How The Jury Saw It

KEPT OFF CAMERA, KNOWN ONLY BY THEIR numbers, they were obscured by all the courtroom posturing and squabbling. Day after day, the jurors remained unreadable, frequently taking copious notes, at other times drifting off when testimony dragged. Only a few hinted at their ultimate destination: the alternate juror who nodded when Johnnie Cochran invoked the pain of hearing the "N word," the juror who winked at the defense table just before the verdict was announced. But aside from the juror who gave Simpson a clenched-fist salute when it was all over, the jurors did nothing in court to indicate how they could have unanimously decided O. J. Simpson's fate so quickly. After 253 days and 126 witnesses, the jury took less than four hours last week to vote to set Simpson free, according to juror Brenda Moran, who talked to NEWSWEEK as she was leaving CNN's "Larry King Live" with her lawyer. Said Francine Florio-Bunten, a juror who was removed from the panel in late May because she was supposedly writing a book, "I spend more time shopping for pantyhose than they spent deliberating."

The instant analysis focused on race, with predictable hyperbole. According to CNN, prosecutor Marcia Clark bitterly declared that "a majority black jury will not convict in a case like this." (The D.A.'s of-flee later said she had been misquoted.) Juror Moran protested that race had nothing to do with the decision, which, she said, was based solely on the lack of evidence. Actually, a reconstruction of the jurors' long sequestration and very short deliberation makes clear that they were motivated by a variety of different factors, some of which were the facts of the case.

Aside from his skin color, O.J. Simpson was not tried by a jury of his peers. Wealthy and educated, Simpson considered himself beyond race and moved in mostly white circles. The nine blacks, one Hispanic and two whites on the jury were working- and middle-class and believe that racism is still pervasive in southern California. But in a literal sense, the jury was made to order for Simpson's acquittal. A jury consultant who worked briefly with the prosecution told NEWSWEEK that from the beginning, the jury was predisposed to believe that Simpson was innocent. During the course of the trial, as 10 jurors were removed for various reasons and replaced by alternates, the jury became even more pro-defense. While racial attitudes were undoubtedly a factor in their final decision, class was also important. By background and disposition, most of the Simpson jury, like many blacks, were highly suspicious of police and prosecutors. But they were also inclined to forgive or at least excuse domestic abuse, and were often bored and sometimes confused by scientific evidence. These attitudes were skillfully manipulated by the defense's Dream Team and heavily reinforced by the jurors' nine-month sequestration -- or, as most jurors regarded it, their captivity.

A computer analysis, obtained by NEWSWEEK, indicates why the odds were long against conviction. Before the trial, DecisionQuest, Inc., a jury-consulting firm advising the prosecution, conducted a sophisticated evaluation of the answers given by prospective jurors before they were selected. DecisionQuest initially rated the jurors on a scale of 1 to 7, with 7 representing the ideal prosecution juror. But the state disregarded this analysis: of the nine blacks, four were 2s and two were 3s; the one Hispanic was a 4, and one white was rated a 7. Allowing such a hostile jury to be chosen was only one blunder committed by the outclassed Los Angeles D.A.'s office (following story).

It is, of course, impossible to know the private thoughts of each juror, and last week most of them refused to talk as some tried to negotiate lucrative book deals while others fled the media glare. But a few jurors did speak out, and from their comments, along with those of family members and several jurors who were removed from panel during the course of the trial, the view from the jury box becomes more clear. Given the perspective of the jurors, the verdict that stunned many Americans may well have been a foregone conclusion.

The jurors could empathize with the defendant because they felt like prisoners themselves. The fifth floor of the Hotel Inter-Continental, where the jurors lived, was described by one juror, Lionel Cryer,as a "high-priced jail." Jurors were locked in their rooms at 11 (midnight on Saturday) and awakened at 5:80 a.m. Sheriff's deputies routinely searched their belongings for diaries or other contraband. Conjugal visits were limited to five hours, once a week. The continuous presence of guards may have reminded the jurors of the constant intrusions of the law in the daily lives of many blacks. Nationally, according to a survey made public last week, one out of three black men in their 20s is on parole, in prison or somehow under the supervision of the justice system.

Prosecutor Clark believed that the eight black women on the panel would be appalled by Simpson's well-established history of abusing his wife. But she badly miscalculated. According to the jury experts on both sides, poorer black women may be more tolerant of spousal abuse. Instead, one knowledgeable prosecution source speculated, the jurors were critical of Clark as a white woman who was trying to emasculate Simpson. Going for a conviction on spousal abuse might have been justified, said Moran, but trying to connect it to murder was "a waste of time."

Lacking an eyewitness or a murder weapon, the prosecution had to build a circumstantial case--the "trail of blood" leading to Simpson. But the jurors were irritated and often bored by the prosecution's meandering presentation and the incessant interruptions tolerated by Judge Lance Ito. He guaranteed a low education level by automatically rejecting anyone who read a newspaper during the jury selection process. Only two of the jurors graduated from college, and most said they derived their information from tabloid TV, a factor Decision Quest found correlated directly with the belief that Simpson was not guilty. One declared that she read nothing at all "except the horse sheet." The jurors eventually tuned out during the weeklong interrogation of the state's hapless LAPD criminalist Dennis Fung. "I remember coming in the courtroom, heard them say 'Fung,' and I thought, 'Again?'" said Florio-Bunten.

The Fung testimony was a "watershed," said Florio-Bunten, because the case veered off from the murder to the incompetence of the LAPD. Some jurors were very skeptical of Det. Philip Vannatter. Why did he carry a vial of Simpson's blood out to the defendant's home in Brentwood, rather than immediately hand it over to the police lab in the same building? "Why didn't he book it?" asked juror Brenda Moran. She thought Vannatter was lying when he testified that he didn't regard Simpson as a suspect on the night of the murder when he and Detective Fuhrman went out to Simpson's house. She suspected that their real purpose was to plant the bloody glove.

In hindsight, Johnnie Cochran's final fulminations against Fuhrman--comparing him to Hitler--were probably overkill. Most jurors just concluded that he was a racist and not credible. They didn't even need to hear the tapes of him using the N word. But the Fuhrman issue was crucial in bringing around a white juror, Anise Asch-enbach, a 61-year-old retiree. The defense was worried about Aschenbach as a possible holdout against acquittal. Serving as a juror in an earlier murder case, she had held out for conviction and eventually prevailed. But as she listened to testimony that Fuhrman said that "niggers" should be piled up and "burned," Aschenbach visibly recoiled in the courtroom. She later told her daughter that she thought Simpson probably was guilty, but that she distrusted Fuhrman. After hearing of his virulent racism, she could not role out the possibility that he had planted the bloody glove.

For months, the real question was whether there would be 12 jurors left to vote. By June, Judge Ito was down to his last two alternates. The 10 jurors had been dismissed for a variety of causes, from staring too intently at other jurors to secretly keeping notes for a book. Florio-Bunten was removed after an anonymous letter from a receptionist alleged to the judge that she was marketing a book to be called "Standing Alone for Nicole." Florio-Bun-ten vigorously denied the charge, but she was dropped anyway. Prosecutors suspect that she was set up by the defense, which wanted her off the panel. During the trial and before, both sides challenged jurors they regarded as unfavorable, but the defense was more successful. Gone were jurors who called themselves Republican or independent or indicated that racial discrimination was "not a problem" in L.A.

The actual deliberation was polite and orderly. The jury foreman, Armanda Cooley, 51, a tax collector for L.A. County, suggested they "just dig in" to the evidence--45,000 pages of testimony and 1,105 exhibits. But Moran suggested they take an anonymous vote first. Seated around a white Formica table, the jurors tore up scraps of green paper from steno notebooks, wrote down their verdicts and dropped them into a glass jar. The vote was 10-2 to acquit. It quickly became clear one of the holdouts was Aschenbach. But as other jurors raised their doubts--Why wasn't there more blood on Simpson? Why was there blood on the glove, but not on the ground?--she and the other holdout, who has not been identified, came around. By lunchtime, the vote was 12-0 to acquit. At the time, the jury's request to rehear the testimony of Allan Park, the chauffeur who picked up Simpson the night of the murder, was seen by the waiting world as highly significant. Actually, it was an afterthought. Moran just wanted to check the accuracy of her notes about O. J. Simpson's clothing that night. At 8 p.m., the foreman pressed a black buzzer three times, notifying Judge Ito that the jury had reached a verdict.

Moran says she is writing a quickie book titled "Parallel Universe: Inside the Simpson Jurors." Chapter headings include "How We Lived and Suffered Inside the Sequestered Hell" and "How We Dealt With the Racial Divisions." Six other jurors have approached a book publisher, NEWSWEEK has learned, and various tabloids have offered five-figure payments for their stories. The Simpson jury may have suffered, but no longer in silence.

A TOUGH ROOM TO WORK

The prosecutor's jury-consulting firm found the jury favored the defense in the Simpson case from the start. Jurors liked athletes, didn't much like the legal system and were regular tabloid-television viewers.

                                          Yes       No





Watch evening tabloid News                67%       33%



Read newspaper regularly                           100%



Believe or unlikely to

  murder because he excelled

  at football                             75%       25%



Friend or relative who was a

  victim of domestic violence             33%       67%



Juror or family member had

  negative experience                     42%       58%



Okay to use physical force

  on family member                        33%       67%
Join the Discussion