Could Anything Prevent All These Juror Dismissals?
LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Ten jurors down, two alternates left. And now comes the Monday morning quarterbacking: Could anything have prevented the repeated dismissals of panelists from O.J. Simpson’s murder trial?
Probably not, say legal experts and jury consultants who blame a mistrial-threatening juror dropout rate on Superior Court Judge Lance Ito’s strict standards and the rigors of sequestration.
Ito does not reveal why he ousts jurors. ``Good cause,″ a legal term open to wide interpretation, is his only pronouncement.
Circumstances surrounding the ousters suggest they were prompted by behavior not usually labeled misconduct. Keeping a diary, for example. Not getting along with a fellow panelist, for another.
``It’s an extremely high standard,″ said Lois Heaney of the National Jury Project, an Oakland consulting firm. ``Jurors are entitled to write down their thoughts. There’s nothing sinister about that. But in this case, things are being interpreted as sinister when they’re not really sinister.″
Not helping is the fact that panelists have been sequestered day and night for five months, Heaney added.
``Sequestration has so distorted the process, it becomes a cure that may be worse than the ail it was trying to fix,″ she said.
The ailment is a bombardment of speculation _ from television, newspapers and countless conversations, private and public _ about whether Simpson wielded the knife that nearly decapitated ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and left the body of Ronald Goldman drained of blood.
Lawyers stretched the jury selection process from September to December. Consultants with extensive training in psychology were hired by Simpson to assess body language and written responses.
Ultimately, 12 jurors and 12 alternates were chosen. Only a total of 14 remain.
It’s impossible to know what Simpson consultants think of their choices. Ito has banned trial participants from discussing the case in detail. Prosecutors did not collaborate with representatives from the relatively new field of jury consulting, and relied on their own experience.
Joyce Mochizuki of Los Angeles-based Trial Logistics said her firm, which represents Simpson, generally looks for ``an ability to be fair, unbiased ... someone who’s not going to personalize the case or the verdict.″
She said consultants also study ``subtlety in body language. ... Not just what they say, but how they say it.″
Each of the 24 panelists signed an agreement to abstain from taking, or even discussing taking, compensation for case information until 180 days after the trial’s end _ under penalty of a $1,500 fine for each violation.
Of all the dismissed jurors, only one has written a book. Michael Knox, 46, a black courier dismissed March 1, has produced a volume titled ``The Private Diary of An O.J. Juror: Behind the Scenes of the Trial of the Century.″
Expected in bookstores by June 20, it followed a successful lawsuit filed by Knox claiming protection from the fine under his First Amendment guarantee of free speech.
The most recent juror dismissals came last week when Ito removed Willie Cravin, a black postal manager, and Farron Chavarria, a Hispanic woman who accused Cravin of intimidation.
Cravin says the prosecution wanted him bumped because he’s black. Chavarria says she was sent home after slipping a note to Francine Florio-Bunten, who was dismissed in May for allegedly planning to write a book.
Several lawyers watching the trial doubt there will be a dozen jurors left.
Under state law, a trial can proceed with fewer than 12 jurors only if both sides agree. That appears doubtful in this highly contentious case.
And should this case end in mistrial, the standards by which jurors were sequestered and dismissed could prove troublesome, legal experts said.
If there is a retrial, should panelists again be locked away in a secret hotel? Should their behavior be held to such rigid standards?
``That’s a problem Judge Ito has created for himself,″ Heaney said. ``When you create a standard that is this high, how are you going to find a jury for the next trial? Ought not it be held to the same standard? We’re in uncharted territory here.″