All Parties Stunned as Simpson Jury Quickly Reaches Verdicts : Trial: The sealed decisions, arrived at on the first day of deliberations, will be read this morning. City officials say they expect no violence, but police plan a tactical alert.
Less than a day after beginning deliberations in the murder trial of O.J. Simpson--and after having one witness’s testimony read back--jurors reached verdicts Monday afternoon, a stunning announcement that shocked Simpson, legal analysts, police and the enormous national television audience long riveted to the case.
The verdicts were sealed overnight and will be read at 10 a.m. today. The Los Angeles Police Department, where officials said they are optimistic that the verdicts will not trigger violence, nevertheless plan to declare a tactical alert this morning.
Mayor Richard Riordan cut short a two-week city trade mission to Asia and headed home.
“In important times, it’s my responsibility to be with my fellow Angelenos,” Riordan said in Japan before boarding a plane for Los Angeles.
Riordan said the city had made security plans months ago. “We are prepared for anything,” he said.
With Riordan en route home, the White House and the governor’s office both promised local officials that additional resources were available if needed. Acting Mayor Joel Wachs met with Police Chief Willie L. Williams to discuss the city’s plans.
“We went over, detail by detail, all of the plans from this moment into the foreseeable future,” said Wachs, who emphasized that all signs indicated residents are prepared to accept the verdicts calmly but that police wanted to be braced for anything. “I feel totally, totally confident that we have prepared for all scenarios. We’re ready. We’re prepared.”
Word that the trial had reached a conclusion weeks ahead of most estimates arrived shortly before 3 p.m., when jurors alerted Superior Court Judge Lance A. Ito to let him know that they were finished. Summoned to his courtroom a few minutes later, Ito greeted the 10-woman, two-man panel by saying he understood that it had reached verdicts.
“Is that correct, madam foreman?” he asked the woman, a 51-year-old vendor from South-Central, who was tapped last Friday by her peers to lead the panel.
“Yes,” she responded.
Ito asked for the envelope containing the forms. Slightly flustered, the forewoman admitted that she had left it in the jury room. Ito replied that that was “not a good place for it,” and a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy escorted her back to the room.
There, she retrieved the envelope, returned to court and turned it over for overnight safekeeping.
The extraordinarily swift conclusion to a trial that took nine months to present in court appeared to amaze Simpson, who has pleaded not guilty to the June 12, 1994, murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Lyle Goldman. He blinked several times at the news and stood next to attorney Carl E. Douglas as the panel filed out of the room. Simpson then turned, absent-mindedly dropped his pen on the defense table and walked slowly from the courtroom toward the lockup.
With one exception, jurors did not make eye contact with Simpson as they delivered word of their verdicts. But legal analysts, reluctant to read too much into the gestures of jurors, declined to speculate on what their quick work portended.
Simpson’s shock at the news contrasted with his upbeat mood over the weekend, said a colleague who met with him. Larry Schiller, a writer who co-authored Simpson’s jailhouse book, said the defendant was “very up, very positive. He was looking forward to seeing his children and thinking about the impact of the verdict.”
Defense lawyers and prosecutors declined to speculate on the meaning of the jury’s quick work. Johnnie L. Cochran Jr., Simpson’s lead trial lawyer, was so sure that verdicts would not be ready until later this week that he had left town. Cochran was notified by his staff of the news and hastily returned to be by his client’s side for the reading of the verdicts.
Arriving in Los Angeles Monday evening, Cochran noted that conventional wisdom is that quick verdicts are good for defendants. But he declined to speculate on the significance of the jury’s action.
Douglas, the only member of Simpson’s legal team in court when the jury announced that it was finished, described himself as “stunned by the speed,” a sentiment echoed by other members of the defense and prosecution teams.
“I’m very surprised,” said Gerald F. Uelmen, a veteran lawyer in the Simpson camp. “I can’t think of any comparable situation. . . . I have been telling everyone two weeks. I booked an early-morning flight. I will be there.”
Peter Neufeld, who returned home to New York over the weekend, said he too was completely taken by surprise.
“I was strolling home from work on the Brooklyn Bridge,” he said. “Someone stopped me on the Brooklyn Bridge. I wasn’t even wearing my watch. I was looking at the sunset over the harbor. I was surprised. . . . I’m stunned.”
Prosecutors, who met on the 18th floor in the district attorney’s office, said they would not venture any guesses. Deputy Dist. Atty. Christopher A. Darden, a veteran of the Simpson case’s endless ability to amaze, said only that “nothing about this trial surprises me,” but others were clearly less sanguine.
“We’ll all drive ourselves crazy speculating,” one member of the government team said, “so let’s not do it.”
Legal analysts were equally hesitant to speculate--and equally taken aback by the quick decisions.
Steven D. Clymer, a former federal prosecutor and now a law professor at Cornell University, said he never had heard of a jury coming back so quickly in a case that took so long to present. Juries routinely deliver quick verdicts in one- and two-week trials, but this case involved 126 witnesses and filled 40,000 pages of court transcript.
The jury has been sequestered since Jan. 11, a record for a California panel.
“In my experience, it is very unusual for a jury to come back this quickly in such an involved case,” he said.
Clymer and other analysts said the jury’s rapid turnaround demonstrated that the panel had agreed almost instantly on the import of the evidence. Clymer suggested that many jurors probably had made up their minds before the case was submitted to them last week.
“This shows that the old jury admonition, ‘Don’t make up your minds until all the evidence is in,’ doesn’t work,” he said.
Larry Feldman, a leading Santa Monica civil lawyer nicknamed “in-house counsel to the Dream Team” because he represents Cochran and Robert L. Shapiro on other issues, said the quick verdicts showed that the jury had rejected one side’s careful arguments in wholesale fashion.
“If I were the lawyer, I’d be very disappointed--at least if I were the lawyer on the losing side,” he said. “It’s going to be a long night for all the participants.”
Day Starts Slowly
The announcement that the end was at hand in the Simpson trial was all the more surprising given the routine, almost lackadaisical day that preceded it.
The jury gathered in a deliberation room just off Ito’s courtroom at 9:16 a.m. and began its day by gathering its materials. With hundreds of exhibits introduced by the two sides, most analysts had predicted that task alone could take several days.
But the panel moved swiftly and officially began sifting through the evidence at 9:40 a.m. For about two hours, they worked without sending word of their progress. Outside, the swelling group of reporters pouring in from around the world to cover the verdicts moved slowly into place. Conventional wisdom held that verdicts were about two weeks away, and the mood at the courthouse was almost relaxed.
Some camera operators outside the building read books. One strummed a guitar.
Just before noon, the jury made its first request of the judge, asking for a portion of the testimony of limousine driver Allan Park--a key prosecution witness whose account formed the linchpin of the government’s timeline of the murders--to be read back to them in open court.
The jury’s request--its first and, as it would turn out, only demand for a read-back of testimony--triggered another revelation: The note was signed by Juror No. 1, identifying that woman as the forewoman. The divorced woman said in her jury questionnaire that most of her friends and relatives thought Simpson probably was not guilty of the killings.
Asked her first reaction to the news that Simpson was a suspect, she responded, “Stressful, sick feeling.”
Analysts and the Simpson press corps barely had time to gnaw over that news. Within three hours, it was vastly overtaken.
Testimony Read Back
After getting the note from the jury about noon, Ito scheduled the read-back for 1 p.m. Attorneys for both sides and court personnel hustled into place for what seemed like a routine request and probably the first of many.
Simpson, who had asked to be present for all read-backs of testimony, was taken from his cell at the men’s Central Jail and brought to Ito’s courtroom. Although normally accompanied by a phalanx of defense lawyers, Simpson on Monday was joined only by Douglas, the defense’s designated attorney for read-backs of testimony.
The prosecution was represented by Darden and Deputy Dist. Atty. William Hodgman. Outside court, Deputy Dist. Atty. Brian Kelberg, another prosecution team member, told reporters that he and his colleagues were patiently and professionally settling in to wait for verdicts.
“I don’t think anybody’s sitting on pins and needles,” Kelberg said. “We’ll just wait to see what these people decide.”
The lawyers arrived at the courthouse under close watch, as the Los Angeles Police Department--determined to avoid the pushing and shoving that erupted Friday outside the building between supporters and detractors of Simpson--blocked off the street in front of the building. There were no reports of trouble Monday, but the department activated its emergency operations center, the first step toward preparing for the verdicts.
Jurors, who regularly have come to court in dress clothes, for the most part were casually attired Monday. The forewoman wore blue jeans and a T-shirt with a California Lotto logo; she listened intently, her pen resting on her fist, as the recital of Park’s testimony began after lunch.
The limousine driver took the stand on March 28 and delivered careful, painstaking testimony, bolstered by frequent glances at his watch and by cellular telephone records that backed his estimates of times.
According to Park, he arrived outside Simpson’s house about 10:22 p.m., getting there early because he wanted to be sure that he would deliver his famous client to the airport on time.
Park did not recall seeing Simpson’s Ford Bronco parked outside at the time, nor did he see it when he pulled the nose of the stretch limousine into the Rockingham Avenue driveway, then pulled back and turned around. The Bronco was later found parked just a few feet from the driveway.
In fact, Park recalled seeing a number on the curb near where the Bronco later was found, suggesting that the car was not there and bolstering the prosecution contention that the car was not there because Simpson was two miles away, killing his ex-wife and her friend. But Park, always a careful witness, stopped short of saying definitively that the car was not there, only that he did not recall seeing it.
Similarly, while Park testified that he remembered a 6-foot-tall, 200-pound African American entering Simpson’s house a few minutes before 11 p.m., he was careful to avoid saying that he was sure it was a man, just that it would have to have been a “pretty big woman.”
Park said he had repeatedly rung the bell at Simpson’s gate before spotting that figure, but no one was answering. Then, moments after the shadowy figure darted inside the front door to the house, Simpson answered the bell and said that he had overslept and would be right down. The defense never has said who that person was, if not Simpson himself.
Park testified three times in the Simpson case--once before the grand jury, again at the preliminary hearing and then at the trial--and Deputy Dist. Atty. Marcia Clark gave special emphasis to his account in her closing argument.
Park’s testimony, she said, was “the defining moment of this trial. That was the one. Because when you understand that the defendant was out that night, when you understand that he lied to Allan Park about being asleep, when you understand that that Bronco was moved and that he was out in that Bronco that night . . . then you understand how the defense falls apart.
“Then you understand where he was when his whereabouts are unaccounted for,” Clark added. “And Allan Park’s testimony is unrefuted. Allan Park came in and told us the truth, and he told it consistently. The Bronco was not there. And neither was the defendant.”
There was no way to tell what aspect of Park’s testimony was of particular interest to the panel.
In addition to the forewoman’s evident interest, other panelists seemed to follow the read-back closely. A few closed their eyes, but appeared to be concentrating, not sleeping. Note taking was limited to a few panelists, but they jotted on their pads throughout the session.
Whatever it was that had puzzled them, the brief read-back seemed to satisfy their concerns. Less than an hour after it was over, so were deliberations.
One Last Night
Although jurors initially had requested just one day of Park’s testimony be read back to them, Ito agreed to a defense request to have the entire testimony--including the cross-examination and redirect examination--read so that the panel would not get a distorted version of what the driver had said.
After hearing about 75 minutes of the tedious reading, however, Ito called a break for the benefit of his court reporter. During that break, jurors said they had heard enough. Ito agreed to call off the reading.
The jury also sent Ito a note requesting the jury verdict forms, but analysts at first cautioned against reading too much into that. The forms typically are available at the outset of deliberations, and many observers interpreted the request as nothing more than a sign that the jurors wanted to get their housekeeping in order before undertaking their discussion of Simpson’s guilt or innocence.
Ito agreed to provide the forms and directed the panel to resume deliberations. Like virtually everyone else associated with the trial, Ito seemed to settle in for a long wait.
The judge was greeting a group of visitors in his courtroom when, less than half an hour later, the courtroom buzzer sounded three times--the signal for a verdict. He quickly summoned the lawyers back to court, where they gathered at 2:53 p.m.
So hastily was the session convened that reporters who have been covering the trial for more than a year almost did not get to the courtroom in time. There were no members of the victims’ families in court when the word came.
Outside court, Tanya Brown--one of Nicole Simpson’s sisters--said the family would have no immediate comment. Gloria Allred, who represents the Brown family, said her clients were “praying for justice” and would be in court this morning.
Members of the Goldman family also declined to comment.
In court, when the forewoman confirmed that verdicts had been reached, the remainder of the panel stared blankly. Only one juror, a black woman in the back row who works as an employment interviewer, looked Simpson’s way.
Several options were presented to the jury, so its verdicts could take a number of forms. Simpson could be convicted of two first-degree murders, verdicts that would condemn the former football superstar to life behind bars. Or he could be convicted of one first-degree murder and one second-degree murder, which also would mean life in prison.
If convicted of two second-degree murders, he would serve a shorter sentence. But analysts generally consider that verdict the least likely option, particularly in light of the extraordinarily short deliberations.
The last possibility is acquittal, in which case Simpson would walk out of court this morning a free man--nearly 16 months after he was arrested in the driveway of his Brentwood home as a crowd gathered outside in the twilight, chanting his name.
The final word for Simpson comes this morning. Meantime, jurors, who have spent nine months sequestered with one another--and who have appeared to grow increasingly tired and restless in recent weeks--will spend one last night as a group.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” Ito said as he dismissed them for the day. “Have your last pleasant . . . evening.”
Smiling at the group he has shepherded through the long trial, Ito added: “We will see you tomorrow morning at 10 o’clock.”
Times staff writers Henry Weinstein, Tim Rutten and Jodi Wilgoren in Los Angeles, Dave Lesher in Sacramento, Rebecca Trounson in Orange County and Teresa Watanabe in Tokyo contributed to this article.
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