An eighth juror was dismissed from the O.J. Simpson trial late Thursday after testimony came to an abrupt halt and lawyers and the judge held mysterious closed-door meetings.
No reason was given for the dismissal, which reduces the number of alternates to only four. The identity of the juror wasn’t announced. A replacement would be selected first thing today.
Defense attorneys appeared pleased, leaving the courthouse with broad smiles but no comment. Prosecutors Marcia Clark and Christopher Darden rushed out looking grim. Darden snapped at reporters: “Get a life, guys.”
Judge Lance Ito’s decision to stop testimony for half a day delayed his expected ruling in a key issue that emerged this week - whether Simpson’s statement to police should be admitted.
The halt was extraordinary given Ito’s recent get-tough policy aimed at keeping the trial moving. Jurors sequestered for more than four months have shown impatience with the slow pace and requested last week that more trial hours be added.
Before the latest ouster, the jury included seven blacks, three whites and two Hispanics. There were nine women and three men.
The alternate pool consists of four blacks and one white; four women and one man. The replacement will be chosen at random.
If the number of jurors drops below 12, it would take an agreement by both sides to continue.
“I believe when Judge Ito finds himself with only two alternates left, it will take an outbreak of bubonic plague or discovering that a juror has already inked the book deal before they’re removed from this trial,” said Stan Goldman, a Loyola Law School professor.
The interruption came as more arguments were to begin on whether Simpson’s June 13 statement is admissible. If the defense succeeds in telling jurors about the statement, it could mean that Simpson’s story could be told to jurors without him having to testify and endure hostile cross-examination.
Both sides filed papers stating their positions on the tape-recorded police statement, and a transcript of a sidebar conference showed Ito initially siding with the defense in the belief that prosecutors inadvertently opened the door for it to be presented to the jury.
Unaware of the dispute, jurors during the morning heard more testimony from criminalist Collin Yamauchi, who set off the fireworks Wednesday by saying he once thought Simpson had “an airtight alibi.”
Yamauchi showed jurors for the first time a pair of socks found near Simpson’s bed, and he pointed out where tiny holes had been cut to take blood samples. The panelists stood up to get a better view.
He also testified that defense expert Dr. Henry Lee failed to change gloves during an hourlong examination of the socks last February. Prosecutors were trying to show that defense experts, like police technicians, may have mishandled evidence.
Although Ito didn’t announce any ruling, the transcript of Wednesday’s sidebar showed he leaned toward the defense view when he heard Yamauchi’s comment.
“We’ve got a huge problem. We just brought in a statement,” Ito told lawyers moments after the testimony.
“I’m going to strike the answer,” Ito proposed.
“No, your honor. Your honor, I’m not against it,” defense attorney Barry Scheck said. “It opens the door to his (Simpson’s) entire statement.”
“It does,” Ito replied.