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Simpson Jury Question List Probes Range of Attitudes

October 01, 1994|ANDREA FORD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

When the first of 304 potential jurors in the O.J Simpson case return to court this month, they will be quizzed on a sweeping questionnaire about their attitudes toward Simpson, the two people he is accused of killing, celebrities in general, domestic violence, DNA testing and interracial marriages.

Prospective jurors have filled out the unusual, 79-page questionnaire, made public by the court Friday. The survey, containing 294 questions, is designed to test each potential juror's suitability for the celebrated trial.

Questions range from the mundane to the provocative: "Do you seek out positions of leadership? . . . Have you seen O.J. Simpson in any form of advertising, such as television commercials for Hertz Corp. or in orange juice advertisements? . . . What is your impression of Nicole Brown Simpson based upon what has been reported or published in the media? . . . Have you ever felt sufficiently frustrated within a domestic relationship that you considered violence?"

There is even a question asking whether the jury candidate owns any "special knives."

"A person who himself owns a collection of knives is not going to think of themselves as violent," said UCLA law professor Peter Arenella, who believes that the question was devised by the defense to reveal attitudes potential jurors might have about people who own knife collections, as Simpson reportedly does.

Those who do have such collectibles, Arenella said, probably "would not draw any inference that Mr. Simpson would be violent merely because he owns knives."

Superior Court Judge Lance A. Ito, who released blank copies of the questionnaire Friday, worked with lawyers from the defense and prosecution to draft the document. Ito and the attorneys are expected to use the results, along with further questioning in court, to help select the 12 jurors and eight alternates for the double murder trial.

Long and involved jury questionnaires are usually only used in high-profile cases such as Simpson's in which a defendant is sufficiently affluent to hire a jury consultant.

Simpson has pleaded not guilty in the June 12 knife slayings of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Lyle Goldman outside her Brentwood condominium. Prosecutors believe the murder weapon was a 15-inch German-made Stiletto that they contend Simpson bought six weeks before the killings at a Downtown Los Angeles cutlery store.

In addition to the query about knives, the questionnaire seeks to explore--much more extensively--the jury candidates' attitudes toward the media, race and the type of DNA blood testing that prosecutors plan to use to connect the former football star to the murder scene.

A full 13 pages of questions--representing one of the largest sections in the survey--are devoted to jurors' views of the media, including the tabloid press and television shows that are generally seen as more entertainment than journalism.

"Which of the following best describes how you would describe the media coverage overall?" one question asks, offering answers that range from "accurate" to "sometimes accurate-sometimes not" to "inaccurate."

The question that asks jurors whether they have seen Simpson in TV advertising is followed by a further query: "If yes, describe the image that O.J. Simpson seemed to portray in your opinion."

Jury consultants representing the prosecution and defense have helped to tailor the questions to eliminate bias. The goal of prosecutors is to detect jurors who might have more sympathy than objectivity in weighing the fate of a man who has spent his career cultivating a very likable image, experts noted.

Defense attorneyswould like to ferret out those who might have negative feelings toward Simpson based on race or other factors. One questions deals with attitudes toward interracial marriage.

Another question asks point-blank: "How big a problem do you think racial discrimination against African Americans is in Southern California?"

A question apparently aimed at DNA testing asks jurors whether they have given blood samples to a doctor and whether they ever felt uncomfortable with the accuracy of the results.

Questions about domestic violence are seen as important because information about O.J. Simpson's past physical abuse of Nicole Simpson could become evidence in the murder trial. Simpson pleaded no contest in 1989 to misdemeanor spousal abuse against his then wife.

Jurors scheduled to return to court Oct. 12 will be asked about their responses to some, but not necessarily all, of the questions. This will be part of voir dire, the portion of jury selection that seeks to screen out those who have made up their minds about the case, have biases against either side, or who cannot set aside information they have gained from sources outside court.

If necessary, a second group from the jury pool is expected to start voir dire Oct. 17, and a third group Oct. 24.

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