Simpson's fate may hinge on leanings of key jurors Observers expect certain panelists to play crucial deliberation roles

October 02, 1995|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

LOS ANGELES -- At roughly 9 o'clock this morning, 12 men and women were to head to the courtroom of Judge Lance A. Ito. But instead of taking their customary spots in the two rows of blue seats that are the jury box, they will sit around a table in a room nearby and begin weighing the fate of O. J. Simpson.

Estimates of how long they will take range from a few days to several weeks. But these predictions, like almost everything else about the panelists and their predilections, are what Mr. Simpson's chief lawyer, Johnnie L. Cochran Jr., would call "rank speculation." So is whether they will convict, acquit or become hopelessly deadlocked.

"I have yet to find 12 people anywhere who agree on any aspect of this case," said Robert L. Shapiro, one of Mr. Simpson's lawyers. "I hope these 12 can."

By now, the demographic makeup of the jury is well-known: nine blacks, two whites and one Hispanic man; 10 women and two men; two college graduates and all but one among the rest with a high school diploma; an average age of 43.

Just as pollsters follow crucial precincts, people who have actually laid eyes on the jurors expect certain panelists to be crucial.

One is Juror No. 1, the 50- or 51-year-old black woman who many believe was quickly elected forewoman on Friday. Another is Juror No. 3, a 60-year-old white woman who, much like Henry Fonda in "Twelve Angry Men," once turned around an entire jury in another murder case. A third is Juror No. 6, a somber 43-year-old black man who almost left the panel recently when the trial threatened to keep him from watching Notre Dame football.

Juror No. 1, who listened carefully to both sides, her head usually perched on her hand, emoted little during the testimony. Like nine of the 12 jurors, she is a government employee. In his instantaneous "memoirs" of his service on the panel, a former juror, Michael Knox, predicted that she would become forewoman. From transcripts released by Judge Ito, she emerged as strong-willed, disciplined (in bed by 8 p.m., up by 4:30 a.m.), articulate and constructive.

"I believe in building a better mousetrap," said the woman, who wrote on her jury questionnaire that she had a "sick" feeling when she learned that Mr. Simpson was a suspect in the slayings of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald L. Goldman.

She appears to be the type to carefully weigh the evidence -- all 1,105 pieces of it, plus 45,000 pages of testimony from 133 witnesses -- and therefore might be less susceptible to emotional appeals.

Much speculation also surrounds Juror No. 3, the Henry Fonda figure, a retired clerk for the local gas company. She was an alternate juror when the trial began. The woman is intriguing in large part because of her role in a prior criminal case. "As the days went by, I found out I was alone on my side of the case," she told the lawyers during jury selection. "The other jurors put a lot of pressure on me." Whether that pressure was to convict or to acquit is not clear.

But when some testimony in that earlier case was read back, she recalled, "They all changed their minds and agreed with me and I found that a real disturbing situation, that they were so sure of their point of view, and then all 11 changed their minds. I felt like they had preconceived ideas that they didn't want to let go of."

Defense lawyers have cast about for an excuse to get her off the panel and thought they had such a reason last month when Judge Ito broached the idea of helping her make up for lost rental income on her property.

The jury has wild cards, including Juror No. 5, a much-liked and pleasant 37-year-old black woman who works for the post office. Her son was once mistakenly arrested by the police, but she seemed to harbor no bitterness over it.

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