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THE O.J. SIMPSON MURDER TRIAL : Juror’s Dismissal Sparks Media Frenzy

It didn’t take long for the media to find Tracy Hampton, 26, an airline flight attendant who was dismissed Monday as a juror in the O.J. Simpson murder trial.

Around 11:30 a.m., just an hour and a half after she was replaced, TV crews and print reporters nailed Hampton in front of her house in View Park, a pleasant and dignified Los Angeles neighborhood above Crenshaw Boulevard.

Forget View Park dignity. Cameras and microphones were stuck in her face, coming dangerously close to hitting her in the head. When she fled her home late in the day, she left behind flower beds that had been trampled by the horde--or, in the words of her brother, the “vultures.”

The news crews treated Hampton as if she were a criminal instead of a woman who had tried to perform her civic duty but couldn’t handle the pressure.

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The chase had begun as soon as Judge Lance A. Ito announced that Hampton was off the jury. Ito had cloaked his sequestered jurors in anonymity but reporters soon knew not only Hampton’s name, but her home address.

This shows the futility of trying to keep anything secret in this media-mad town. Rookie reporters are taught to find home addresses early in their careers and the best journalistic snoopers can discover where anyone lives. In fact, a television tabloid show, “A Current Affair,” has shown what it claimed to be the jury’s top-secret sequestration hotel. The cameras showed a hall and a room comparable to those given the jurors. I bet anyone familiar with the hotel recognized the place.

Thus it wasn’t surprising that the camera crews were waiting for Hampton when she arrived home.

She looked annoyed as she ducked her head to escape being struck by electronic equipment. “I’m fine now that I’m home,” she said. “No comment at this time. Later.”

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The media chase of newly departed jurors during a trial is something new in the criminal justice system.

“I’ve never heard of a case where jurors, dismissed during a trial, are being pursued by the news media while the trial is taking place,” said Terri Waller, managing partner of the National Jury Project, which studies juries and advises attorneys on the selection of jurors. “This is unprecedented.”

Jurors are customarily interviewed after the case ends, either with a verdict or a hung jury. When jurors are not anonymous, which is the case in the overwhelming majority of trials, reporters often contact the panelists at their homes, either in person or by telephone.

Many times, the judge helps the process along, arranging for the jurors to hold a post-trial press conference to explain their reasoning. All interested jurors take part.

These sessions are good for the press and judges. Jurors and lawyers consider them helpful. If the trial has been well publicized and controversial, these sessions help build confidence in the criminal justice system.

Jurors are dismissed from trials all the time, but nobody cares. In the Simpson case, Waller said, “what is unfortunate is that the media is looking for the next headline, the next story. It’s happening to all aspects of this case.”

As I’ve said before, we in the press live for the next headline, the next story. When Judge Ito announced that juror No. 2 was off the jury, none of us in the 12th-floor Criminal Courts Building pressrooms said, “Let’s give the poor woman time to think.” Nor did such words come from any of our bosses. No, we chased. But the mad process deserves some second thoughts. For when the media seek out ex-jurors, and the former panelists talk, the dynamics of the Simpson trial change.

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Hampton is the seventh juror to be dismissed. Most have receded into their no-fame lives after giving minimal interviews. Jeanette Harris, who was dumped before Hampton, was different. Harris’ TV interviews were hot. She charged that the jury was torn with racial tension and that the deputy-guards promoted it.

Judge Ito ordered an investigation and had three of the deputies transferred. That action, in turn, triggered a jurors’ revolt, which took the judge a few days to quell.

Such talkative jurors provide headlines but, as the National Jury Project’s Waller said, they don’t necessarily give you the complete picture.

“Jeanette Harris could only talk about her own ideas and her own perceptions,” Waller said. “Some of the rest of the jurors might have had other ideas.”

For example, Harris’ description of a racially divided jury appeared to be contradicted by the fact that the jurors’ revolt was a multiethnic affair. Whatever was going on with the jury, it was more complicated than Harris described.

The next few days will determine how much dismissed juror Tracy Hampton tells the media. It is hoped she’ll be restrained and accurate in describing her former Simpson jury colleagues. Because if she’s not, the media that terrorized her in her front yard won’t be restrained in reporting what she has to say.


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