Here Comes The Jury

IT'S THE OPEN SECRET OF THE FIRST O. J. Simpson trial: the case was won--and lost--before the first word of opening arguments. Most observers agree that once Marcia Clark ignored the advice of high-priced consultants and let the court seat a largely pro-defense jury, there was no way to win a conviction of a living icon in the black community--especially when the distrusted LAPD was central to the prosecution's case. But this time things could be very different.

The lawyers for the victims' families in the civil trial appear to be listening to their consultants, and it seems to be paying off. With the jury expected to be seated this week, NEWSWEEK has learned that the remaining 102 people in the pool could favor the plaintiffs--not Simpson--in several ways. The racial makeup is key: 43 of them are white, 39 black, the rest other minorities. But there are other factors. Only 15 percent of the pool say they've had a negative experience with the police, a far lower number than the jury in the criminal trial. And just as important, 70 percent answered ""not sure'' when asked about Simpson's guilt or innocence. Of course, no one knows if they're telling the truth or just hoping to win a history-making seat in the jury box by telling Judge Hiroshi Fujisaki what he wants to hear. But it's a more promising start than Marcia Clark had.

It was an up-and-down week for O. J. Simpson. Though the jury picture began to come into focus in a potentially unsettling way, Fujisaki made an unexpected pro-O.J. ruling. On Friday he said that Simpson's lawyers can claim that the Los Angeles police may have planted key evidence against Simpson--including incriminating DNA samples and the bloody glove. Once the former LAPD detective Mark Fuhrman pleaded no contest to felony perjury this month, the judge said Simpson's lawyers were entitled to present their theory of a police frame-up, no matter how slim the evidence.

But then came the bad news: Simpson's friends have begun to turn on him, publicly and explicitly. Exhibit one: ""An American Tragedy: The Uncensored Story of the Simpson Defense,'' a book written by former Simpson confidant Lawrence Schiller with the paid help of O.J. loyalist Robert Kardashian, who has said he now has reservations about Simpson's innocence. The book is full of behind-the-scenes nuggets about Simpson's criminal defense: O.J. begging to retake a lie-detector test after he failed miserably, his threatening to kill himself in various locations at Kardashian's home. Much to the chagrin of his colleagues, Robert Shapiro would frequently offer theories about how O.J. might have committed the murders, including one where Simpson had simply planned to puncture Nicole's tires on the night of June 12, 1994, but she caught him. And the Dream Team's infighting could get fairly petty. At one tense stretch in the middle of the trial, Kardashian picked up F. Lee Bailey's silver flask to smell it for liquor. (It was full of coffee.) Kardashian now admits that throughout the trial he questioned O.J.'s innocence; he told Barbara Walters that he'd say as much if called to testify in the civil trial. He might be. Lawyers representing Ron Goldman's father, Fred, tracked Schiller down at a book signing last week and had him served with a subpoena.

Schiller--who introduced murderer Gary Gilmore to Norman Mailer--befriended Simpson when the author suggested that O.J. write a book while in jail to curry public sympathy--and make some fast cash. Though Schiller now disavows the best-selling ""I Want to Tell You'' as a ""piece of propaganda,'' it was his ticket inside, and he used it as a way to ingratiate himself with Simpson so that he could pursue his own blockbuster book. Simpson told Walters that he still considers Kardashian his ""friend,'' though legal observ- ers believe Kardashian violated his attorney-client relationship with Simpson and could lose his law license. For his part, Kardashian, through a spokesman, refused to comment. But the Dream Team captain, Johnnie Cochran, took time out last week from selling his book on the Simpson case to publicly call the two men the ""evil within.'' Schiller says that his conscience, at least, is clean. ""The [new] book is history, and we have a responsibility to preserve history,'' Schiller told NEWSWEEK. ""I hope [Simpson] will learn from it.'' With his friends poised to testify against him in court, O.J. may learn the hard way.