The volatile issue of racism surfaced in the O.J. Simpson murder case today as opposing black lawyers in a pretrial hearing engaged in an emotional and occasionally personal argument over the background of a white police detective who found a crucial piece of evidence the night Simpson's ex-wife Nicole and her friend were murdered.

At one point, Simpson wept as his lawyer assailed a prosecuting attorney for suggesting Simpson had a "fetish" for blond white women. At other times, the black prosecutor and the black defense attorney accused each other of injecting race into the case.

The exchanges took place during a hearing on the admissibility of evidence and were not heard by the jury, which is sequestered. The 12-member panel consists of eight blacks, two Hispanics, one white and one person of mixed race.

Prosecutor Christopher Darden argued that if past racial epithets attributed to Detective Mark Fuhrman were admitted as evidence, "We can't win, no matter what. We're trying a race case ... {and} everything that happens in this case is somehow going to be affected."

Fuhrman testified during a preliminary hearing last July that he found a bloody glove outside Simpson's house hours after the bodies of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald L. Goldman were found June 12. Drawing in part from files from a 1981 disability compensation lawsuit in which Fuhrman is quoted as using racial slurs, defense lawyers have called the detective a racist and have suggested he could have planted the glove to implicate Simpson.

Saying he could not even bring himself to use the "N word" in court, Darden said the highly offensive term "nigger" attributed to Fuhrman would be so inflammatory "it will blind the jury to the truth."

"The word has no place in the English language, and it has no place in this courtroom," Darden said. He added that if the defense is allowed to use the word in court, "I'd be offended."

Then, pointing to defense lawyer Johnnie L. Cochran Jr., who also is black, Darden said, "If you allow Mister Cochran to use the race card, the entire complexion of this case changes. It is not an issue of guilt or innocence, it's an issue of color. Who's the blackest man up here? The jury will forget about the evidence. All they'll think of is 'frame-up.' "

Visibly angered, Cochran said Darden's remarks were "demeaning to Afro-Americans," who, he said, live daily with offensive words, looks and actions by whites. "To say that they {jurors} can't be fair is absolutely outrageous," Cochran said.

His voice rising, Cochran accused the prosecution of trying to "prescribe the defense" by preventing it from impeaching a key witness while at the same time insisting on its own right to introduce damaging evidence about Simpson's alleged verbal and physical abuse of his former wife.

Cochran said that in addition to the 1981 compensation lawsuit, in which Fuhrman is reported to have claimed severe stress stemming from his work among nonwhites, the defense has evidence of racist remarks and actions by the detective.

"We are daily getting additional information about Mister Fuhrman," Cochran said. He said the introduction of such information at the murder trial is essential because "it shapes how he testifies."

At one point Simpson became visibly moved and wiped away tears when Cochran attacked Darden for suggesting Simpson had a "fetish" for white women. Cochran called the remark "outrageous" and said if Simpson wanted to marry "someone who is purple," he could do that in America.

He ridiculed Darden's contention that Fuhrman had played a "small role" in the case. In addition to finding the bloody glove, which the prosecution says matches a glove found at the murder scene, Cochran noted that Fuhrman had found blood traces in Simpson's Ford Bronco, had climbed over the wall of Simpson's house when police found the gate locked, and was the first policeman to encounter Brian "Kato" Kaelin, who lived in a guest house at Simpson's Brentwood estate.

Judge Lance A. Ito is expected to rule next week on whether to allow prosecution evidence of wife beating and later on admitting defense evidence of Fuhrman's alleged racism.