In trial full of suprises, jury has its own
Richard Price; Gale Holland
LOS ANGELES - From the very beginning, this was the case no one could
figure out, the trial that defied prediction, the surprise-a-minute blockbuster that
repeatedly widened the eyes of even the most seasoned experts.
But in the end, jurors delivered the biggest shocker. Less than four hours into
deliberations, with millions just starting office pools on when (or if) they'd reach
a verdict and analysts guessing about how many weeks they'd go, the 12 jurors
declared it over.
"This is the only thing they could have done that would have surprised us," says
UCLA law professor Peter Arenella. "Verdict, guilty, hung jury, none of that
would have surprised us. It's stunning they've come to a conclusion this quickly.
Clearly, they made up their minds long before closing arguments."
The news momentarily staggered the nation as millions paused for one of those
ritualistic head-shakings that have been such a feature of this case.
At the AT&T building in Los Angeles, Erin Stephenson's secretary raced in to
tell her. Then a friend called. "Then somebody out in the hall started shouting. It
was absolute madness. Within five minutes, the entire floor was buzzing. People
were just walking around. Work kind of stopped."
Or consider what happened to Rich Morales. A die-hard baseball fan, he rooted
for his beloved California Angels all year. But when the Simpson news broke
during the Angels make-or-break playoff game with the Seattle Mariners, he did
the amazing: He changed channels.
"I must be out of my mind," says Morales, 34. "This trial just went on too long. I
The jurors may well have felt the same way. At least, analysts were citing their
9-month sequestration as one reason to move quickly.
Indeed, there were unconfirmed reports swirling through the court that jurors
packed their bags before reporting to work Monday.
They began deliberating at 9:40 a.m. and then announced they wanted a
read-back of testimony offered by Allan Park, the limousine driver who took
Simpson to the airport for a flight to Chicago the night Nicole Brown Simpson
and Ronald Goldman were murdered.
They also sent a note asking the judge for verdict forms, which touched off a
debate among court-watchers over what that meant, the majority arguing it was a
simple housekeeping request.
But during a recess after an hour of listening to Park's testimony, the jury sent
two other messages. One, they had heard enough of Park. Two, they had verdicts
Ito hastily reconvened them and made the startling announcement. Gasps filled
the hushed courtroom.
"Is that correct?" Ito asked.
"Yes," said the forewoman, a 50-year-old black woman from
predominantly-black south central L.A.
Amazement - and worry - filled the faces of lawyers for both sides. "Surprise
doesn't begin to describe my feelings. I am stunned at the speed," said defense
lawyer Carl Douglas, the only member of the defense team in court Monday.
Asked if he was surprised, prosecutor Christopher Darden said, "I have to believe
it," then added wearily, "Nothing shocks me anymore."
Verdict-guessing erupted before the courtroom had cleared. Noting that jurors
avoided Simpson's gaze, spectators immediately seized on the old adage that
jurors who convict are unnerved by a defendant's stare.
But as the news rocketed through the community of analysts, opinion split down
In New York, jury consultant Sonya Hamlin argued for a conviction. Her
reasoning: Juror No. 3, a 60-year-old white woman from suburban Norwalk,
wouldn't have voted acquittal without a protracted fight.
"She was very much a pro-prosecution juror, and she was previously involved in
a jury where she turned 11 other jurors around."
The story of former jury service is true. But did she really back the prosecution
this time? No one knows.
In Galveston, Texas, Robert Hirschhorn, consultant for the victorious defense
team in the William Kennedy Smith rape trial, said the speed guaranteed
"There's no way you could go through this much evidence in that time and
convict. It's impossible . . . even if they were all graduates of the Evelyn Wood
speed-reading course, they'd have to be pretty ruthless people to come back this
fast with a guilty verdict."
Hirschhorn has predicted an acquittal ever since Simpson struggled to put on
gloves linked to the case.
"They went around the room and all agreed they had reasonable doubt," he said.
"How long have I been telling you that jurors make up their minds after opening
Analysts also dissected in fine detail the significance of the testimony jurors
wanted re-read. Park was considered the strongest non-expert witness in the
prosecution case, a credible and critical link in their argument that Simpson had
an opportunity to commit the murders.
He testified that when he arrived at 10:22 that night, the Bronco was gone and
Simpson didn't answer repeated buzzes at the front gate until after Park saw a
dark figure slip in the front door at 10:55.
But the defense built a case that Simpson couldn't have committed the murders
and make it back in time to cause a thumping noise Brian "Kato" Kaelin said he
heard outside the estate's guest house at 10:40.
In the end, prosecutors used Park's testimony as evidence Kato didn't hear that
sound until 10:51 or 10:52. That 11- or 12-minute swing was considered critical
to both sides.
The jury cut off the read-back immediately after that pivotal piece of testimony -
and never asked for the defense cross examination of Parks.
Larry Schiller, co-author of Simpson's book I Want To Tell You, said Simpson
"was sort of not worried" about Monday's events.
Known to have had a strong role in managing his own case, Simpson was more
preoccupied with details. "He was concerned about the manner in which the
readback occurred," said Schiller. The court reporter "read it like a machine . . .
Of course, all the guessing over verdicts ends today. But one question is likely to
linger: How could the jury have moved so fast?
Friday, when it elected its forewoman in under five minutes, some critics
suggested they may have discussed the case prematurely.
Others theorized the trial's early publicity could explain it.
"All the notoriety, from the Bronco chase to the bloody glove, led people to have
a pre-disposition one way or the other," says Houston jury psychologist John
Gilleland. "What surprises me is all 12 people were working on the same level."
And it could add up to yet another superlative in a case bristling with them. "If
it's a guilty verdict," says Hirschhorn, "it's going to be the fastest . . . in a
high-profile case in American history. The jury in the Lindbergh case was out
three days, and that's the only one that comes close."
Contributing: Haya El Nasser, Sally Ann Stewart, Jonathan T. Lovitt
Possible verdicts, what they mean
-- If found guilty of first-degree murder: Life in prison, with out parole.
-- If guilty of second-degree murder: At least 16 years for each count; parole
-- If guilty of either murder charge: The defense has said it will appeal.
-- If found guilty, sentencing hearing within 30 days. Is sent to state penitentiary
-- If acquitted: Freed immediately; can't be retried on same charges.
-- If acquitted: Faces civil suits by Goldmans, Browns. VERDICT UPDATE:
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