You can't get much closer to Simpson than jury box

September 30, 1994|By ROGER SIMON

The most ominous sign yet from the O. J. Simpson trial is how well it is going.

While Judge Lance Ito thought it would be difficult to find 12 jurors and eight alternates to serve for up to six months, in fact he has found it easy.

Prospective jurors, he discovered to his surprise, seem eager to get on the jury.

"We are running perhaps 25 percent to 30 percent higher [in jurors willing to serve] than I had anticipated from my past experience with these cases," he said the other day.

But is it really so surprising that people want to be part of the greatest show on earth?

Why else do tourists still flock to Simpson's Brentwood mansion or to Nicole Simpson's nearby townhouse?

Why else is Mezzaluna, where Ronald Goldman waited tables, now packed?

And why else has the Haagen-Dazs, where Nicole reportedly took her children for ice cream on the evening she was killed, doubled its Saturday shift?

People are going to these places so they can feel closer to the stars in this case.

And you can't get much closer to O. J. Simpson these days than the jury box.

Not even the reporters covering the case are immune from the star power that saturates it.

Linda Deutsch, Associated Press pool reporter, beamed with pleasure recently when she reported to her fellow journalists how she actually got to speak to Simpson in the courtroom.

"It was nice to get to meet you," Deutsch said to Simpson.

"Hope to see you under different circumstances," Simpson said to Deutsch.

And if Deutsch would have said, "It was nice to get to meet you," to any other person charged with slashing his ex-wife's throat so savagely that her spinal column was cut and stabbing her friend more than 14 times, she did not say so.

Dan Abrams, a pool reporter from Court TV, is also very impressed with Simpson.

"When you have O. J. in there [the courtroom], it's a very striking presence," Abrams said.

And if it is a striking presence to reporters who are used to being around celebrities, imagine how it is going to strike jurors who may never have gotten this close to a star in their lives.

And don't think that Simpson doesn't know the power he has.

"It appeared to me O. J. was trying to make eye contact with the jurors," Abrams said. "He gave a very subdued smirk. . . . You could see his eyes going from one juror to the other. When introduced, one in five jurors overtly smiled. They were meeting O. J. Simpson, the man they had heard so much about."

Abrams described O. J.'s banter with reporters and how he had said: "I've got to watch what I say to you guys. If I say it, I know I'll read it tomorrow morning."

And you can bet he will. We all will.

Like when he said to Sally Ann Stewart of USA Today: "I need a haircut, I know, I know."

And when, in a joshing tone, he described himself to reporters as: "O. J. Simpson, 47, No. 32."

In fact, O. J. Simpson is no longer No. 32, the number he wore on his football jersey.

In fact, he is Prisoner No. 4013970.

But why dwell on that? Why keep in mind that somewhere in this case, behind all the glitter, there are two dead bodies?

It is much easier to kick back, relax and enjoy the show.

So when the pool reporters reported that Simpson had been humming a song from "The Wiz" during jury selection, he corrected them the next day.

The song was "Memory" from "Cats," he said.

And he was humming it because, "That song really gets to me because it says 'touch me,' and I can't touch my kids."

Which caused Terry Moran, an anchor on Court TV, later to point out how very, very odd all this chitchat is.

"That's an extraordinary comfort level for a man facing double murder charges and life in prison," Moran said.

Yes it is extraordinary.

So extraordinary that it is almost as if Simpson believes that no jury, nowhere, no how is going to convict him of these crimes.

Maybe because he is innocent.

Or maybe because he is a star.

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