Jurors Revolt Over Removal of Sheriff's Deputies
Apr. 21, 1995
LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Juror tensions in the O.J. Simpson trial erupted into open revolt today when 13 panelists protested the replacement of sheriff's guards and demanded a meeting with the judge, sources said.
Some of the jurors were seen crying as they were taken back to their hotel after court Thursday afternoon, a source said.
The resumption of testimony by a police criminalist was canceled today as Superior Court Judge Lance Ito scrambled to resolve the turmoil in the sequestered jury.
Ito met with lawyers and sheriff's officials behind closed doors. And he met individually with jurors who asked to speak to him, said court spokeswoman Jerrianne Hayslett. Attorneys from both sides and a Sheriff's Department official, Cmdr. Patrick Holland, sat in on the meetings, which were recorded by a court reporter, she said.
Ito talked to seven jurors today and planned to talk to others on Monday, Hayslett said.
``He is probably considering this part of his ongoing inquiry,'' she said.
The resumption of testimony by criminalist Andrea Mazzola was put off until Tuesday.
Sheriff Sherman Block resumed a public defense of his deputies today, saying the judge acted precipitously in removing the three. ``I hate to be an I-told-you-so kind of thing, but I think had he completed this investigation he might not have the turmoil that he has this morning,'' he added.
Legal analyst Myrna Raeder, a law professor at Southwestern University, said it was too early to speculate on what action Ito must take. She said the judge needed to worry about emotional issues before legal issues, interviewing the jurors and getting to the bottom of the dispute.
``Ito has got to be very sensitive in making sure that he puts this back together again without the requirement of a mistrial,'' said Raeder.
The rebellious panelists asked to speak to Ito at their hotel this morning before the court session, but the judge said they had to come to court to speak with him, sheriff's sources said.
The jury then was driven to the courthouse, arriving about 9 a.m. Thirteen were dressed completely or partially in black. At noon they left, stone-faced, to return to their hotel.
The court did not announce a reason for the juror uprising. But the action came a day after Ito ordered the removal of three deputies, apparently in response to complaints by a dismissed juror that some white members of the panel got preferential treatment.
The judge's decision angered Block, who said the judge didn't even interview the deputies involved.
``I just think it is wholly inappropriate to take the action that he did relative to these deputies,'' Block said, adding that the slow pace of the trial was to blame for juror discontent.
``I have every confidence that the deputies performed their duties professionally and consistent with their responsibility,'' he said.
Besides the deputies' dismissals, the trial was shaken by another possible jury problem Thursday, which overshadowed the start of testimony by Mazzola, the rookie technician who collected most of the evidence in the case.
In a private meeting with the judge, juror No. 453, a 25-year-old black flight attendant, asked to be released from jury duty. ``I can't take it anymore,'' she said, according to a transcript. Ito took no immediate action.
Southwestern University law professor Robert Pugsley said it was unlikely Ito would dismiss the juror without further investigation. Pugsley said the judge should release her only if there were evidence of misconduct, a medical reason or some emergency.
``I think that Judge Ito would be well-advised not to let her off because it would set a very dangerous precedent,'' Pugsley said. ``There's any number of jurors and alternates ... who have equally good reasons and are equally fed up with being on this jury.''
Professor Raeder said Ito made ``an excellent decision'' to dismiss the deputies, even if the deputies didn't do anything wrong.
``It really seems to me if enough individuals have a perception that the deputies were exacerbating ... racial tension, then they should be removed, because the comfort of the jury panel as a whole is what we have to ensure,'' Raeder said.
Mazzola was to return to court today to resume cross-examination. She testified Thursday about minor paperwork lapses and inconsistencies in her statements, but no serious errors were elicited.
Simpson's lawyers have accused Mazzola of bungling evidence collection. She told the jury that she immediately logged every item she handled but one _ a vial containing Simpson's blood, which wasn't booked until June 14, 1994, the day after it was collected.
Asked by prosecutor Hank Goldberg why she waited, Mazzola said, ``Our checklist was locked in the back of the truck and we had to get back (to the crime lab) to prepare evidence.''
Defense attorneys have seized upon the handling of Simpson's blood sample as the touchstone of their frame-up defense. They allege that the detective who carried the blood about 20 miles from police headquarters to Simpson's home did not give it to Fung that evening, as the prosecution maintains. That could have given police the opportunity to scatter Simpson's blood at his estate and at the murder scene to frame him for the June 12 murders of his ex-wife and her friend, the defense says.
Six jurors have already been dismissed, and only six alternates remain with months to go in the testimony. The jury has been sequestered since Jan. 11.
The slow pace of the trial clearly is taking its toll. Persistent rumors of discontent exploded earlier this month with the dismissal of juror Jeanette Harris and her subsequent stories of racial friction and favoritism toward white jurors on the part of deputies.
There are nine women among the 12 jurors. Eight are black, three are white and one is Hispanic. Testimony was halted for part of Tuesday and all of Wednesday while Ito questioned panelists about Harris' allegations.
The latest indication of problems arose when the transcript of Ito's meeting with juror No. 453 was inadvertently released by court reporters through an electronic service that provides instantaneous transcripts.
``What's up?'' Ito asked.
``I would like to be released,'' said the woman.
``Why?'' the judge asked.
``... Because I can't take it anymore,'' she answered.
``Is it the things that we talked about?'' the judge asked.
``It's just a combination of things throughout the past three months,'' she responded.
During jury selection, the woman was asked by Ito how she would feel about spending the next six months in a hotel.
``I would imagine you ... have stayed in many hotels,'' Ito said, noting the woman's career.
``Yes,'' she answered, ``so I guess it wouldn't really be a problem. I'm used to staying in hotels.''