With the defendant seldom far away, jurors in the O.J. Simpson double murder trial on Sunday retraced the familiar and gruesome itinerary of the case, riding through the affluent neighborhoods, then walking through the homes, where Simpson and his late wife once had lived.
After driving by the Italian restaurant where Nicole Brown Simpson had eaten her last meal, the 12 jurors and nine alternates spent two hours inspecting the condominium where she and Ronald L. Goldman were murdered last June by the front gate. The 14-vehicle entourage - including separate cars for the prosecutors, defense lawyers and Judge Lance A. Ito and his staff - then crossed Sunset Boulevard and journeyed to Simpson’s estate.
For Simpson, the three-hour stop at 360 North Rockingham Ave. was his first trip home - and one of his only trips anywhere besides court - since last June, when he surrendered to authorities.
Simpson initially appeared animated and relaxed during his visit; for much of it, he stood on the front lawn, near the spot where, his lawyers say, he was practicing his golf game when the murders took place.
But as a glorious California day ended and a return to the jailhouse loomed, he grew considerably more somber.
Though Simpson clearly was not handcuffed, it was unclear whether he was wearing other security devices, including an electronic belt, beneath his clothes.
On-site tours of crime scenes by jurors are unusual, though not unprecedented, but this extraordinary procession halted traffic, cost untold thousands of dollars in police overtime and provided a festive occasion for throngs of onlookers, particularly in its earlier more public stages.
That included drive-by visits to Goldman’s apartment and Mezzaluna, the Brentwood restaurant where he waited tables. Since the murders, it has become a mustsee for the curious and the voyeuristic, meaning dinner reservations after 6 o’clock have become scarce.
But as the visit proceeded - and the jurors, riding in a sheriff’s department bus with steel bars over tinted windows normally reserved for prisoners, arrived at Nicole’s Simpson’s empty apartment - it effectively placed two toney Los Angeles neighborhoods into virtual quarantine and its residents under house arrest.
At Nicole Simpson’s home, the jurors, accompanied by sheriff’s deputies and lawyers from both sides, viewed the walkway where the two bodies were found, an area where the pools of blood have long since been washed away and a fresh supply of yellow, bilingual police tape is about the only reminder of the crime.
The tracks of footprints and blood drops which, prosecutors say, Simpson left behind him were also retraced for the jurors. Heading inside in groups of four, they then viewed the rooms where Nicole Simpson had drawn herself a candle-lit bath, left a cup of half-eaten ice cream, and put her children to bed before she was killed.
No one said anything to the jurors, who were informed about what they saw by signs installed by court officials. Nor, under Ito’s instructions, could they speak to one another.
With the tour, which took place eight months to the day after the killings, the jury can now visualize the sites of the Simpson story, a world that many members of the largely minority jury, who live in far poorer neighborhoods to the east, would rarely frequent. And, with time a crucial issue in the case, they can now debate more knowledgeably whether Simpson had enough of it after returning from McDonald’s on the evening of June 12 to leave his estate, murder two people, then return home before flying off to Chicago.
The judge had originally planned a second jury field trip, a nighttime trip later this spring when conditions will more nearly reflect those on the night of the killings. But after handling this complex logistical operation, the judge said he was having “third, fourth, and fifth thoughts” about that second excursion.Though they backed the trip, pros ecutors tried to persuade Ito to keep the jurors from some sections of Simpson’s house, specifically where he keeps his football trophies. Deputy District Attorney Cheri Lewis called that room “a shrine to the defendant,” one that would generate undue “sympathy and pity” for him. Ito ruled that the jurors could “do a 360 to see what’s there,” then move on.
The judge brushed aside Lewis’ complaints that it was “highly inappropriate” for jurors to see photographs of Simpson with his children and girlfriend, a model named Paula Barbieri, that still hang on the walls.
But he agreed to hide the life-sized statue of Simpson during his football days that sits in the garage. “We can toss a sheet over that,” Ito said.
Security was extremely tight during the entire operation. On duty were hundreds of officers from the Los Angeles Police Department and sheriff’s offices, plus a bomb-sniffing black Labrador, the latest in a long line of dogs to play an active role in the case. Half of the entourage, including three cars flanking the unmarked car carrying Simpson, ferried policemen. Twenty policemen on motorcycles escorted it, while four police helicopters hovered overhead.
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