A Juror Asked to Be Excused: “Can’t Take It Anymore″
LOS ANGELES (AP) _ A juror told the O.J. Simpson judge Thursday she wanted to be excused from the sequestered panel because, ``I can’t take it anymore.″
The 25-year-old flight attendant submitted her request to Superior Court Judge Lance Ito at a private hearing in chambers during a break in the afternoon court session. The Associated Press obtained a copy of the exchange, which 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 black woman from southwest Los Angeles.
``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,″ the woman responded.
The meeting was recessed and the woman was back in her jury seat when cross-examination of criminalist Andrea Mazzola resumed minutes later.
The judge made no mention in open court Thursday of the juror’s request or his ongoing inquiry into reported problems on the panel.
If the woman, identified as Juror 453, does leave, only five alternates would remain with months to go before deliberations. The jurors have been sequestered since Jan. 11.
Rumors of discontent and fractious relationships 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 sheriff’s deputies.
Testimony was halted for part of Tuesday and all of Wednesday while Ito questioned panelists about Harris’ allegations.
The 25-year-old woman asking to be excused is one of nine women among the 12 jurors. Eight jurors are black, three are white and one is Hispanic.
Meanwhile, Mazzola, whom Simpson’s lawyers have accused of bungling evidence collection, told the jury she immediately logged every item she handled but one _ a vial containing Simpson’s blood.
Mazzola, testifying after her supervisor’s nine-day ordeal on the witness stand, said she carried a plastic trash bag out of Simpson’s estate the evening after the murders of Simpson’s ex-wife and her friend.
Veteran criminalist Dennis Fung testified that the bag contained a gray evidence envelope that held a vial of blood drawn voluntarily from Simpson earlier that day.
Prosecutor Hank Goldberg, anticipating another defense attack on that testimony, asked if Mazzola noted the blood vial on her ``crime scene checklist,″ where all evidence was recorded.
``No,″ she said, ``it was done on the 14th.″
Asked why she waited until the next day, 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 some 20 miles across town 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 implicate him, the defense says.
Fung denied any such conspiracy and testified he and Mazzola received an envelope containing the blood vial from Detective Philip Vannatter at 5:20 p.m. on June 13, 1994, in the foyer of Simpson’s mansion.
The defense and prosecution have produced dueling videotapes of events around that time. A tape at 5:11 p.m. shows Fung and Mazzola stashing evidence in their crime scene truck, locking the door and returning to Simpson’s home empty-handed.
At 5:17 p.m., Vannatter arrives with a gray envelope in his hand. In a shadowy view of the foyer, Fung is seen holding what appears to be the envelope.
Yet another tape shows Fung and Mazzola emerging at 5:42 p.m. with Mazzola toting a dark trash bag.
``Did you collect anything after 5:11 that was consistent with the size of what was in that bag?″ Goldberg asked her.
``No,″ Mazzola said.
Mazzola, 34, explained she wasn’t present when Fung received the gray envelope, having gone into the living room to sit down in a state of mental ``exhaustion″ after more than 12 hours’ work. She said she closed her eyes briefly but didn’t fall asleep.
Asked if the receipt of such an evidence envelope was significant, Mazzola indicated it was so routine she didn’t give it great attention.
``The laboratory receives samples of a suspect’s blood and urine all the time,″ she said. ``It was never unusual.″
As Simpson looked on from the counsel table, Mazzola showed jurors again the leather glove and knit hat found under a bush at the crime scene and demonstrated how she gingerly handled the items as she placed them in separate evidence collection bags. She said she was careful to touch as small an area of each item as possible.
She also disputed the defense assertion that one videotape shows her handing Fung a bloody envelope containing eyeglasses, with neither of them wearing protective latex gloves. The eyeglass envelope was found near the slashed bodies of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman.
``Is that item the bloody eyeglass envelope?″ Goldberg asked.
``No,″ she said, later adding, ``I would not hand anyone anything bloody without gloves.″
Asked why, she said, ``For personal protection. ... Today we have various forms of hepatitis, HIV; we have AIDS.″
She said criminalists are ``very mindful″ of exposure to blood evidence.
Goldberg began his direct examination by seeking to bolster Mazzola’s credentials, showing that although she had handled only two crime scenes before the Simpson case, she received a police commendation for her work on the first one. He cited courses she had taken and elicited her testimony that collecting evidence is not that complicated a task.
She acknowledged that she and Fung did not write their initials on evidence packages to show who collected what.
``We were working as a team,″ she said. ``So it didn’t matter if our initials were on the envelope. We were working as a team.″
She said that while she did most of the swatching of blood samples and collection of evidence, Fung made decisions on what should be gathered.
Mazzola, who testified at a pretrial hearing last October, noted that she was not prepared for that testimony and was told she would appear only 10 minutes before she took the stand. The line of questioning appeared to be an effort to offset any conflicts between trial and pretrial testimony.
Asked how she felt during that first witness stand appearance, she said, ``Nervous and thoroughly alone.″