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Gary Younge
Oprah's $17 a day role in court drama

The queen of the TV confessional strode into the courthouse in Chicago on Monday carrying a copy of Anna Karenina and bringing the kind of excitement not seen in this courthouse since singer R Kelly first appeared there two years ago in a child pornography case.

She told ABC news: "I'm just hoping it doesn't take longer than a week because I've got shows to do." For a moment it looked as though she might get turned down for the job of deciding if Dion Coleman shot Walter Holley to death in February 2002 over a counterfeit $50 note.

The court interview started out fine. When asked to tell a little bit about herself, Winfrey, 50, said: "I have a little talk show that is my main source of work," before adding that at one point she owned nine dogs but was now down to just two cocker spaniels.

But then she hesitated when asked if she could be objective if the defendant decided not to testify. "I'm not sure about not hearing both sides," Winfrey told Judge James Linn.

"Are you told why the person doesn't testify?" she asked. "No," said Judge Linn, before explaining why and asking, "Are you OK with that? Can you be a fair woman?"

"Yes," said Winfrey, after a long pause. "You're hesitating," said the judge, and asked the same question again. "Why, yes," said Winfrey.

The billionairess took her place alongside a woman who did not finish high school, a man once charged with unlawful use of a weapon and another who works for a pest control agency. While some read, Winfrey checked her handheld computer. She took a side door while others took the front.

Winfrey, asked whether gory details in the trial - which starts today would trouble her, answered with a shrug. "Everything I could hear in a trial I've already heard on my show," she said. "I've met a lot of interesting people ... and got some show ideas."

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