Expert Hired by Simpson Team to Help Pick Jurors : Trial: The Pasadena consultant will evaluate jurors by questionnaire and by what they say in court.
O.J. Simpson’s defense team has hired a prominent, Pasadena-based trial consultant to help select the most favorable jury possible for the former football star, whose murder trial is scheduled to begin Sept. 19.
After interviewing several consultants, Simpson’s attorneys chose Jo-Ellan Dimitrius, who previously helped attorneys representing Peggy Buckey in the McMartin Preschool case, “Night Stalker” Richard Ramirez and the four Los Angeles police officers accused of beating Rodney G. King.
Dimitrius, who has a Ph.D. in criminal justice and government from Claremont Graduate School, also has helped prosecutors in other states with jury selection.
“We are delighted to be part of the defense team,” said Dimitrius, who heads a small firm called Trial Logistics. “We certainly have our work cut out for us.”
“I think it would be very difficult to find 12 people who have not already formed impressions and would be willing to keep an open mind,” she said. “The amount and quality of publicity that has been brought regarding this trial has created a scenario unprecedented in my career as a consultant.”
She said it would be necessary to design questions that were more sophisticated than in any of the other cases that she has worked on.
“We will be able to find 12 jurors. Finding out the degree to which each person is biased, that is truly the task for each side.”
Dimitrius, known to her clients as “Doc” or “Dr. D,” said her role is to “de-select” jurors who are likely to be adverse to her client. Each side can eliminate an unlimited number of jurors if it can state reasons why the juror is unfairly biased, and a limited number of jurors for no reason at all.
Dimitrius, 40, declined to go into specifics about how she would approach the case. But other jury consultants said it was possible that she would use focus groups in an attempt to get an overview of people’s attitudes about Simpson and the case as part of designing a questionnaire. The first draft must be given to Superior Court Judge Lance A. Ito on Tuesday.
Ito said at a court hearing Tuesday that he wanted work to start on the questionnaire as soon as possible. Simpson has pleaded not guilty to charges of murdering his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and Ronald Lyle Goldman, on June 12.
In the past, Dimitrius has used a system that rates potential jurors on a 1 to 5 scale, with 1 being best for her client. The score is based on a variety of factors that she gleans from reading answers to a questionnaire and listening to potential jurors’ responses to questions.
In the Simpson case, attorneys are likely to be interested in potential jurors’ attitudes toward issues such as interracial marriage, spousal abuse and a wealthy defendant, say jury consulting experts.
“I certainly would want to explore with jurors the concerns people have about domestic violence,” said Terri Waller of another prominent jury consulting firm, the Oakland-based National Jury Project. “Under any circumstance I can think of, that has got to be something the lawyers will be concerned about. Even if the 911 tapes don’t come into evidence . . . practically everyone who has heard about this case has heard something about the troubled nature of their relationship.”
Simpson pleaded guilty in 1989 to misdemeanor charges of beating his then-wife Nicole. Shortly after Simpson was arrested in the current case, authorities released tapes of October, 1993, 911 calls in which Nicole Simpson pleaded for help as a man she identified as her former husband raged in the background.
Waller also said the defense lawyers will want to probe whether jurors are resentful about “the fact that he has the money to be in a position to hire the most expensive lawyers and assemble some of the most sophisticated researchers to challenge the DNA evidence.”
She agreed with Dimitrius that the magnitude of the publicity makes picking a jury more difficult.
“It’s always complicated with this much publicity,” Waller said. “People think they know so much about the case. They’ve been talking about it with their friends. You can’t get away from it. It’s in our faces every day. What you have is a soap opera. That’s why it has stayed in the public eye so long.”