On the second day of jury selection in the O.J. Simpson murder trial, the judge announced that so many people are willing to serve that he may not need to bring the full complement of potential jurors to the Downtown courthouse.
"We are running perhaps 25% to 30% higher (in jurors able to serve) than I had anticipated from my past experience with these cases," Superior Court Judge Lance A. Ito said Tuesday.
Since jury selection began Monday, nearly 500 potential jurors have been screened. Of those, 222 are still in the running and will be coming back for further questioning.
Ito has said he hoped that from an initial outreach to 1,000 Los Angeles County residents, about 250 could be found who would be willing to serve on the Simpson jury. He indicated that the goal may be reached before Thursday, setting the stage for selection of the 12 jurors and eight alternates who will decide Simpson's fate.
The initial success at finding jurors who are willing to serve heartened Ito, but concerned some observers, who worried about too much enthusiasm in the jury pool.
"It's scary about these 'volunteer jurors,' the jurors who see this as the way to their 15 minutes of fame," said Los Angeles defense lawyer Marcia Morrisey, adding that some who have been called may now see jury service "as a way to change an otherwise dull life."
Other analysts warned that some prospective jurors who have voiced willingness to serve may have predispositions about the case or may be hoping to capitalize on it by selling their stories once the trial is concluded. A detailed questionnaire and further questioning by the judge and lawyers in the case are intended to weed out any of those people before a jury is impaneled.
Commenting on the willingness of large numbers of people to serve on the Simpson jury, Ito speculated Tuesday that unprecedented media coverage is responsible. "The hoopla factor goes up in direct ratio to the number of (television) microwave dishes outside," the judge said to attorneys in the case.
Simpson has attended both of the jury selection sessions so far, appearing in a white cardigan sweater Tuesday and, for the first time since his arrest June 17, speaking briefly to reporters. Discussing a song he had been singing to himself the day before, Simpson explained: "It was (from the musical) 'Cats.' That song really gets to me because it says 'touch me' and I can't touch my kids."
The football great has pleaded not guilty to charges of murdering his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ronald Lyle Goldman.
Simpson's trial opened Monday with the screening of prospective jurors to determine how many had hardships that would keep them from serving.
Concerned about the impact of the case's enormous prominence on the jury selection process, Ito has devoted unusual time and attention to finding panelists qualified to serve, interviewing some prospective jurors individually and juggling other pressing issues to get the selection process under way. On Tuesday, Ito called jury selection "the biggest burden that has been placed on this court."
Among other things, Ito decided Tuesday to postpone a scheduled hearing on several still-unresolved defense objections to police conduct during the service of search warrants. That hearing had been set for today, but instead is likely to take place next week.
Ito also has yet to say when he wants to hold a hearing to decide whether cameras should be banned from his courtroom for the duration of the trial, a move he threatened last week in response to a disputed KNBC-TV report about DNA tests.
According to Ito's clerk, the judge has not set a date for hearing that issue. On Thursday, he said he expected to conduct it this week, but he has not broached the subject since then.
With that issue still unresolved, Ito did pull the plug on a courthouse hallway camera Tuesday after a television station broadcast pictures of jurors in other cases milling about in the hall outside Ito's courtroom. Court rules prohibit the photographing of jurors, and the order allowing a camera to be present in the hallway during the Simpson hearings specifically bars the broadcast of photographs that show jurors in this case or any other.
Jerrianne Hayslett, a spokeswoman for the Superior Court, said there had been two instances in which photographs of jurors had been aired on television. The first was Friday, she said, and then on Monday night another juror from a case being tried near Ito's courtroom was shown so clearly that an acquaintance called to tell her that she had seen her on television.
The judge in that case protested to Ito, who barred the cameras immediately and does not intend to restore permission for the duration of the trial, Hayslett said. In addition to a television camera, still photographers were also ejected.
"It's one thing to get someone on camera," Hayslett said. "It's another thing not to edit it out."
As jury selection continued Tuesday afternoon, Ito and the attorneys for both sides resumed the laborious task of excusing people who cannot afford to serve as jurors in the Simpson trial. The judge has estimated that the trial could last until February.
Ito has yet to rule on the prosecution's request that the jury in the Simpson case be fully sequestered for the length of the trial. On Tuesday, he indicated to some prospective jurors that they might be kept away from friends and family for the duration of the case, but also said he was considering limiting their sequestration to the period of jury deliberations.
In either case, jurors will not be able to go to work or spend their days at home for a minimum of several months.
Many of those who received jury summonses pleaded hardships of various kinds. The most common problems were employers who would not keep them on the payroll through the lengthy court proceedings and relatives who needed care.
But others insisted that they could serve no matter what.
One woman, who appeared to be in her 60s, entered the jury assembly room with a walker and had to be aided by deputies. When Ito questioned her, he asked whether she could endure what could be a long trial.
"I wanted to make sure you are able to serve a proud duty," Ito told the woman.
"I can make it," she responded. She was then given a copy of the 75-page questionnaire that all prospective jurors are being asked to complete in order to help the judge and lawyers ferret out those who may have biases that would make it impossible for them to serve impartially.
As with the prospective jurors who gathered Monday, Tuesday's group groaned loudly when told that the questionnaire was 75 pages. It has taken many of the panelists hours to complete the forms. The questionnaires probe an array of sensitive topics and prospective jurors are not allowed to take them home.
"Go ahead and groan, and get it out of your system," Ito told the panelists who gathered in the Criminal Courts Building's jury assembly room.
Ito has asked prospective jurors to try to avoid reading or watching publicity about the case--a formidable task in light of the extensive coverage given to it by print and broadcast outlets. Tuesday, when Ito reiterated that request to the prospective jurors, one laughed out loud.
"When you see it on TV, switch to 'The Simpsons,' " Ito said, pausing when he realized his inadvertent reference to the defendant, who was present for the hearing. "The TV show, I mean," Ito added.
Ito and the parties in the case are scheduled to be back in court this morning to take up an issue that could determine the course of the Simpson trial, at least in the short run. He is expected to hear arguments on a motion in which prosecutors outline a novel approach to proceeding with jury selection in order to prevent what they fear will be certain contamination if the panel is chosen and then allowed to go home while the two sides wage a lengthy debate on DNA evidence.
Prosecutors are worried that the jury would hear that debate because it is likely to receive pervasive coverage. Once it is concluded, Ito would have to re-interview the panelists and dismiss any who had been tainted by the proceedings.
"That some of those jurors would be deemed unfit, under the unprecedented circumstances of this case, is almost a foregone conclusion," prosecutors said in their motion, which was filed last week and unsealed Monday. "Thus, the likelihood of a mistrial is overwhelming. The jury process would have to begin anew and weeks of valuable court time will have gone to waste."
Instead, they recommend that Ito complete the current phase of questioning for potential hardships, then allow those several hundred prospective jurors to return home. Under the prosecution's proposed schedule, the whole panel would come back to court after the hearings, and a jury would be picked at that time.
Johnnie L. Cochran Jr., one of Simpson's lead attorneys, said late Tuesday that he and his colleagues plan to "vigorously challenge" that proposal in court today.
After the hearing on that issue, Ito and the attorneys are expected to return to jury selection, reviewing the next groups of prospective jurors to determine who may be able to serve. Today will be devoted to sifting through written responses to questions about hardships. When that is completed, oral questioning by the judge will resume and go on until Ito is satisfied that the panel is large enough for the next phase in the selection process.
Times legal affairs writer Henry Weinstein contributed to this report.
THE SIMPSON CASE. A daily update.Trial Highlights
A look at some of the key events in the O.J. Simpson murder trial Tuesday:
* Summary: Jury selection continued as another 241 jurors were asked to report for questioning. After reviewing their responses to written questions, Judge Lance A. Ito identified more than 70 he said should be excused. Others were questioned about possible hardships, and some were allowed to fill out questionnaires and asked to return in early October for further questioning by the judge and lawyers.
* Court action: Ito announced that he was pleased with the progress of jury selection and postponed a scheduled hearing on contested search warrants.
* Outside the courtroom: Angered by a television station that broadcast pictures of jurors milling around in the hallway outside the courtroom, Ito ordered the removal of the camera staked out in the hall.