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THE SIMPSON VERDICTS : Valley Rejoices, Recoils at Jury's Verdict : Reaction: As trial outcome is announced, a moment of silence erupts into happy shouts and mutters of disgust.

October 04, 1995|DOUG SMITH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Finally, the year of emotional cacophony that had been the O.J. Simpson trial came to an end in one universal moment of silence.

From an aerospace plant in Northridge to a coffee shop in San Fernando to a courthouse in Van Nuys, the Valley listened and watched, drawn, like the rest of America, to the communal television set.

Here is how the San Fernando Valley saw the O.J. Simpson verdicts.

At Pancake Heaven, a coffee shop in San Fernando:

Customers lingered at the door, the cook came out from the kitchen and two machinists popped in from their shop across the street to join a mixed crowd of about 20, falling deathly silent as the verdict was read.

"I won my $20," shouted waitress Claudia Cota, who had followed her mind, not her heart, in a bet with work mate Stella M. Biggs.

"Hallelujah," shouted Terri McFadden, the 50-year-old black minister of the nearby Christ Memorial Church. McFadden thought O.J. was guilty but was happy he was acquitted.

"However it goes, O.J. will never be free," McFadden said. "If he is guilty, God is going to deal with him. At least this way we won't have a riot."

At Haven Hills, a shelter for victims of domestic violence in the West Valley:

The circle of sofas where the women hold discussions were rearranged around a black-and-white TV set brought by a staffer.

The nine women currently boarding in the 1940s garden-style apartment building gathered with their children, the older ones on recess from the on-site school. Some stood, some sat on the sofas, and the children sat on the floor.

"Everybody was very, very quiet," Executive Director Betty Fisher said.

After the verdicts were read, Fisher heard someone crying softly and saw a woman on a sofa with a toddler on her lap and a daughter, 4 or 5, leaning against her. A staffer went to her.

"I wonder how many more services we're going to need now," Fisher said, venting her own disappointment with the verdict. "They surged dramatically after June of last year," when the murders occurred.

At the student union at Cal State Northridge:

An estimated 500 students, faculty and staff stood shoulder-to-shoulder in the Matador Lounge to watch the big-screen television. Signs on the wall warned: "Today is OJ Day. Don't change the T.V. or you will be asked to leave the room."

Professors canceled lectures. Students played hooky.

"Oh God, at 10 o'clock nobody's going to be in class. No way," said Lisa Zacharias, an 18-year-old business major from Encino.

The excitement diminished to nervous rustling and giggles as the jury entered the courtroom. At the first "Not guilty," the lounge exploded in cheers. Students jumped up and down and hugged. Alicia Smith, 22, a social sciences major from South-Central Los Angeles, danced around the room singing: "O.J.'s going home."

She was in the majority.

"This school has a lot of minority students, a lot of young people who believe the system is corrupt," said David Pugliese, 18, of Panorama City. "They see O.J., a minority, and they think he's getting the short end of the stick."

Outside, in the courtyard, university officials set up a microphone for students to discuss their feelings. It went unused.

Those who disagreed with the verdict either left quickly or spoke quietly at the edge of the crowd.

"You just watch, a year from now, he'll have his own talk show," said Raul Gonzales, a 20-year-old business major from West Los Angeles.

In City Hall Downtown:

Standing among her staff in the anteroom of her second-floor office, West Valley Councilwoman Laura Chick alternately wrung her hands and plunged clenched fists into the pockets of her canary yellow jacket.

"I'm really anxious. I've got sweating palms," she said, unwilling to make a prediction.

"Oh, God," she exclaimed, turning away from the TV at the words "Not guilty."

Eyes starting to tear, a look of disgust on her face, Chick went out for a cigarette and to ruminate.

"Now, we've got to start repairing the morale of the LAPD that's been on trial," the chairwoman of the council's Public Safety Committee said. "I wish I could think of something to say to bolster the department's morale, but it's not simplistic."

At James Monroe High School in North Hills:

About 80 students filtered into the mock courtroom at the government and law magnet school to watch a small television.

Junior Nick Cavaiani shook, breathed heavily and looked nauseated.

Then the classroom erupted in cheers and whooping.

"Justice! They couldn't convict him. There was no way, thank God," said Cavaiani, 16. "It's a lack of evidence, that's all it is."

The school has used the trial extensively over the past year to teach the legal system.

And, though many teachers seemed shocked by the verdict, they tried not to show it, insisting that they wanted to support children's belief in the jury system.

"It's been an incredibly helpful teaching tool," said Marti Sutherland, a law and literature teacher. "You can't teach adolescents today without making things relevant."

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