Nine women and three men, none of them African American, were selected as jurors in O.J. Simpson’s kidnapping and armed robbery trial Thursday, prompting the defense to complain of racial bias.
Lawyers for Simpson and his codefendant, who is also black, charged that African Americans were being systematically excluded after the prosecution removed the lone black panelist who had been in contention for the jury.
The defense renewed those accusations after prosecutors used another challenge to dismiss an African American from the pool of alternates. The remaining six alternates include two black men.
Clark County District Judge Jackie Glass asked the prosecutor to justify the dismissals.
Clark County Dist. Atty. David Roger insisted he had “race-neutral” reasons for removing the panelists, both women.
He said the first, a teacher who is also a pastor, had a “forgiving nature” that might lead her to favor the defendants. He called up the church’s website on his computer and read to the judge a passage about its commitment to “the doctrine of redemption.”
“When you have a minister back in the jury room, that person can take over the jury room,” Roger said.
He said the second woman had a brother who she believed had been sent to prison for a crime he did not commit. The prosecutor said that experience might make her sympathetic to Simpson.
Glass rejected defense motions challenging the exclusion of the individual African Americans and another motion challenging the entire jury.
“There has been no evidence to me that the state has made a purposeful discriminatory effort to eliminate African American jurors,” the judge said, noting that two black alternates remain.
Simpson stared at the judge as she spoke. He appeared intensely involved in the selection of the panel, poring over jury questionnaires and whispering to his attorneys as they finalized their decisions.
During breaks in the process, however, Simpson appeared relaxed, discussing Saturday’s USC-Ohio State game with reporters and reading a newspaper sports section.
Opening statements are set for Monday.
Simpson, 61, faces a dozen charges stemming from the alleged robbery of two sports memorabilia dealers in a casino hotel room a year ago. Prosecutors contend he organized a raiding party of six men, some armed, to rob the dealers. Simpson says he was trying to recover items stolen from him and did not see any weapons.
A man who accompanied him, Clarence Stewart, also faces charges.
The selection of the jury came after weeks of screening prospective panelists and four days of intense questioning. Five hundred people began filling out the 27-page questionnaires in August. Nearly 250 were called to the courthouse for additional questioning.
On Thursday, as on prior days, much of the dialogue between prospective jurors and lawyers concerned Simpson’s 1995 acquittal on charges of murdering his ex-wife, Nicole, and her friend, Ronald Goldman, in Brentwood.
That jury was composed primarily of black women.
One man, a retired police officer, acknowledged writing in his questionnaire: “He’s a murderer and got away with it.” But he maintained that he could set aside those feelings.
“I am a firm believer in the system,” he said. Looking toward Simpson, he said: “He won. He won, and he’s a free man until he comes in here.”
The man was not selected as a juror.
Another panelist, a systems analyst, said he watched the trial on television but was not sure whether the jury’s verdict was correct.
“Both sides dropped the ball a little bit,” the man said. He became an alternate.
Under trial rules, the jurors cannot be identified by name.