

Hardship questioning to determine if other prospective jurors should be excused from service for financial and other reasons was to resume Tuesday at the downtown Criminal Courts Building and outside the camera's eye.

As a carnival-like atmosphere took hold outside court, the hardship questioning inside an 11th floor jury assembly room signaled the official start of Simpson's trial, which is expected to last as long as six months.

Simpson, 47, could be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole if he is convicted in the slayings of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald L. Goldman.

Just moments before he faced potential jurors for the first time, Simpson, dressed in a blue suit, sat at a defense table, quietly humming and singing the words, "A new day has begun."

Upon his introduction, Simpson stood up and said "Good afternoon."

Some legal experts had speculated that people would be eager to serve on the Simpson murder case, given its soap-opera-like appeal, the idea of being part of the "case of the century," and its surrounding media frenzy.

But Monday's questioning was an arduous task and by day's end Simpson and the lawyers were yawning, and half of the 215 panelists summoned were gone.