The Simpson Files
After 15 months of investigation, speculation, bombast and testimony, the murder case that riveted the nation is finally in the hands of the jury. Here is a collection of facts and tidbits of information at the center of the O.J. Simpson trial--and from its ever-intriguing fringes.
He’s laughed. He’s cried. He’s whispered. He’s shouted. And he’s tossed out plenty of wisecracks from behind the imposing judicial bench. In a trial that has veered from the horrifying to the loony, Superior Court Judge Lance A. Ito has charmed many spectators with his prodigious knowledge and puckish wit. He seems to have a virtual hardware store tucked away behind the hourglasses lining his bench--he’s always handing tape or Post-it notes or white-out to lawyers on both sides. And he has an amazing store of arcane facts at hand as well.
* When one witness brought up the subject of marathon running times, Ito commented: “The world’s best is 2:06.”
* When FBI Special Agent Roger Martz stumbled over the value of pi, Ito chimed in “How about 3.1214?” (Webster’s Dictionary, however, lists the value of pi as 3.14159265+).”
* When confronted with testimony about a German river, Ito remarked that it was known as “the romantic highway.”
* When one witness lamented the absence of a microscopic camera in the courtroom, Ito remarked that he would have brought his from home if he had been forewarned.
* Always eager to give lawyers advice--which usually boils down to “keep it short"--Ito sometimes joins in their banter.
* He frowned at rumpled prosecutor Brian Kelberg one day for coming to court in shirt sleeves, asking if his salary was so paltry he couldn’t afford to buy a jacket.
* He waggled his eyebrows when defense lawyers paraded to the podium in sequence, each one proclaiming that a different issue was “the heart of our case.” Ito commented wryly, “That’s a many-hearted beast you have.”
* He once reminded the lawyers of an old Chinese proverb: “Be careful what you ask for, you just might get it.”
* On another occasion, Ito mocked his own importance, saying with a self-conscious sigh, “I’m just a poor trial court judge.”
As opening arguments began in January, reporters from 48 news organizations jostled for prime seat assignments. Ito doled out space on the hard, pew-like benches lining his courtroom--forcing some rivals to share seats on alternate days. That seat-rotation scheme drew grumbles, but reporters were afraid to complain too loud. As Ito showed when he kicked out two reporters for gum chewing, renegades were not welcome in his courtroom.
So even as prosecutors whispered, defense lawyers swapped notes and jurors passed around candy, reporters tried hard to behave. They had to. Knowing that Ito could monitor every move with his “eye in the sky” security camera, they turned off their beepers, shut down their cellular phones and quelled the irresistible impulse to nudge colleagues during interminable sidebars.
Meanwhile, TV crews snapped gum with impunity at “Camp O.J.--the bristling compound of satellite dishes and broadcast platforms outside the now-closed county Hall of Justice. TV executives had chipped in $1 million to set up the high-tech campground. Swaying slightly in the breeze, the treehouse perches offered a scenic counterpoint to the dingy Criminal Courts Building.
It’s not just an excuse. Many of us tried to defend our trial watching by exclaiming, “It’s so educational!” Turns out, it wasn’t just a line. Think of all the useful terms that have entered our vocabularies:
* Sidebar--Admit it. You used to think a sidebar was a handy place to stash drinks. Now you know it means the lawyers are going to get together with the judge and haggle about legal issues. Lawyers call for sidebars when they want to discuss topics or voice objections that the jurors aren’t supposed to hear.
* Writ--Not just a Shakespearean-sounding past tense. Lawyers “take a writ” when they want to appeal judge’s ruling to a higher court. For example, prosecutors sought (and received) a writ from the Court of Appeal overturning Judge Ito’s decision to tell jurors that retired LAPD Detective Mark Fuhrman was unavailable for further testimony, after Fuhrman had asserted his 5th Amendment right to remain silent.
* Sanction--When a country is sanctioned, it may mean it can’t buy weapons. But when lawyers pick up sanctions, they had better open their checkbooks, pronto. Ito slapped on sanctions, or punishments, when the lawyers violated trial rules or did something to displease him. For example, he punished them for neglecting to turn over information to the other side--or for breaking his edict and giving interviews in the hallway outside his court.
* Redact--It’s not as bad as it sounds...It’s what Ito did to transcripts he did not want us all to see. A swipe of the black pen and he redacted the juicy stuff.
* Case-in-chief--Not a burly boss who’s always on your back. The prosecution and defense each have a shot at one...The case-in-chief is when they’re supposed to present all their evidence. Then, after the defense rests, the prosecution can return for a rebuttal. To argue against the points the prosecution raised in its rebuttal, the defense can request a sur-rebuttal.
* Proffer--A legal term that weaves together a couple of words--offer and proof--that used to do perfectly well on their own. To make matters worse, proffer is used as both a noun and a verb. Attorneys use it when they want to sound sincere. They may proffer a sworn statement to the judge. Or they might offer a proffer as proof that their evidence is relevant.
* Best spot to interview defense lawyers: In the men’s bathroom on the ninth floor.
* Best spot to interview prosecutors: In the elevator heading up to the D.A.'s office.
* Most baffling boundaries: The red lines on the floor outside Ito’s courtroom marking space that must be cleared to allow jurors unimpeded passage out of the building. One passerby shunted to the side was shocked to hear that the elaborate security was just for a batch of jurors. “I thought it was the Pope,” she muttered.
* Most overhyped ritual: Johnnie Cochran’s nightly walk up the courthouse steps and through the media gantlet to a waiting gold Lexus.
* Best off-the-cuff advertiser: The delivery man from Koo Koo Roo chicken who repeatedly told everyone in the courthouse elevators with him that his restaurant was Robert Shapiro’s favorite.
* Most poignant “fallen idol” moment: When Simpson announced he would waive his right to attend a late-running hearing on DNA evidence because he had to return to his cell promptly at 6 p.m. to get his jailhouse dinner.
(through Aug. 31)
Total cost to Los Angeles County: $8.3 million
Amount spent on jury sequestration: $2.6 million
Amount the district attorney’s office spent to investigate and prosecute the case: $3.6 million
Amount the Sheriff’s Department spent on security, transportation and Simpson’s jail expenses: $2.7 million
Amount the coroner spent on autopsies and tests: $99,302
Amount the auditor-controller spent keeping track of costs in the Simpson case: $20,540
Amount the county earned by renting space to news organizations: $266,403.
Jurors grumbled plenty about their forced sequestration and their long waits between testimony. During sidebars and courtroom breaks, they killed time mainly by reading and knitting. A few women who toted shopping bags crammed with yarn to court each day even tried to teach Judge Ito the lingo of sweater-making.
To fill up the time after hours, Ito’s staff offered up a program of activities and entertainment--some of which backfired.
* An outing to a Lakers game caused a minor flap when a spectator hollered, “O.J.'s guilty!”
* Ito took some flak for mentioning in court that one of the jurors had snagged a fly ball at a Dodger game--an announcement that could have identified the panel, since many fan catches are televised.
* Then there was the infamous trip to Santa Catalina Island, when several seasick jurors, Ito said, “were barking at seals.”
* More successful activities included a tour in the Goodyear blimp, a private performance by Jay Leno, a trip to Universal Studios and a dinner at Lawry’s restaurant.
* The jurors also got plenty of shopping excursions--too many for at least one juror, who told Ito there was a limit to the number of times she could pick through Target’s clothing racks.
The case frequently spilled over into arenas that were not directly tied to the guilt or innocence of O.J. Simpson. Among them:
* Allegations that Simpson beat his ex-wife raised public consciousness about domestic violence. The number of domestic-abuse cases filed in Los Angeles Superior Court has soared 60% this year. And hot lines reported a surge of calls from frightened women during early publicity about the case. The Brown family has created a foundation to raise money for battered women.
* The LAPD has embarked on a new effort to root out racist cops in the wake of taped interviews in which retired LAPD Detective Mark Fuhrman, who told jurors he found the bloody glove at Simpson’s home, repeatedly uses racial slurs and boasts of framing and beating suspects. The tapes convulsed the city and led to fresh calls for LAPD Reform.
* The trial has sparked calls for various judicial reforms, including accepting non-unanimous jury verdicts, banning television cameras from high-profile cases and prohibiting criminal suspects and ex-jurors from making money from books during trials. Legal pundits have suggested that the Brown and Goldman families might be able to launch a statewide movement to strengthen victims’ rights.
THE DEATH PENALTY
* Although charged with a double homicide, Simpson was not forced to defend himself against a prosecution intent on putting him to death. Capital charges are rarely brought in murders where domestic violence is the suspected motive, but the decision by the district attorney’s office in this case renewed debate about how, when and why the death penalty is applied.
* Fred Goldman reminded trial watchers that California law now sets aside rights for victims’ families, as well as criminal defendants. While its provisions are muddy, the law does grant families the right to address the court and participate in the search for justice. Inside and outside the court, the Goldman family reminded viewers that the trial was not about O.J. Simpson’s fame or Mark Fuhrman’s racism, but about the brutal murders of two people.
* “The O.J. Simpson Story,” which aired on Fox TV in January, starred Bobby Hosea, a former UCLA football player turned actor, in the title role. Panned by Times television critic Howard Rosenberg as “unneeded, unjustified [and] unrewarding,” the movie traced Simpson’s career from his youth in a San Francisco ghetto to the famous police chase of his slow-driving Ford Bronco. Jessica Tuck of “One Life to Live” played Nicole Brown Simpson. Under heavy pressure, Fox delayed airing the movie by three months, until the jury was sequestered.
* NBC put Simpson’s TV series pilot “Frogmen” on ice because of the trial.
Sequestered in their hotel, jurors have had no access to the hype and hoopla swirling around the Simpson trial. When they emerge into freedom after the verdict, they will have plenty of reading to catch up on--if they are able to stand another word about O.J.
Nearly two dozen authors have churned out books, from the scholarly to the sensational, from the tasteful to the tawdry. Some of the more notable titles to hit bookstores:
* “O.J. Simpson: American Hero, American Tragedy,” by Marc Cerasini, published by Pinnacle Books, 450,000 copies.
* “Fallen Hero: The Shocking True Story Behind the O.J. Simpson Tragedy,” by Don Davis, published by St. Martin’s Press, 500,000 copies.
* “Juice: The O.J. Simpson Tragedy,” by Larry Browne and Paul Francis, published by Carol Publishing Co., 200,000 copies.
* “Kato Kaelin: The Whole Truth,” by Marc Elliot, published by Harper Paperbacks, 800,000 copies.
QUOTE: “What is wrong with a society that sees Brian (Kato) Kaelin as a hero? What comfort do we draw from his labored innocence?...Can his too obvious, avaricious leap into the spotlight seem to anyone just reparation for the lives of two dead human beings and two victimized children?”
* “Marcia Clark: Her Private Trials and Public Triumphs,” by Clifford L. Lindecker, published by Pinnacle Books, 380,000 copies.
* “The Marcia Clark Story,” by George Carpozi Jr., published by Celeb Publishing.
* “The Private Diary of an O.J. Juror,” by Mike Walker and Michael Knox, published by Dove Books, 500,000 copies.
QUOTE: “Marcia Clark, who’d been glaring at me ever since I’d walked into the room, made a snorting noise and rolled her eyes in what appeared to be total disgust. She sort of threw up her hands and dropped some papers on the floor. Wow! I don’t know what her problem was, but I guess she was thinking something like, what kind of a macho jerk is this guy?”
* “Mistrial of the Century: A Private Diary of the Jury System on Trial,” by Tracy Kennedy and Judith Kennedy with Alan Abrahamson, published by Dove Books, 50,000 copies.
* “Nicole Brown Simpson: The Private Diary of a Life Interrupted,” by Mike Walker and Faye Resnick, published by Dove Books, 1 million copies.
QUOTE: “Toward the end of her life, Nicole sometimes seemed powerless to help herself as O.J.'s obsession for her mounted to an insane crescendo...[But] from 1989 to 1992, Nicole sometimes had the power.”
* “I Want to Tell You: My Response to Your Letters, Your Messages, Your Questions,” by O.J. Simpson, published by Little Brown & Co., 650,000 copies. Accompanied by an audiotape.
QUOTE: “I want to state unequivocally that I did not commit these horrible crimes. I loved Nicole, I could never do such a thing...I have tried all my life to be a good citizen. I was brought up ‘to do unto others as you would have done unto you.’ Now I see how fickle it can be out there, how quickly some people are ready to judge and want me to be guilty...Don’t they understand that I’d jump in front of a bullet for Nicole?”
* “I Know You Want to Tell Me, but I Really Don’t Want to Know,” a spoof of O.J. Simpson’s book, published by Dove, 150,000 copies.
Compiled by Times staff writer STEPHANIE SIMON and Times researcher CECILIA RASMUSSEN