Ito Tells Jurors They Will Be Sequestered : Simpson case: Panelists will be taken to an undisclosed site Wednesday. Court has list of items to bring and those that are forbidden. Judge grants seven seats to each victim’s family.
Superior Court Judge Lance A. Ito told two dozen jurors and alternates in the O.J. Simpson case Monday that they are to meet at a secret location Wednesday morning to be sequestered for the duration of the double-murder trial.
“This is something that we all tried to avoid, but it has become necessary,” Ito told the panelists. “We will do everything reasonable in our power to make this as palatable as possible.”
The jurors and alternates had smiled broadly when Ito greeted them after they filed into the jury box, having waited more than two hours while lawyers from both sides met with Ito in his chambers on undisclosed matters. But their faces went blank as the judge told them that he had decided to put them up in a hotel or at some other site and restrict their activities for what might turn out to be months.
“I don’t see many smiling faces at this point,” Ito said, after describing to the panel some details of the sequestration. “I realize this is going to be difficult for all of us.”
Ito promised to try to make the ordeal “as reasonable as possible” with family visits every Wednesday and on weekends.
The jurors were to be given lists of things they should pack, such as prescription medicine, and things they should not bring, such as portable radios.
One juror, a 48-year-old employee of the Hertz Corp. who was investigated for possible juror misconduct, tried to get Ito’s attention, but the judge apparently did not see him raising his finger.
The misconduct investigation was con ducted by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and was sparked by allegations that the man may not have fully disclosed alleged contact with O.J. Simpson, who was a longtime Hertz spokesman, and Simpson’s daughter Arnelle, who worked for Hertz in 1993.
The juror has denied such contact, and Ito has taken no action against him.
Simpson has pleaded not guilty to the June 12 knife slayings of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald L. Goldman.
Fred and Patti Goldman, the father and stepmother of Goldman, were in court Monday wearing buttons with pictures of him and the words: “In our thoughts every day.”
The couple later, in brief comments to reporters, thanked Ito for setting aside seven seats for each of the victims’ families, two more each than had been proposed.
Ito made the change after the lead prosecutor, Deputy Dist. Atty. Marcia Clark, complained to him about arrangements that called for Simpson’s family to have six seats while each of the victims’ families had five.
“No one is of greater importance or has a greater right to be here than the family of the victims,” Clark said.
The defense did not oppose the objection, saying they would leave the matter up to Ito.
One of Simpson’s lead attorneys, Robert L. Shapiro, did object to having the victims’ families sit in a front row where, he said, they would be able to read computer screens used by the lawyers and where some would be just feet away from jurors.
Saying that “some members of the Brown family have been demonstrative” in court during earlier hearings, Shapiro suggested that they sit in the rear of the courtroom.
Ito agreed that the family members’ ability to read defense computer screens was a “legitimate concern” and said he would consider moving them deeper into the audience of the 58-seat courtroom. Ito also said he plans to “put a buffer” between the victims’ families and the jurors but did not elaborate.
The defense has said it will file a motion to keep out of the courtroom members of Nicole Simpson’s family who may be called as witnesses to prevent them from being influenced by the testimony of others.
The prosecution has said it will fight such a move “tooth and nail,” and members of both families complained bitterly about the prospect of being kept out of the proceedings.
As of Monday, no such defense motion had been filed.
The discussions over seating arrangements were held outside the presence of the jurors and alternates, who are so numerous that four are sitting in seats outside the jury box.
The panel has been on ice since December, when the jury selection process was completed and they were allowed to go home for the holidays after promising to avoid coverage of the case.
Even before the full complement of jurors and alternates was in place, Ito had hinted that sequestration might be necessary, but he only announced his intention to take that step after Simpson’s lawyers joined prosecutors this month in requesting it.
The defense team, which had opposed sequestration, switched positions partly because Simpson’s lawyers were worried about jurors being exposed to coverage of an upcoming hearing on the tempestuous relationship between O.J. and Nicole Simpson.
Although he ordered the panel sequestered for the length of the trial, Ito did make several accommodations intended to lessen the hardships on the jurors and alternates. He will allow them to read censored newspapers, watch or listen to taped television programs and movies and books on tape donated by various firms.
The 24 panelists were ordered Monday not to disclose to anyone, except the person who drops them off, the site where they will meet Wednesday. From there, they will be taken to the sequestration site, which has not been disclosed.
Since the jury was selected, the judge and lawyers have continued to hammer out a number of lingering legal issues--the latest tussle is over the prosecution’s desire to see records from a Santa Monica women’s shelter where Nicole Brown Simpson allegedly sought counseling in the late 1980s. A hearing on that issue was reset for Wednesday morning.
Ito moved to sequester the panel now because of the approaching hearing, also set for Wednesday, about the relationship between O.J. and Nicole Simpson.
Prosecutors have amassed a list of incidents that they hope will support their theory that the slayings of Nicole Simpson and Ronald Goldman were Simpson’s final attempt to control his ex-wife and that Goldman was killed because he stumbled into that violent scene. Simpson pleaded no contest to misdemeanor spousal abuse stemming from a 1989 incident in which his then-wife was battered. His lawyers deny that there was a pattern of long-term abuse.
The defense lawyers say that the 1989 incident and any others involving the couple are irrelevant to the murder charges and highly prejudicial. They are seeking to keep any such evidence from the jury.
Opening statements and testimony in the case are tentatively scheduled to begin Jan. 18 after the hearing on the domestic violence evidence and at least one other pretrial proceeding.
The second hearing will be about what, if anything, should be admitted on the background of Mark Fuhrman, the Los Angeles Police Department detective who testified at Simpson’s preliminary hearing that he found a bloody glove outside a guest house on the Brentwood property of the former athlete on the morning after the killings.
A similar glove was found at the crime scene two miles away.
Once the starting date of the opening statements is known for certain, Ito said, he will again question jurors about their exposure to media coverage of the case between the time they were sent home for the holidays and the sequestration.
Statements Clark made in court Monday indicate that another issue might arise before opening statements start.
After coming out of the long in-chamber session with Ito and other lawyers Monday morning, she tried to publicly object to what she referred to as “the procedure being followed by the court regarding the investigation that was ordered and the sequestration.”
Sources on both sides of the case said late Monday that Clark was referring to Ito’s reluctance to issue a ruling on the juror who works for Hertz. At least one other Hertz employee, the sources said, has alleged that the juror met and shook hands with Simpson 12 years ago at a Hertz reception at Los Angeles International Airport.
Ito was visibly irritated by Clark’s comments and cut her off, noting that she had made the objection in the private session.
“Be seated,” Ito told Clark, who complied.
Start your day right
Sign up for Essential California for news, features and recommendations from the L.A. Times and beyond in your inbox six days a week.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.