Simpson Jurors Visit Crime Site : Trial: Judge Ito and attorneys participate in high-security tour of Brentwood. Defendant is allowed to visit his home for first time since his June 17 arrest.
O.J. Simpson and the jurors who must decide whether he committed a gruesome double murder trooped through Brentwood on Sunday on a strange, high-security outing to the scene of the crime and its aftermath.
The judge and the lawyers in the case also made the trip, which took place eight months to the day after the murders and marked Simpson’s first return home since he was arrested June 17. As jurors ate a box lunch in the bus that transported them, Simpson chatted animatedly with his lawyers and others beneath a clump of trees on his Rockingham Avenue property--the last stop on the tour. Earlier, Simpson waived his right to visit the murder scene, waiting in a nearby car as the jurors toured it four and five at a time.
After a brief court hearing early Sunday morning, the participants and their police escorts piled into 14 vehicles and set off on their field trip. They were accompanied by motorcycle police officers who shut down freeway on-ramps so that the jury--riding aboard a Sheriff’s Department bus with tinted windows and the number 444 painted on the roof--could ride unimpeded to Brentwood. Simpson rode in an unmarked car as part of the same caravan, its windows so darkly tinted that he was almost invisible inside.
Traffic stopped, and television stations interrupted their regular programming to carry the event live--the helicopter shots of the moving entourage recalling images of the internationally televised low-speed pursuit June 17, when Simpson and friend Al Cowlings led police from Orange County back to Simpson’s Brentwood home.
Simpson was arrested that night and subsequently pleaded not guilty to killing Ronald Lyle Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson, whose bodies were found slashed and stabbed to death.
Sunday’s field trip was intended primarily to give jurors an up-close look at the murder scene and Simpson’s home, but both sides sought to use the tour to gain maximum tactical advantage. Prosecutors maintain that Simpson killed the two victims and left a literal trail of blood from the murder scene to his house. Among other things, they wanted jurors to see the small area in which the murders were committed to bolster the contention that a single assailant, not two or more, was responsible.
Afterward, prosecutors Marcia Clark and Christopher A. Darden appeared buoyant during a short news conference and said they were confident that the jurors had taken note of the small area. “It will go to the reason why one person could accomplish this,” Clark said.
Darden said the space is about eight feet by eight feet and added: “I think that Ronald Goldman, having confronted a suspect with a knife, was essentially caged.”
Simpson’s attorneys have suggested that it would have taken at least two people to carry out the killings, and they used the visit in part to confront jurors with the positive aspects of Simpson’s renown--his house full of family photographs and his room full of trophies given for his achievements on and off the football field.
Simpson attorney F. Lee Bailey said defense lawyers were pleased with how the trip had gone, but acknowledged that reading the jurors’ reactions was difficult.
“They are a very impassive group,” Bailey said. “I don’t think anyone could say that there was any reaction. What we’re banking on is that they’ll understand the evidence better having been to the places where the evidence grew out of last June.”
As instructed, jurors dressed casually for the outing, donning athletic shoes, jackets and blue jeans instead of the natty suits that have made them what Superior Court Judge Lance A. Ito has called “the best-dressed jury I’ve ever seen.” One wore a San Francisco 49ers cap. Simpson, who wore a suit Sunday, finished his award-winning professional football career with the 49ers.
For his part, Ito toured the sights in a gray suit, carrying a small soft briefcase.
The 12 jurors and nine alternates made four stops on their trip, pausing outside the apartment building where Goldman lived and gazing through the windows of Mezzaluna, the restaurant where he worked and where Nicole Simpson ate her last meal. But the real highlights of the day were the murder scene and Simpson’s estate.
At both of those stops, the jurors clambered out of their bus and silently toured in small groups, observing areas that they have heard described in testimony but doing so without being allowed to ask questions or make comments. They were escorted at each stop by sheriff’s deputies and lawyers for each side, there to guard against any improper conduct.
Although they could not ask questions, the panelists took notes as they toured, some appearing to extensively record their observations. At Nicole Simpson’s condominium, one juror even scanned trees and neighbors’ houses, soaking up the scene and logging his notes in a pad.
The scenes at Simpson’s home and that of his murdered ex-wife were strikingly dissimilar--Simpson’s mansion is much as he left it before surrendering to police, fully furnished and stocked with mementos of his life in the public eye. Nicole Simpson’s condominium, by contrast, is up for sale, stripped of the reminders of her life and of the children who slept inside while their mother was knifed to death on the front steps.
For Simpson, the return to his Brentwood estate marked the first time that he had set foot on the grounds in nearly eight months. When last there, Simpson had surrendered to authorities after a spellbinding standoff in which he sat cradling family photographs and a loaded gun in the back seat of his best friend’s Ford Bronco, talking to Los Angeles police SWAT officers in the darkening June night.
Sunday, he returned on a crisp, spring-like afternoon, and he met in the front yard with the judge and lawyers on both sides. He was not in handcuffs, and a sheriff’s deputy said he also was allowed to forgo an electronic belt that he had been expected to wear. Prosecutors declined to comment on the security arrangements.
Although sheriff’s officials also would not comment on the security measures, Simpson’s decision not to tour the murder scene meant that he only emerged from the locked car at his estate, where hundreds of police officers had secured the area and dozens more were patrolling the surrounding streets. Even then, Simpson was never out of the company of the sheriff’s deputies escorting him.
As he and the others stood near a children’s play area at the Rockingham house Sunday afternoon, Simpson gestured around the property and looked wistfully about an estate that, if convicted, he might never see again. Ito had previously indicated that he might schedule a nighttime tour of the murder scene and the Rockingham house, but Sunday he said he was rethinking that idea.
Jurors arrived at Simpson’s estate shortly after noon and spent about two hours touring it in small groups. Just before it was time to leave, Simpson spent about eight minutes inside his house.
He then emerged, met briefly with the judge and lawyers on the lawn, spoke with his maid and returned to the car--which transported him back to the Men’s Central Jail in Downtown Los Angeles. Simpson has been in custody there for nearly eight months.
Not since April 17, 1993, when U.S. District Judge John G. Davies convened a Saturday hearing in the Rodney G. King civil rights trial just after dawn, had Los Angeles awakened to the spectacle of a high-profile trial in session on a weekend. But where residents rose early and nervously to await the reading of the verdicts in the King case--verdicts that some feared might trigger a riot--the mood Sunday was closer to giddiness than fear.
As the jury bus paused outside Mezzaluna, hundreds of sightseers lined San Vicente Boulevard and helicopters buzzed overhead.
A few people waved sheepishly at the bus, inside of which were visible the shadowy outlines of the jurors. The panelists looked stonily back at the crowd and turned away without returning the waves.
Many sightseers came dressed in sweat clothes or shorts, and some straddled bicycles. Scores gathered on the grassy San Vicente median, while others pulled up tables at a nearby Mrs. Field’s cookie store to sip coffee, eat muffins and take in the scene.
Some more serious Simpson case followers tagged along behind the jury, gazing from a distance as the panel worked its way through Brentwood. Although some residents scoffed at the interest and bemoaned the inconvenience, others acknowledged that they were drawn to the case.
“For some reason, the public is very thirsty for this stuff,” said Bill Kaynor Jr., a securities broker who lives in Brentwood. “And I have to admit, I’m one of them.”
One couple who watched as the bus stopped outside Mezzaluna said their glimpse of the jury tour was one of their final stops before they return home to Baltimore.
“You know what?” asked Deborah Briggs, a Baltimore fund-raiser who was visiting Los Angeles with her husband, Jeff, a composer. “It’s just like seeing the Hollywood sign.”
Legal analysts had noted that the field trip by the Simpson jury was a potentially risky venture for several reasons, in part because of the extraordinary attention focused on the case and the strong feelings that it often engenders in even the most casual observers. In Brentwood on Sunday, one resident carried a sign proclaiming: “O.J.’s Guilty.” Another read: “Free O.J.”
Concerned that such feelings could reach his carefully sequestered jury, Ito warned the panelists before leaving on the field trip that they needed to stay focused and avoid the inevitable distractions.
“The problem is we will be out, literally out in Brentwood,” Ito said to the jury as it prepared to embark. “I am ordering you now to ignore any attempt to communicate with you.”
Despite the many sightseers Sunday, most observers held their tongues and did not attempt to reach the jury with their opinions. Nevertheless, the concerns about that and other logistic details occupied the judge and lawyers until just minutes before the group set out on its trip.
In court Sunday morning before the jury entered, prosecutors renewed their complaint that the panelists were going to be allowed to see Simpson’s trophy room--Deputy Dist. Atty. Cheri Lewis called it a shrine to the former football star--and said they might run smack into a life-size statue of Simpson in his garage.
As he had done in a private session last week, Ito ruled that the jurors could see the trophy room, but he said he would not allow them to linger there. He also quickly dispatched the statue fracas: “We can toss a sheet over that,” he said.
Members of Nicole Simpson’s family also raised a last-minute objection to Simpson being allowed at the condominium that she once owned. As a criminal defendant, Simpson has a right to attend any part of his trial, and legal experts agreed that the Brown family’s objections could not have prevented Simpson from attending had he asserted his right to be there.
The issue was sidestepped, however, when Johnnie L. Cochran Jr., Simpson’s lead trial lawyer, said his client had no desire to see that scene.
“It’s as painful for him as it is for the Brown family,” Cochran said.
Ito asked Simpson if he understood that he was waiving his right to be present. Simpson answered: “Yes, Your Honor.”
The Brown family also asked that Nicole Simpson’s sister Dominique Brown be allowed to accompany the contingent as it toured the Bundy condominium. Ito agreed that she could attend, and as the jurors scoured the walkways, alleys and interior of the home, Dominique Brown stood a discreet distance away, watching from the front lawn of a house about three doors down.
Also on hand was LAPD Detective Tom Lange, the lead investigator in the case. He stood apart from the jurors but toured the condominium when they were done.
A small group of reporters, including one from The Times, was allowed to accompany the procession as it traveled through Brentwood, but they too were kept at arm’s length when the tour reached the murder scene and Simpson’s home.
That was because the Browns refused the reporters access to their property after Simpson likewise had asked that reporters not be permitted to enter his estate. Although Ito acknowledged that the trip was an extension of the trial--and thus generally open to the public--he bowed to the wishes of Simpson and the Brown family.
Police went to great lengths to protect the jury from contamination Sunday, assigning about 250 officers to block off streets and clear them of pedestrian and vehicle traffic. The LAPD set up a command post in Brentwood, choosing as its staging area a middle school where Simpson’s daughter performed a dance recital on the day of the murders.
Officers fanned out from that school early Sunday morning. Before the entourage ever rolled into Brentwood, police already had blocked off access to neighborhood streets and had scoured the area with bomb-sniffing dogs. Security tightened further as the jury arrived. Even residents were asked to stay inside while the jurors were moving in and out of their bus.
Despite the inconvenience, police said, most residents handled the restrictions without much objection.
“We impounded a couple of cars and wrote some tickets, but that’s about it,” said Lt. John Dunkin, an LAPD spokesman. “Considering what this could have been, everybody was about as cooperative as we could have hoped.”
Still, there were a host of minor problems, and residents, long frustrated by the crowds that the Simpson case has drawn to Brentwood, said they were looking forward to the spotlight shifting.
Sunday, one plumber complained that he could not get through to a house where he was needed, a group of movers was similarly shut out, and a man trying to pick up a friend near Simpson’s house was held back at the barrier several blocks away.
That man, professional bowler Charles Zelaya, said he was trying to meet a woman who lives near Simpson.
“I know she’s going to be mad,” Zelaya said.
Times staff writers Nancy Hill-Holtzman, Peter Y. Hong and Adrian Maher and special correspondent Mary Moore contributed to this story.
* SUBDUED ROADSHOW: Although police feared the worst, the Brentwood roadshow was subdued. A14
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What the Jury Saw
Jurors in the O.J. Simpson murder trial on Sunday toured Brentwood, starting with drive-by viewing of the apartment building of victim Ronald Lyle Goldman and the restaurant Mezzaluna, where Goldman worked and the other victim, Nicole Brown Simpson, ate her last meal. From there, the condominium and concluded the unusual court session with a tour of defendant O.J. Simpson’s Rockingham Avenue estate. The following are excerpts from the jury’s itinerary:
1) Walk to corner of Bundy and Dorothy
2) View walkway from across the street
3) Cross street to walkway
4) Walk up walkway to gate
5) Examine stairway area and planter area
6) Walk down walkway to alley
7) Walk north in alley
8) Walk south in alley to Dorothy
1) Walk to walkway, up the stairs and into the main entrance
2) Living room
4) Upstairs to master bedroom, master bath, workout area
5) Sydney’s bedroom
6) Justin’s room
7) Stairway to garage
8) Bannister (location of ice cream cup)
9) Garage with door open and closed
10) Exit garage and orient to alley and walkway
11) Re-enter garage and return to bus through condo interior
1) Walk to entryway
2) Master bedroom, master bath and closet (upstairs)
5) Laundry room
6) Family room (TV room, bar area, trophy room)
7) Kato Kaelin’s room, bath, bathroom window, picture on wall--out to pool area.
1) Exit Kaelin’s room to pool area
2) Point out Arnelle Simpson’s room
3) Walk out to play area
4) Pass by garage
5) Walk down rear walkway
6) Exit out Rockingham gate
Source: L.A. Superior Court
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