They watched the time carefully, knowing their worlds would be put on hold at precisely 10 a.m.
O.J. Simpson’s guilt or innocence in a double-murder trial that mesmerized the nation was about to be announced. People everywhere were ready.
Hundreds of Washington State University students jammed into the student center Tuesday morning to watch on a big-screen television.
A meeting to announce the results of a four-month, $60,000 study on Spokane’s economy was interrupted so everyone could listen to the verdict.
Day-care workers distracted little ones with toys or snacks so adults could watch the climactic end to the 10-month trial.
Waiting was difficult. The moments before the announcement were slowed with formalities - opening the envelope containing the verdicts, having the jury forewoman look them over, listening as the court reporter stumbled over the pronunciation of Simpson’s first name.
Most of the country took time off. AT&T; reported a 58 percent drop in long-distance calls during the minutes leading up to the verdict. Teachers stopped lessons to turn on classroom televisions. Police scanners went unusually quiet.
“Come on,” David Labrucherie urged the screen from his stationary bicycle at the Sta-Fit athletic club on North Division.
He was among a dozen people working up a sweat in the Cardio Room, earphone wires dangling around their heads as they listened and watched coverage of the verdict on two television sets.
A few people without headphones suddenly realized they wouldn’t be able to hear the verdict being read. They dashed into the club’s nursery, joining at least 10 employees who crammed around a TV set usually reserved for cartoons.
Joe Cutler couldn’t leave his post at the front desk to join them. Instead, he watched the television through a glass window and waited for someone to give him the thumbs-up or thumbs-down sign indicating the verdict.
As it turned out, he didn’t need the signal.
“O.J.’s face said it loud and clear,” said Cutler, a recent Mead High School graduate.
At a North Side car dealership, Kenny and Ethel Hendricks hung around for the verdicts even though a company chauffeur told them their courtesy car was ready to go.
“Let us just wait a few minutes before we leave,” Hendricks said, shifting in his waiting room chair and keeping his eyes on the TV.
Others at Foothills Lincoln Mercury whispered and waited.
“It’s never this quiet around here; I haven’t heard a phone ring in the building for 10 minutes,” one salesman remarked.
At the Martin Luther King Jr. Center, workers shuffled kids into a side room just before the verdicts were read.
One employee, Katie Foster, waited anxiously all night to hear the jurors’ words. Her 22-year-old son lives in Los Angeles and rides the bus between school in Santa Monica and home in Compton. She said she worried about riots if Simpson was found guilty.
She held her breath as the decision was read.
“Yes!” she shouted, punctuating her relief with fists in the air. “Yes.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Color Photos
The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = Bonnie Harris Staff writer Staff writers Tom Sowa, Kim Barker, Eric Sorensen and Mike Prager contributed to this report.