With a stunning swiftness that shocked legal pundits, the jury in the O.J. Simpson trial reached a verdict Monday after deliberating only three hours and 40 minutes.
Because of the rapid decision, Judge Lance Ito said the verdict would remain sealed until 10 a.m. (PDT) today so that principal lawyers on both sides could be in the courtroom when it is read.
The speed of the verdict, and the fact that it came less than an hour after the jury heard a section of particularly incriminating testimony from limousine driver Allan Park, prompted speculation around the courthouse that Simpson had been convicted of killing his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman.
“Looks like guilty to me,” said John Burris, a noted Oakland, Calif., civil rights attorney. “This jury went straight to the heart of this case. They wanted to know where was O.J. and the limo driver said where he was not. And he was not home when he (the limo driver) arrived that night.”
But others interpreted the quick verdict as a possible acquittal.
Simpson, wearing a gray, pin-striped suit, appeared shaken as the jurors filed into the courtroom. He scanned their faces but they averted their eyes from his.
Ito asked the jury forewoman if the panel had reached a verdict. The 51-year-old divorced woman, who works as a vendor, replied that it had. But when Ito asked for the sealed envelope, she smiled sheepishly and said she didn’t have it.
“Did you leave it in the jury room?” Ito asked.
“Yes,” she said.
Ito directed a deputy to escort her to the jury room to retrieve the envelope with the verdict. She gave it to a deputy and he handed it to the judge.
Simpson continued to look at the jury box, but with the exception of Juror No. 7, a sad-faced 45-year-old computer technician who looked in his direction, jurors either fixed their gaze downward or peered out into the courtroom.
As the jurors rose to leave, Simpson raised his chin slightly, blinked his eyes several times, and watched them file out of the courtroom. He took the pen he was holding, dropped it on the defense table and walked slowly into the holding area without saying anything to defense lawyer Carl Douglas, the only member of the defense team there Monday.
“Surprise doesn’t begin to describe my feelings,” Douglas said later. “I’m stunned at the speed.”
“Wow,” said Harland Braun, a well-known California defense lawyer. “It takes my breath away. If that’s the case, everyone’s been misreading this jury.”
Deliberations began at 9:40 a.m. and ran until noon. At 1 p.m., Ito received a note that the jurors wanted to have a read-back of Park’s direct testimony. Douglas asked that the jury also listen to Park’s cross-examination, which was conducted by Simpson’s lead lawyer Johnnie L. Cochran.
The jurors listened to an hour of Park’s direct testimony in which he describes how he found Simpson’s house by looking at the house numbers on the curb, that no one was home, and that he never saw the Bronco in front of the house. Ito took a 10-minute break, telling the jurors he would continue with the read-back at 2:15 p.m., but they gave him a note saying that they had heard what they wanted and didn’t need any further information.
They then asked for verdict sheets - which drew looks of surprise from prosecutors William Hodgman and Christopher Darden, who were present for the proceedings Monday. Lead prosecutor Marcia Clark was not present.
The jurors returned to the deliberations room at 2:25 p.m. and at 2:50 p.m., rang the courtroom to signal that they had reached a verdict.
The racially mixed jury of 10 women and two men have been sequestered since Jan. 11.
The prosecution contended that Simpson killed his ex-wife in a fit of rage and obsession and that Goldman was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Simpson’s defense alleged that Simpson was the victim of a bungled police investigation and the wrath of former Detective Mark Furhman, a racist cop who planted key evidence, including in an effort to frame him.
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