Published Thursday, Sept. 11, 2008 | 10:31 a.m.
Updated Saturday, Sept. 13, 2008 | 12:15 p.m.
O.J. Simpson’s future and freedom is in the hands of a predominantly white, predominantly female 12-member jury.
Simpson, 61, and his co-accused, Clarence “C.J.” Stewart, 54, could be sentenced to life behind bars if convicted. The two former golfing buddies face 12 robbery, kidnapping and weapons-related charges following the alleged Sept. 13, 2007, raid of two memorabilia dealers’ Palace Station hotel room.
One of the charges, first-degree kidnapping with use of a deadly weapon, carries a possible life sentence with no chance of parole for five years.
Simpson maintains he and Stewart, along with four others, were simply retrieving items of that belonged to him when the incident occurred last fall.
The other men originally charged in the case have entered plea bargains with prosecutors, agreeing to testify against the accused in exchange for lesser charges and reduced sentencing.
The nine-woman, three-man jury will hear from them, along with dozens of other witnesses, in the coming weeks.
Jury selection began Monday with an initial collection of 500 possible jurors. A pretrial survey eliminated 252 of those, leaving 248 prospective jury members in the group.
Judge Jackie Glass, along with lawyers for the prosecution and the defense, questioned shortlisted candidates for four days to compile a pool of 40 qualified jurors from which a jury could be selected.
Attorneys for both the defense and prosecution were each given peremptory challenges that could be used to remove individuals from the shortlisted group. Each side had eight to use against main jury panel members, and four for those in the alternate jury panel.
The prosecution challenged and ejected two of the four black people in the potential jury pool. One of them, a middle-aged female minister, was originally slated to serve as part of the critical 12-member jury that will deliver the verdict.
The defense challenged both dismissals, saying they were racially motivated.
“Exercising that peremptory challenge excludes her as the one and only (African American on the jury),” Simpson’s attorney, Yale Galanter, said about the minister’s dismissal.
African-American jurors are a particular interest in this case because both Simpson and Stewart are black. It is often thought that black jurors are more sympathetic toward African-American defendants than white jurors.
Simpson’s 1995 murder trial had a jury made up of nine African-Americans, two whites and one Hispanic who delivered the not guilty verdict.
Much like his current trial, most of the 1995 murder trial’s jurors, 10 of the 12, were women.
Chief Deputy District Attorney Christopher Owens and District Attorney David Roger insisted their reasons for having the two women dismissed were completely “race-neutral” and instead largely related to their deep religions beliefs.
They argued ministers can have a perceived moral authority and influence over others. Prosecutors said a minister might “take over” the jury, if left sitting.
They also worried the second woman, was also deeply religious, employed philosophies that could lead her to forgive a guilty person rather than deliver a verdict that would condemn them to prison.
Glass ultimately sided with the prosecution. “Throughout these last four days there has been no evidence to me that the state has made a purposeful discriminatory effort to eliminate African-American jurors,” she said.
The judge was careful to say no racial stacking of the jury was afoot. “We have no quota system for jurors,” she said, noting the pool of potential jurors was randomly selected from a cross-section of the community.
After the two controversial peremptory challenges, the no blacks remained in the main jury panel. However, there appeared to be one Asian woman and another Latina juror. Court officials could not confirm the ethnicity of jurors.
The two blacks that remain, one man and one woman, are in the pool of alternate jurors. This six-member panel will only be used if and when main jurors are dismissed. Six of the original 12 jurors from Simpson’s 1995 murder trial were dismissed.
The current group of alternate jurors is split 50-50 in terms of gender, with three men and three women.
The 18 main and alternate jurors will endure a range of restrictions until they are able to deliver their verdict. The trial is expected to last four or five weeks and during this time they are not allowed to read, listen or watch any news media that might discuss the trial. They are also prohibited from discussing the case with anyone, including their fellow jurors.
The official admonition reads:
“It is your duty not to:
1. Discuss (among yourselves or with anyone else) any subject connected with the trial, or
2. Read, watch or listen to any report of, or commentary on the rgrial or any person connected with the trial by any medium of information, including without limitation, newspapers, television and radio, or
3. Form or express any opinion on any subject connected with the trial until the matter is finally submitted to you.”
Court marshals will accompany jurors on their lunch breaks to ensure they are not approached or harassed by members of the public.
Two potential jurors were approached Tuesday as they left the courthouse by a UNLV student claiming to be a contributor to CNN’s online citizen journalism Web site, iReport. The women said they walked away from the young man and immediately alerted court marshals. Neither were selected as jurors for the trial.
The would-be journalist’s entry was removed from the iReport Web site, however he posted a YouTube video of himself bragging about the experience to his personal Web page.
The court prohibits professional and would-be journalists from speaking to members of a jury.
“Don’t talk about this case with anyone,” Glass instructed the newly-formed jury before finally adjourning for the day. The court worked through lunch and, after a much-needed mid-afternoon break, stayed in session past 7:30 p.m. Thursday in order to finalize the official jury.
“You can tell folks that you’re a juror in a criminal case, but you can’t tell them anything else about the case,” Glass said. “Don’t discuss it.”
“Rest up, take your vitamins, sleep,” she suggested, acknowledging that the jurors will have a long five or so weeks ahead of them.
The courtroom was “dark” Friday, as no formal proceedings were scheduled. Proceedings will resume Monday when the trial will begin with opening statements.