Judge Lance A. Ito on Friday led a coterie of lawyers and court officers to the scene of the slayings that O.J. Simpson is accused of committing - an outing that captivated sightseers who gathered to watch as the group laid the groundwork for a Sunday field trip by the jury and the defendant himself.
Friday’s dry run included the judge and lawyers for both sides, and the group traveled to Simpson’s nearby Brentwood house as well. While there, sources say an argument erupted over whether the jury would be allowed to see the former football star’s trophy room.
Deputy District Attorney Cheri Lewis objected, sources said, arguing that it was irrelevant and would tend to cause jurors to look more favorably on Simpson. According to the sources, Simpson’s attorneys countered that it was unfair to limit the panel’s visit by excluding areas that reflect well on their client - and Ito agreed.
The result: Jurors will see the trophy room and the rest of the interior of Simpson’s house, as well as the driveway at Simpson’s home where blood drops led to the front door and the narrow alley where a bloody glove was recovered on his estate. Jurors will visit the crime scene, outside victim Nicole Brown Simpson’s condominium. They also may make stops at Mezzaluna restaurant, where Nicole Simpson dined before being slain, and at the apartment where victim Ronald Lyle Goldman lived.
Lawyers for the two sides have painstakingly hammered out the details of the visit, including arrangements that provide for Simpson’s security while still allowing him to make the trip to his own house and to that of his slain former wife, Nicole Simpson.
“He will be attending,” Johnnie L. Cochran Jr., Simpson’s lead trial attorney, said Friday.
Although Cochran would not comment on the arrangements, a source close to the case said Simpson will wear an electronic device that would restrain him and alert deputies if he tries to flee. However, the device will be invisible to the jury.
Simpson has pleaded not guilty to the June 12 slayings of Goldman and Nicole Simpson. He was arrested on June 17, and has been in custody ever since, so Sunday’s trip will mark his first return to his Brentwood estate since being charged in the slayings.
The prospect of jurors trooping through the crime scene has set Brentwood abuzz and raised new legal and strategic questions for the attorneys in the case. It also has created a host of logistical problems: Airspace will be closed to keep helicopters from recording the scene, and roughly 200 police officers will be on duty to shut down area streets and provide other security.
On Friday, police warned some Brentwood residents not to rent space to photographers desperate for a peek at the tour participants.
Although Cochran said defense lawyers were satisfied with the approach that Ito and the Sheriff’s Department have devised for Simpson, legal experts said the trip raises a number of confounding problems such as controlling what jurors see and hear while they are on tour.
“There’s a huge danger of something going wrong,” said Harland W. Braun, a Los Angeles defense lawyer who has attended two jury field trips, one as a prosecutor and one as a defense attorney. “What happens if one of these jurors spots something on the sidewalk that the others don’t see? They’re not allowed to talk about the case, so months go by and then they’re in deliberations and that juror says: `I saw blood there.’ There’s no way to cross-examine that, no way to check it.”
Ito has scheduled a hearing for 8:30 a.m. Sunday in his court, where he is expected to instruct jurors before heading out on their tour. Once they do, they are sure to be swept up in a monumental media affair.
The dress rehearsal was Friday. As the judge and lawyers toured the sites, two news helicopters fluttered overhead, and several news crews aimed their cameras over the green-tarped fences guarding Simpson’s home in hopes of recording any activity inside. In addition, a small group of onlookers quickly gathered at Simpson’s estate once it became clear that something was happening.