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THE SIMPSON VERDICTS : Joyful Jurors Celebrate End of Hotel Stay : Lodgings: Panelists hold party and sing songs at the Inter-Continental. Their location was supposed to be hush-hush, but a lot of people seemed to know.

October 04, 1995|SHAWN HUBLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

What they were celebrating, everyone knew--but no one would say. Not Monday night. If their verdict was stunning, the world could wait til morning to be stunned. After 265 nights, the O.J. Simpson jury was marking the end of its court-ordered hotel stay. And nice as the digs were, the way they figured it, the situation called for a toast.

"It was incredible," said Jeanette Baker, the in-house pianist at the Hotel Inter-Continental, where the jurors celebrated their last night of sequestration Monday with an extremely private champagne blowout in the penthouse presidential suite.

"It was like a family reunion. They sang 'Come On Baby, Let the Good Times Roll' and 'Stormy Monday Blues.' We had one 72-year-old juror who did a dance, sort of like a little old soft-shoe."

And at the end, after they tossed back the last of the California champagne and nibbled the final salmon-on-toast canape, they hugged one another, hugged the pianist, even hugged the head of housekeeping and the pastry chef.

After all, said Lewis N. Fader, the Inter-Continental's general manager, "they'd been here a long time and felt they'd accomplished something. I think they were just happy to have survived."

For more than nine months, until the verdict was announced, the Inter-Continental was home to the 12 jurors and two remaining alternates. Their sequestration took place in a cluster of standard, $180-a-night rooms for which the county paid less than $100 a night. Just a few blocks from the Downtown courthouse, the hotel was built in 1992.

Their airy beige quarters, with king-sized beds and hotel art, were of the sort a business traveler might expect. But, for them, the Zenith TVs in the oak armoires were inoperable for the duration of their stay, as were the phones. And when the jurors left the building, they had to use the service elevator while a deputy stood guard.

No one was supposed to know the jurors were there, of course--it was all very hush-hush--but the secret naturally leaked out that they could be found under tight security on the fifth floor, the floor on which the elevator didn't stop.

Who told? No one knew. But somehow word got out, to the point that Robert Dubec, night desk clerk, would get businessmen who had just gotten off planes at LAX wandering into the lobby with sly references to "your important clientele."

"I'd say, 'How'd you find out? No one is supposed to know!' " Dubec said, laughing. "And they'd say, 'I hear the [juror] with the blond hair is the one to watch.' "

People everywhere seemed to know. Two radio deejays in Denver joked in September that it would be easy to smoke out the Simpson 12: All you had to do was jump off the Inter-Continental elevator at every floor and yell, "Conjugal visits!" Real loud.

On Tuesday, however, the speculation ended, and the hotel could finally confirm it: Yes, the rumors were true. Yes, the jury slept here. And yes, they were very glad to be going home. So glad, in fact, that they didn't even bother to take home a souvenir hotel towel.

"We made every effort to limit the knowledge that they were in this hotel," Fader said. "Security was extremely high."

The stairwell doors to the fifth floor, which the jurors had all to themselves, could only open from the inside. Hotel records listed each juror by various one-word pseudonyms, "code words so weird you'd never guess," Fader said.

Fewer than 30 hotel staffers even knew for sure they were there--Fader did not get to meet them until the reception and steak dinner Monday night. Only half a dozen trusted maids and two food servers cleaned their rooms and delivered their meals. And heard their complaints--about their isolation, their boredom, the rich hotel food.

On their last night, however, all was forgiven. They gathered around Baker's baby grand and giddily autographed one another's commemorative menus. On Tuesday morning, they would walk free again, as free as the man whose fate had quivered in their hands all this time.

Below them, as they gazed out the floor-to-ceiling windows of the penthouse suite, all of Los Angeles was at their feet--the city streets, the tall skyscrapers and in the foreground, the courtyard of the Museum of Contemporary Art, with its magnificent public sculpture by the artist Claes Oldenburg.

If they saw any irony in the 17-story view, nary a juror let on. As Oldenburg's sculpture--a massive, mysterious, unsheathed knife--opened and slowly closed, the jurors poured another round and swayed to the pianist's rendition of "Unforgettable."

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