Less than a day after beginning deliberations in the murder trial of O.J. Simpson--and after having one witness's testimony read back--jurors reached verdicts Monday afternoon, a stunning announcement that shocked Simpson, legal analysts, police and the enormous national television audience long riveted to the case.
The verdicts were sealed overnight and will be read at 10 a.m. today. The Los Angeles Police Department, where officials said they are optimistic that the verdicts will not trigger violence, nevertheless plan to declare a tactical alert this morning.
Mayor Richard Riordan cut short a two-week city trade mission to Asia and headed home.
"In important times, it's my responsibility to be with my fellow Angelenos," Riordan said in Japan before boarding a plane for Los Angeles.
Riordan said the city had made security plans months ago. "We are prepared for anything," he said.
With Riordan en route home, the White House and the governor's office both promised local officials that additional resources were available if needed. Acting Mayor Joel Wachs met with Police Chief Willie L. Williams to discuss the city's plans.
"We went over, detail by detail, all of the plans from this moment into the foreseeable future," said Wachs, who emphasized that all signs indicated residents are prepared to accept the verdicts calmly but that police wanted to be braced for anything. "I feel totally, totally confident that we have prepared for all scenarios. We're ready. We're prepared."
Word that the trial had reached a conclusion weeks ahead of most estimates arrived shortly before 3 p.m., when jurors alerted Superior Court Judge Lance A. Ito to let him know that they were finished. Summoned to his courtroom a few minutes later, Ito greeted the 10-woman, two-man panel by saying he understood that it had reached verdicts.
"Is that correct, madam foreman?" he asked the woman, a 51-year-old vendor from South-Central, who was tapped last Friday by her peers to lead the panel.
"Yes," she responded.
Ito asked for the envelope containing the forms. Slightly flustered, the forewoman admitted that she had left it in the jury room. Ito replied that that was "not a good place for it," and a Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy escorted her back to the room.
There, she retrieved the envelope, returned to court and turned it over for overnight safekeeping.
The extraordinarily swift conclusion to a trial that took nine months to present in court appeared to amaze Simpson, who has pleaded not guilty to the June 12, 1994, murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Lyle Goldman. He blinked several times at the news and stood next to attorney Carl E. Douglas as the panel filed out of the room. Simpson then turned, absent-mindedly dropped his pen on the defense table and walked slowly from the courtroom toward the lockup.
With one exception, jurors did not make eye contact with Simpson as they delivered word of their verdicts. But legal analysts, reluctant to read too much into the gestures of jurors, declined to speculate on what their quick work portended.
Simpson's shock at the news contrasted with his upbeat mood over the weekend, said a colleague who met with him. Larry Schiller, a writer who co-authored Simpson's jailhouse book, said the defendant was "very up, very positive. He was looking forward to seeing his children and thinking about the impact of the verdict."
Defense lawyers and prosecutors declined to speculate on the meaning of the jury's quick work. Johnnie L. Cochran Jr., Simpson's lead trial lawyer, was so sure that verdicts would not be ready until later this week that he had left town. Cochran was notified by his staff of the news and hastily returned to be by his client's side for the reading of the verdicts.
Arriving in Los Angeles Monday evening, Cochran noted that conventional wisdom is that quick verdicts are good for defendants. But he declined to speculate on the significance of the jury's action.
Douglas, the only member of Simpson's legal team in court when the jury announced that it was finished, described himself as "stunned by the speed," a sentiment echoed by other members of the defense and prosecution teams.
"I'm very surprised," said Gerald F. Uelmen, a veteran lawyer in the Simpson camp. "I can't think of any comparable situation. . . . I have been telling everyone two weeks. I booked an early-morning flight. I will be there."
Peter Neufeld, who returned home to New York over the weekend, said he too was completely taken by surprise.
"I was strolling home from work on the Brooklyn Bridge," he said. "Someone stopped me on the Brooklyn Bridge. I wasn't even wearing my watch. I was looking at the sunset over the harbor. I was surprised. . . . I'm stunned."