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The Trial: Monday, 6/12/95

June 14, 1995|PETER H. KING

The first impression of the courtroom is that, like all television sound stages, it's smaller and shabbier than it appears on the screen. The players also look uniformly smaller, and thinner. Computer wires and extension cords run along the floor and railings, bound together with duct tape. The blue chairs occupied by jurors are stained and threadbare. On one, duct tape has been used to mend the upholstery. A courtroom lashed together by duct tape--now there's a metaphor for the legal analysts.

*

Judge Lance A. Ito lifts a coffee mug to his lips. Scrawled on the bottom with a black marker, and visible to everybody in court, is "6-12," the date. The 12th of June, of course, is a monumental day in Ito's realm; on June 12 last year, Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman were murdered. Thus, the mysterious cup markings give rise to theories among the court regulars.

Maybe Ito intends to save this particular mug for posterity, to turn it over, say, to the Smithsonian. . . . Perhaps someone surreptitiously marked up His Honor's cup, but who, and why? . . . Is his water being tested for poison? . . . Did he lose a bet? Maybe months ago, when the Trial of the Century was fresh and hope that it might actually end someday still ran high, he promised to drink from a certain mug if--on the anniversary date--the case had not concluded.

This is easy work, speculating. The Simpson matter has nurtured a national talent for spinning theories. All good Americans by now believe they have figured out what really went down that night in Brentwood, and what will come of it. They have made their case to family, friends, clients, work mates, teammates, neighbors and strangers met in saloons. They have a theory, as the saying goes, and are sticking to it--no matter what the evidence suggests. This might explain the case's extraordinary staying power: It's simply become the national parlor game. That's one theory, anyway.

*

Geraldo Rivera is in court. Earlier, he turned heads in the hallway greeting a deputy district attorney. "Why is he talking to the prosecution?" a woman in the O.J.-is-being-framed camp sniffed. "Geraldo should not be talking to the prosecution."

During a break, bailiffs escort Rivera toward Ito's chambers. "I've got it confirmed," a reporter announces moments later. "Geraldo's in chambers. Geraldo's in chambers." Some members of the press corps are not pleased. They already are peeved with Ito, perceiving that he had mocked them in the morning as they lined up for looks at the autopsy photos. And now he's chatting up Geraldo, star-to-star. Grumble. Grumble.

*

O.J., once the main attraction, now seems more like a prop. He slouches at the defense table, filling yellow legal pads with notes, conversing frequently with his lawyers in what he must intend as a whisper. His whisper, however, is more like a growl--a low, steady rumble that carries, almost audible, across the courtroom, competing as background noise with the air conditioner. The attorneys appear to rotate the job of listening.

*

To drop into the trial for a day is an unsettling experience. An inevitable clannishness has developed among the regulars, attorneys and reporters alike, and strangers are noticed.

"Who are you? " Marcia Clark wants to know.

"I'm with the Los Angeles Times," she is told.

The prosecutor lifts an eyebrow, unconvinced.

"I thought," she says, "I knew them all."

A low-grade paranoia envelops the courtroom. A trial gadfly counsels a newcomer to the back row: "Laugh if everyone else laughs, but stop your laugh early. Don't be the last one laughing. That will get you in trouble." A juror starts to doze, catches himself and quickly glances about to see who has noticed. Reporters make little jokes about how to suck on candies without being caught by Ito. Two remote control cameras silently scan the courtroom from a wall behind the jurors. Another eye-in-the-sky camera peers down from the ceiling through a gray plastic bubble. Bailiffs stare at jurors, who in turn seem careful not to make eye contact with one another. The judge himself periodically sweeps his eyes across the courtroom, watching.

*

The testimony this afternoon is considered bland. The coroner with the impossible name is reviewing autopsy mistakes made by a colleague. As the witness drones on, Shapiro reads his mail. O.J. puffs his cheeks and grimaces toward the ceiling. Clark and Darden, not involved in this examination, pass notes: "You work too . . . hard," one teases the other. The jurors watch the clock. And at 5 p.m., they all scatter. One day--no, one year--down; the end nowhere in sight.

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