2 Simpson Jurors Likely to Be Replaced by Ito
Two jurors in the O.J. Simpson murder case will probably be replaced with alternates this week after questions were raised about their ability to be fair, Superior Court Judge Lance A. Ito has told lawyers from both sides.
Ito made his tentative decision known in a closed-door session Friday afternoon, according to sources, after investigators from the Sheriff’s Department delivered reports about the jurors--a 48-year-old Inglewood man who works for the Hertz Corp. and a 38-year-old Norwalk woman employed as a letter carrier.
Until the judge formalizes his decision, the jury--12 regular members and 12 alternates--remains sequestered at an undisclosed location. If the two are dismissed, replacements will be chosen from among the alternates by a method chosen by the judge--for example, numerical order or a random drawing.
Ito ordered an investigation of the man last month amid prosecution allegations that he had failed to disclose on his juror questionnaire and during oral examination that he had personal contact with Simpson more than a decade ago as a part of his job with the Hertz Corp., for which Simpson was a longtime celebrity spokesman.
The contact allegedly took place at a Hertz reception and may have been as simple as Simpson shaking the man’s hand in a reception line.
But the judge had routinely excused from jury service candidates who had had personal contact with principals in the double murder case on the basis that such contact would bias them in one way or the other.
The woman’s ability to serve was challenged by the defense, which alleged that she had not fully disclosed her experiences with domestic abuse. Ito found that the woman had been candid, a source said, but tentatively has decided to excuse her after a “recent incident.”
Domestic abuse may be an important part of the Simpson murder case because prosecutors allege that long-term physical and emotional violence by O.J. Simpson led up to the June 12 knife slayings of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ronald L. Goldman. Prosecutors said Nicole Simpson was the target; Goldman happened on the scene, they argue, and was killed because Simpson mistakenly believed he was his ex-wife’s boyfriend.
Simpson has pleaded not guilty to the murders and his lawyers deny that he systematically abused Nicole Simpson during their relationship.
The male juror facing dismissal is black; the woman is Latina. Their removal could change the racial and gender composition of the jury, which is now predominantly black and female. As it stands, the jury has eight blacks, two Latinos, one white and one person of mixed race--white and Native American. Eight of the panelists are women; four are men.
The alternate panel is composed of seven blacks, four whites and one Latino. There are nine women and three men among the alternates.
Whichever replacements are chosen, African Americans would remain the dominant racial group on the jury.
Some analysts have said the racial composition of the jury could have an effect on its verdict in the case, in which race has been a powerful subtext. Simpson is black and both victims were white.
Polls show black people surveyed were more inclined to think Simpson innocent than whites were. Women, in turn, might be swayed by the allegations of domestic violence against a woman, according to certain other analysts.
In its Saturday editions, the Daily News of Los Angeles reported that Ito has dismissed the two jurors. Although Ito has usually followed through with his stated intentions, he occasionally has changed course; in one instance, he declined to rule against prosecutors even after saying in court he was inclined to do so.
The seating of the Hertz employee on the jury had raised the eyebrows of some analysts when the jury was sworn in because of his institutional relationship with Simpson. When the allegation of personal contact arose, the man denied it under questioning by Ito, sources said.
UCLA law professor Peter Arenella said that denial--if proved false by the sheriff’s investigation--most likely led to Ito’s inclination to remove him. A false denial could suggest the juror was trying to conceal a bias for or against Simpson.
Sources say Ito has had the Sheriff’s Department report in hand since before the jury was sequestered Jan. 11 and that the prosecution had bitterly opposed the juror’s inclusion in the sequestration because of fears he might influence other jurors or alternates.
But legal experts said there is little likelihood of such influence.
“This is not a close personal friend of O.J,” Arenella said. “It’s unlikely that a person who has some momentary contact with O.J. is the person who would be someone who would taint.”
Another expert, who asked not to be named, said Ito may have sequestered the juror knowing full well he would later remove him.
* THE SPIN: Why was Simpson’s co-author on list of witnesses with special access to the defendant? B1