A year after his murder trial began, the fate of O.J. Simpson was placed in the hands of 12 anonymous people Friday by a judge who ordered them to ignore lawyer warnings that “the world is watching.”
The jurors were expressionless - as they have been throughout the trial - when they filed into the jury room, where they will have more than 50,000 pages of transcripts and 857 pieces of evidence to consider.
The beaten face and the desperate voice of Nicole Brown Simpson were the last pieces of evidence presented as prosecutor Marcia Clark implored the majority-black panel to find the sports legend guilty of murdering his ex-wife and her friend.
As crowds gathered outside the courthouse for the climactic turn in the case that has captivated the nation, Judge Lance Ito told the 12 jurors inside his courtroom that their sworn duty was to “reach a just verdict regardless of the consequences.”
“You are not partisans or advocates, but impartial judges of the fact,” Ito said. The panel quickly chose a foreperson and then retired for the weekend without beginning formal deliberations. They were to reconvene Monday morning.
Two alternates remain under guard in case they are needed to step in.
Three minutes after the case was submitted at 4:08 p.m. on the courtroom clock, a jury room buzzer sounded three times, signaling that the foreperson had been selected.
“Maybe they’ve got a verdict and we can all go home,” defense attorney Johnnie Cochran Jr. quipped.
Laughter erupted, breaking a palpable tension that had built during the final moment of Clark’s argument as she let the victims speak for themselves through videotape and pictures.
The families of Nicole Simpson and Ronald Goldman dissolved in tears when Clark summoned up the beaten face and desperate voice of Nicole Simpson pleading for police protection from her ranting ex-husband and when an image of Goldman’s bloody body flashed on the 7-foot-high courtroom screen.
“Usually, I feel I’m the only one left to speak for the victims,” Clark told jurors. “But Nicole and Ron are speaking to you.”
She urged the 10 women and two men to hear the resignation in Nicole Simpson’s voice in a 911 call and consider the words she spoke to a police detective who responded to a domestic violence call at the Simpson home six years before the murders: “He’s going to kill me.”
The tapes from a l989 call and a 1993 call were played over defense objections to what lawyers called “a production” unfairly mingling unrelated evidence.
As the tapes were played, Clark displayed a montage of her case up on the screen: Nicole Simpson’s beaten face in 1989, the crime scene, blood drops on Simpson’s driveway, Simpson’s white Bronco, a bloody glove and, finally, the slashed bodies.
She suggested that Goldman was a hero in the effort to convict his killer because, “Ron, struggling so valiantly, forced the killer to leave evidence.”
“They told you with their blood, with their hair … that he did it - Orenthal Simpson,” she said, turning to where Simpson sat impassively at the counsel table.
The judge’s final instructions and the jury’s departure to begin deliberations marked the end of a convulsive yearlong battle, which placed the justice system itself on trial and raised disturbing issues of racism within the Los Angeles Police Department.
The final session was as contentious as any, with Cochran and Barry Scheck peppering Clark with a fusillade of objections - more than 60 in all - which fragmented portions of her argument.
But in the final moments, there was silence among the participants. Nicole Simpson’s haunting voice filled the courtroom.
In the spectator section, her sisters Tanya and Denise Brown held their hands over their ears and wept with their mother, Juditha.
Goldman’s family was in tears.
During their rebuttals, Clark and prosecutor Christopher Darden summed up evidence yet again and told jurors the sum total of what they had presented pointed to Simpson as the murderer.
Repeatedly, Clark incurred ob jections from defense attorneys by mentioning subjects they believed were off limits or interpreting evidence in an unfair manner.
“Sit down!” Ito barked repeatedly at the protesting defense lawyers but finally dismissed jurors from the courtroom in order to address attorneys.
He told Clark, “You’re close to the line” and warned her to stop expressing her opinions rather than argue the evidence.
She shot back that she was entitled to respond to the fiery oratory of Cochran, who, Clark said, had appealed to jurors’ emotions outside the evidence on Thursday.
In his final chance to win over jurors, Darden cast his low-key presentation as a calm, reasoned antidote to Cochran’s fevered defense of Simpson.
The prosecutor implied that defense lawyers were using Simpson’s status as a football legend to place him in a category that would not allow conviction.
“No one is above the law - not the police, not the rich. “O.J. Simpson is not above the law.”