On the day of the infamous “juror revolt” in the O.J. Simpson murder trial, several panelists--some of them weeping--told Judge Lance A. Ito that they felt it had been unfair to dismiss deputies who allegedly had shown favoritism to white jurors, according to transcripts released Monday.
“I just think that [the deputies] got a raw deal. I really do,” a 37-year-old black female juror told the judge in his chambers on April 21.
A 50-year-old black woman, who also sits in the front row, told Ito that the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department employees had been “falsely accused” of favoring whites. She stressed to Ito that the deputies had treated everyone fairly.
The woman took issue with virtually every allegation leveled by juror Jeanette Harris after she was dismissed from the panel on April 5: “As for any discrimination or prejudice, I have not experienced that at all, and trust me, I am the type if I would have felt that way, I would have handled it immediately or I would have confronted somebody.”
The transcripts also reveal that some of the jurors cried at the hotel on the night of April 20 after learning that three of the deputies guarding them had been reassigned.
Among those was Juror 98, a 52-year-old black woman who told Ito she was upset about the dismissals because two of the deputies had been with her when her sister died: “They were there with me through a lot of crying times.”
She told the judge she was one of 13 jurors who wore black on April 21 as a sign of mourning for the dismissed deputies.
Yet another black female juror described the deputies as “very professional and very kind.”
After receiving a hand-delivered letter signed by the 13 protesting jurors--black, white and Latino--Ito that morning decided to meet with them individually and shut down testimony for the day and for April 24.
Several expressed hope that nothing adverse had happened to the three dismissed deputies. The judge assured them that the deputies merely had been reassigned, not fired.
Still, a few jurors--particularly an elderly black male alternate--criticized some of the deputies. The 72-year-old man complained that the deputies monitored blacks during walks while letting the whites wander unsupervised. But a black woman, Juror 72, criticized Juror 165 for complaining about racial prejudice he had suffered years earlier. “I don’t feel like that. I don’t look at what happened when I was a kid coming up,” she told Ito.
One juror said that Juror 165 looked pleased after the deputies were dismissed. Others said juror Willie Cravin, who was kicked off the panel later, seemed very happy about the dismissals. Ito asked the jurors who supported the deputies if the transfers would affect their ability to hear the case fairly, and they all said no.
A 43-year-old black male juror said he felt he had been mistreated by a white female deputy, who suddenly woke him and ordered him off a park bench where he was napping because he might appear in a photograph that a tourist was about to take.
“It kind of reminds [me] why so many black men in America have such a problem with being confronted with white police officers,” the juror told Ito. Asked about this later, the deputy said she felt she had to act fast because she feared the tourist might be from the media and she was afraid the photo would wind up “on the front page of a tabloid” newspaper. “They may look like tourists, but you never know what the media is up to.”
The comments are contained in 530 pages of previously sealed transcripts released Monday by Ito, the third such set the judge has disseminated after granting requests of the American Civil Liberties Union, several media organizations and one dismissed juror--Francine Florio-Bunten--to make the material public to clear the air about why 10 panelists have been dismissed in the case.
The vast majority of the jurors expressed praise for the deputies in the voluminous transcripts, and their assessments were music to the ears of Sheriff Sherman Block, who criticized Ito in April for cashiering the three--from their assignments without a hearing.
“I can reassure you and the jurors that nothing bad happened to the deputies, because I was convinced at the outset that they were treated unfairly,” Block said in an interview Monday.
“I could understand [Ito’s] concern about keeping harmony on the jury, but the way that this came out, that they were ‘racist’ was a terrible thing to put on them,” Block said. “These were three deputies, each with more than five years experience and absolutely unblemished records. They’re now out working on new assignments in the department.”
For their part, the three deputies--two men and a woman--separately told Ito on April 24 that they had no idea why any African American juror would complain of unfair treatment.
The sergeant who headed the detail at the jurors’ hotel said all three deputies had taken “cultural awareness” classes in the last three years. Nonetheless, he told Ito that two of the three deputies tapped as replacements were older blacks who he hoped would help “bridge this gap” for some panelists.
Monday’s transcripts also provide further insight into the life of the panel, sequestered since Jan. 11, with one woman saying she understood that the jurors had to function in a “controlled environment.” On the other hand, a male juror, who is a marketing representative, describes sequestration as “kind of like a fascist state almost.”
The transcripts indicate that friction among the jurors has been limited to a small number of panelists. Several jurors were critical of Cravin, a 54-year-old postal manager dismissed from the panel over defense objections June 5. A Latina juror said Cravin pushed her more than once and glared at her on another occasion. Other jurors support her account in the transcripts.
In addition, an elderly black female juror said Cravin had attempted to foment discord.
Moreover, the 43-year-old black male juror describes Cravin as the leader of “a splintered group from the rest of the panel.” Other jurors describe this group as consisting of five panelists--only two of whom remain on the jury.