Veteran to report news of Simpson jury

September 26, 1994|By David Kronke | David Kronke,Special to The Sun

Los Angeles -- When jury selection for the O. J. Simpson murder trial begins today, the press and the public will be relying on one person to learn what is happening inside the courtroom.

Her name is Linda Deutsch, a 51-year-old veteran Associated Press (AP) reporter and the only journalist who will be allowed in the courtroom to cover the first stage of the sensational trial.

Ms. Deutsch, who has covered some of the most celebrated trials of the last quarter century, says she did not volunteer for the job, but was approached by a committee of press representatives.

"Since I've covered so many trials, people knew I would know what to look for," says Ms. Deutsch, whose first big case was the 1969 trial of Sirhan Sirhan for Sen. Robert F. Kennedy's assassination. "Plus, I work for a wire service, so in essence, I work for everybody anyway, for all the media."

In the Simpson case, she will be looking closely at the ethnic backgrounds of potential jurors, whether they want to serve on a jury for such a notorious case and how intimidated they feel by the projected length of the trial. Her dispatches from the courtroom will be shared with the rest of the media, providing the basis for every news broadcast and article about the jury selection.

Ms. Deutsch acknowledges that being the lone media representative in the courtroom is a highly unusual arrangement.

While small pools of reporters are often used to cover President Clinton, military invasions and other events where hundreds of reporters simply cannot be accommodated, the pool typically includes at least three or four reporters -- not just one.

A pool of three reporters was used during the federal trial of the four white Los Angeles police officers accused of beating black motorist Rodney King. The three reporters were rotated daily to keep them fresh and alert and to provide the most comprehensive coverage possible, says Jim Newton, who has been covering the Simpson case for the Los Angeles Times.

The Los Angeles Times and other media outlets have petitioned Judge Lance Ito to adopt a similar system for the Simpson jury selection process, which is expected to last about four weeks. With three reporters watching the Simpson jury selection, one might spot a telling detail that another might miss, Mr. Newton says.

Judge Ito is not allowing cameras in the courtroom to protect the anonymity of prospective jurors. (The rest of the trial is expected to be televised, although the judge has toyed with the idea of banning cameras altogether.)

The judge may decide to allow other reporters into the courtroom for jury selection once the seats are no longer filled by potential jurors. Ms. Deutsch thinks that could happen quickly, perhaps even by the second day.

"But if there's only one pool person, I can't think of a person I'd rather have do it" than Ms. Deutsch, Mr. Newton says. "She's a superb professional with more experience than anyone in the country."

In her 27 years as a court reporter for the AP, Ms. Deutsch has followed many celebrated people through the legal system, including Mr. King, William Kennedy Smith, kidnapped heiress Patty Hearst and black activist Angela Davis.

A graduate of Monmouth College in West Long Branch, N.J., with a degree in journalism, Ms. Deutsch worked briefly for the San Bernardino Sun before joining the AP's Los Angeles bureau in 1967. She helped out with coverage of the Sirhan Sirhan trial, then found herself assigned to the Charles Manson murder case, which she calls her "trial by fire."

Her editors "thought my coverage was OK, and after that [they] decided that I was a trial specialist," she says with some self-deprecation. "I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. A lot of high-profile cases broke on the West Coast at that time."

The Simpson trial may be the biggest case of all. But Ms. Deutsch does not sound pressured as she prepares to serve as the public's only eyes in the courtroom today.

Being the sole pool reporter puts more of a burden on her employer than it does on her, she says.

"They'll need to send a second reporter because I won't be able to file [a story] until I give my pool report to everyone else," she says. "So they'll need to send another reporter to report on my pool report."

And though many observers, including Mr. Simpson's attorney, Robert Shapiro, have wondered whether the avalanche of publicity will prevent the former football star from getting a panel of impartial jurors, Ms. Deutsch does not believe that will be a problem.

"If they can get a jury for the second Rodney [King] trial," says the veteran court reporter, "they can find a jury for Simpson."

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