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Simpson Jurors Visit Crime Site : Trial: Judge Ito and attorneys participate in high-security tour of Brentwood. Defendant is allowed to visit his home for first time since his June 17 arrest.

February 13, 1995|ANDREA FORD and JIM NEWTON and ERIC SLATER | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

O.J. Simpson and the jurors who must decide whether he committed a gruesome double murder trooped through Brentwood on Sunday on a strange, high-security outing to the scene of the crime and its aftermath.

The judge and the lawyers in the case also made the trip, which took place eight months to the day after the murders and marked Simpson's first return home since he was arrested June 17. As jurors ate a box lunch in the bus that transported them, Simpson chatted animatedly with his lawyers and others beneath a clump of trees on his Rockingham Avenue property--the last stop on the tour. Earlier, Simpson waived his right to visit the murder scene, waiting in a nearby car as the jurors toured it four and five at a time.

After a brief court hearing early Sunday morning, the participants and their police escorts piled into 14 vehicles and set off on their field trip. They were accompanied by motorcycle police officers who shut down freeway on-ramps so that the jury--riding aboard a Sheriff's Department bus with tinted windows and the number 444 painted on the roof--could ride unimpeded to Brentwood. Simpson rode in an unmarked car as part of the same caravan, its windows so darkly tinted that he was almost invisible inside.

Traffic stopped, and television stations interrupted their regular programming to carry the event live--the helicopter shots of the moving entourage recalling images of the internationally televised low-speed pursuit June 17, when Simpson and friend Al Cowlings led police from Orange County back to Simpson's Brentwood home.

Simpson was arrested that night and subsequently pleaded not guilty to killing Ronald Lyle Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson, whose bodies were found slashed and stabbed to death.

Sunday's field trip was intended primarily to give jurors an up-close look at the murder scene and Simpson's home, but both sides sought to use the tour to gain maximum tactical advantage. Prosecutors maintain that Simpson killed the two victims and left a literal trail of blood from the murder scene to his house. Among other things, they wanted jurors to see the small area in which the murders were committed to bolster the contention that a single assailant, not two or more, was responsible.

Afterward, prosecutors Marcia Clark and Christopher A. Darden appeared buoyant during a short news conference and said they were confident that the jurors had taken note of the small area. "It will go to the reason why one person could accomplish this," Clark said.

Darden said the space is about eight feet by eight feet and added: "I think that Ronald Goldman, having confronted a suspect with a knife, was essentially caged."

Simpson's attorneys have suggested that it would have taken at least two people to carry out the killings, and they used the visit in part to confront jurors with the positive aspects of Simpson's renown--his house full of family photographs and his room full of trophies given for his achievements on and off the football field.

Simpson attorney F. Lee Bailey said defense lawyers were pleased with how the trip had gone, but acknowledged that reading the jurors' reactions was difficult.

"They are a very impassive group," Bailey said. "I don't think anyone could say that there was any reaction. What we're banking on is that they'll understand the evidence better having been to the places where the evidence grew out of last June."

As instructed, jurors dressed casually for the outing, donning athletic shoes, jackets and blue jeans instead of the natty suits that have made them what Superior Court Judge Lance A. Ito has called "the best-dressed jury I've ever seen." One wore a San Francisco 49ers cap. Simpson, who wore a suit Sunday, finished his award-winning professional football career with the 49ers.

For his part, Ito toured the sights in a gray suit, carrying a small soft briefcase.

The 12 jurors and nine alternates made four stops on their trip, pausing outside the apartment building where Goldman lived and gazing through the windows of Mezzaluna, the restaurant where he worked and where Nicole Simpson ate her last meal. But the real highlights of the day were the murder scene and Simpson's estate.

At both of those stops, the jurors clambered out of their bus and silently toured in small groups, observing areas that they have heard described in testimony but doing so without being allowed to ask questions or make comments. They were escorted at each stop by sheriff's deputies and lawyers for each side, there to guard against any improper conduct.

Although they could not ask questions, the panelists took notes as they toured, some appearing to extensively record their observations. At Nicole Simpson's condominium, one juror even scanned trees and neighbors' houses, soaking up the scene and logging his notes in a pad.

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