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Juror Explains Why She Denied Being Victim

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

The juror dismissed this week from the O.J. Simpson murder trial acknowledged Thursday that she had filed a complaint accusing her husband of shoving her, threatening her and forcing her to have sex with him--but emphasized that she did not consider such conduct domestic violence and never thought to list the incidents on her jury questionnaire.

Jeanette Harris, a 38-year-old job counselor, sought a restraining order against her husband in February, 1988, under the state Domestic Violence Prevention Act. “I’m afraid the pushing will stop any day now and he’ll begin to beat me,” she wrote on the application. She also mentioned that “previous domestic problems” had forced her to move away from her husband, into an apartment.

But Harris never mentioned marital strife on the lengthy jury questionnaire, which asked potential panelists about their backgrounds and attitudes toward major figures in the double-murder case.

It was that omission that led Judge Lance A. Ito to replace Harris on the jury, paving the way for her extraordinary televised interview Wednesday night in which she spoke of possible jury misconduct and called the district attorney’s case against Simpson “a whole lot of nothing.”

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Prosecutors are seeking to prove that Simpson killed his wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, as the final act in an abusive, controlling relationship. Simpson’s defense team, however, has described the marriage as fairly typical, with the same rocky stretches and the same good times that most couples experience.

Harris was apparently receptive to that argument, and in fact she and her husband have described their marital life in similar terms. Perhaps drawing on her own experience, Harris said in her televised interview that she had difficulty with the prosecution’s attempt to link sporadic domestic abuse with murder.

“Anybody that has a relationship with anybody, there are times when things get difficult,” she said. “You know, you have children that you love; sometimes they make you angry. But that doesn’t mean that I hate you enough to kill you, or that doesn’t say I’m a murderer.”

Harris’ husband, Melvin, bluntly denied any violence in his 18-year marriage when first questioned by reporters outside his Inglewood townhouse. But when confronted with the court record, he acknowledged that he had shouted at his wife and pushed past her to the door on one occasion--rushing to get out of the house, he said, so he would not do anything he might regret.

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Still, he insisted that he did not consider the fight “domestic violence.”

“To leave an argument, is that domestic violence?” he asked. “Violence to me is when I put my hands on her. . . . I am 46 years old and I have hit only one woman in my life, and that was my daughter, when I whupped her as a kid.”

In a phone interview with KCAL-TV on Thursday afternoon, Jeanette Harris also agreed that “it wasn’t a domestic violence type of thing.” She had accused her husband of twice forcing her to have sex against her will. But during the relationship, “it wasn’t like I was being physically abused,” she said.

To explain how she could have left the incidents off her jury questionnaire, Harris noted simply: “After . . . everything was resolved, it left my mind.”

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But the Harris’ marriage continued to encounter snags--or at least, reminders of difficulties--through last year.

The district attorney’s office went to court in 1991 in an attempt to force Melvin Harris to pay child support for the couple’s two children. Two years later, Melvin Harris was ordered to pay $244 a month to support his son and daughter, now 15 and 17. Records indicate that Melvin Harris protested, saying he had never received the court papers and was unaware of the request for child support.

The case was finally closed last year when Jeanette Harris waived any and all uncollected child support payments in a handwritten note filed with the court.

On Thursday, Melvin Harris repeatedly described his family as close-knit and loving, and said the three-month separation during Jeanette Harris’ sequestration had been tough on them. He praised his wife as a “family-devoted person, a very sweet and caring person.”

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For all the hardships of sequestered life, Jeanette Harris was upset by her abrupt dismissal from the jury, her husband said. “When my wife starts something, she likes to finish it,” he said.

The couple’s biggest gripe, however, was the persistent buzz that Harris had been excused because she lied to Ito about her experiences with domestic violence.

Turning to a sports metaphor to explain his wife’s anger, Melvin Harris added: “It’s like being removed from the game for a technical foul, and the foul was never committed.”

Allegations of juror misconduct have cropped up regularly since the trial began, often arriving in the form of anonymous tips to Ito. Two sheriff’s deputies--dubbed the “jury busters” by some observers--have been assigned the task of chasing down the leads and reporting to the judge.

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Ito has shared the information with the attorneys, who argue about whether the allegations should justify the accused juror’s removal from the panel. In almost every case, prosecutors have favored the juror’s removal while defense attorneys have fought to keep the panelist.

So far, six jurors have been excused and replaced with alternates.

Harris said he suspected his wife’s dismissal was prompted by some kind of vendetta: “Someone, somewhere wanted her off the case,” he said. Harris added that he blames prosecution attorneys, who he suspects investigated every detail of their marriage in an all-out effort to root out discrepancies.

In fact, neither prosecution nor defense attorneys pressed Jeanette Harris to describe her marriage during the prolonged juror screening process.

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On her jury questionnaire, Harris answered “no” to the question: “Have you ever experienced domestic violence in your home either growing up or as an adult?”

Neither Ito nor the attorneys challenged that answer during the personal interviews they conducted with each potential juror.

“Anything else about yourself you think we ought to know about,” Ito asked her at one point.

“Nothing I can think of,” Harris replied.

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“You smiled when you said that,” Ito said. “Is there something you are hiding from me?”

Harris concluded: “No. It is difficult when you ask, you know, anything about yourself. But there is nothing comes to mind.”

Times staff writers Jim Newton, Eric Malnic, Jack Cheevers and Richard Simon contributed to this story.


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