Media, Jury Experts Make Impact on Start of Simpson Trial
Judge still wrestles with glut of media coverage as jury selection for costly, sensational trial begins
LOS ANGELES — FINALLY ... The Trial itself.
Jury selection scheduled to begin today in the O. J. Simpson case marks the long-awaited formal opening to the double-murder episode's actual trial stage, for which every legal proceeding to this point has been merely preparatory.
To meet federal and state requirements granting the right of a ``speedy trial,'' juror interviews must begin 60 days after Mr. Simpson's July 22 arraignment. Today marks that deadline plus a one-week extension agreed to by defense attorneys.
Ironically, the 18 satellite uplinks poised to deliver coverage to Everytown, USA and beyond - more than for World Cup soccer - will not be allowed to broadcast pictures of the jury selection. To protect prospective jurors' rights to privacy, one designated pool reporter, Linda Deutsch of Associated Press, will be allowed inside to report visual descriptions.
Live audio will be piped to a press room where all other reporters can take notes but are strictly forbidden to carry or use tape-recorders.
Large role of judge
While Judge Lance Ito reviews written questionnaires filled out by juror candidates, following up with verbal questioning, both defense and prosecution teams will help winnow a reported beginning pool of 1,000 down to 12 jurors and six alternates.
Judge Ito is also expected to complete unfinished business from last week's pre-trial proceedings, ruling on several defense motions to suppress evidence.
He may also rule on whether the jury will be sequestered during the trial and will hold a hearing to determine whether one or more electronic media will be barred from covering the trial live.
``[Judge] Ito has been angered by media shenanigans outside the courtroom,'' says Laurie Levinson, law professor at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. ``But it is unlikely that he will vent that anger by taking cameras from inside ... they are the one good way to offset bad reporting.''
At some point before opening arguments in the case are heard, Ito will also conduct hearings to determine the admissibility of DNA evidence.
Now that the media and public have a chance to reflect beyond the murders themselves - and the summer's tabloid barrage of subplots on police chases, mystery weapons, athletes and beautiful women - what can serious citizens actually look for as proceedings unfold?
``The world is being treated to a full-blown, no-holds-barred, no-stone-unturned examination of what the Sixth Amendment right to a trial by jury means under the US Constitution,'' says Myrna Raeder vice chair of the American Bar Association's Committee on Federal rules of Evidence and Criminal Procedure.
``From trial proceedings to forensics, you are going to see into every nook and cranny of the American justice system, strength and weaknesses alike.''
At the same time, because of Simpson's fame and wealth, the trial will be atypically exhaustive, caution observers, and therefore far from indicative of what a normal trial for capital offense in the United States would be.
``This is a thorough civics lesson in the system if everyone had $10 million in their pocket to spend on a battery of lawyers, paralegals, private investigators, forensic experts, and jury selection consultants,'' says Robert Pugsley, professor of law at Southwestern University School of Law in Los Angeles.
``I'm not suggesting [spending that money] is wrong, it is O.J.'s right,'' he adds. ``But the trial is one of the very few you will ever see in which every inch of territory, every gain and loss is fought with such great resources on both sides.''
Jury issue looms
Because of the intense media coverage of the double murder, there has been perhaps no more debated point than whether or not a jury can be found that is sufficiently unbiased to give Simpson a fair trial.
Fred Cate, associate professor of law at Indiana University, says if lawyers or Ito reject all potential jurors who know something about the case, they will eliminate ``the majority of people who take some moderate interest in the world around them,'' resulting in another kind of bias ``toward people who are frankly not up to the job of being jurors.''
On one hand, Cates says, Simpson should expect ``the most fair trial in human history because everyone in the country's going to be watching it.
``On the other hand, he can easily expect one of the poorest juries to be assembled if the attorneys do as they've suggested - exclude people who are aware of the trial.''
The amount of investigation and expertise going into selection of jurors has also never been higher. Both prosecution and defense teams have highly paid specialists at their arms during jury selection, advising on such subtleties as dress, attitude, and body language, in addition to written and verbal answers.
Behind the scenes, both sides are investigating such possible indicators as a juror candidate's address, which might hint at living standards and taste, and even handwriting, which some experts say reveal liberal and conservative biases as well as other attitudes.
One category of potential jurors of whom the defense will be especially wary will be black females age 35 to 40 or older, says Pugsley.
``Such individuals will be likely to have experienced spousal or domestic abuse,'' he says, ``and they might also have resentments of Simpson's interracial marriage and dating pattern.''
The prosecution may be more likely to reject those of either gender who participate in or enjoy watching sports, and thus might hold a higher-than-normal opinion of Simpson's achievements as a football star.