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Simpson Told of Verdict, Book Claims

Trial: But two jurors dispute report that he was tipped about acquittal before its announcement.

September 07, 1996|STEPHANIE SIMON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

O.J. Simpson found out he would be acquitted on murder charges the night before the verdicts were announced in court, thanks to jurors who tipped off sheriff's deputies at a farewell party, according to a new book on the trial.

However, two jurors disputed the account of journalist Jeffrey Toobin, a reporter for New Yorker magazine. And a book by one of Simpson's defense lawyers, Robert L. Shapiro, also casts doubt on the assertion that the former football great knew he would be cleared. Shapiro wrote that Simpson confided he slept only 20 minutes the night before the verdicts were announced, and looked haggard and drawn as he entered court to learn his fate.

But Toobin, in an interview with "Dateline NBC," provided a detailed description of just how Simpson allegedly learned the verdicts early. Toobin said a juror passed news of the verdicts to the two alternate panelists who sat through the criminal trial but did not participate in deliberations, using the code letter "n" for "not guilty." The alternates then told a sheriff's deputy who was celebrating with them in their hotel, Toobin said.

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"One of the sheriffs put in a call to his buddy who was guarding O.J. They said 'O.J.'s walking,' " Toobin recounted. As Simpson waited in his cell, he added, a guard said, "I want your autograph tonight because you're going home tomorrow."

A sheriff's spokesman said he could not comment on Toobin's allegations until he reads the book, which is scheduled to go on sale Monday at $25 a copy. "It's something that needs to be looked into and it's something we will look into, but we're not in a position to do anything at this time," Deputy Bill Martin said.

Two jurors reached Friday declined to comment in detail about their party the night before the verdicts were announced, but did say they never heard even a whisper about anyone leaking word to the deputies.

"Sounds like a myth to me," juror Carrie Bess said. "We made a vow [not to talk about the case] when we took our oaths in court." Even if a juror did try to slip word to the deputies, Bess said, "I don't think they would have listened. They weren't the type that would have discussed it."

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The jurors had reached their verdicts on Oct. 2, but Superior Court Judge Lance A. Ito delayed the announcement until the next morning.

Reached at the New Yorker on Friday, Toobin would not disclose his sources, saying he has promised both his publisher and NBC that he will not give interviews until next week. His only public comments came in an NBC press release that quoted from his interview with Jane Pauley.

Asked about Simpson's expression of stunned relief when the verdicts were read, Toobin told Pauley: "One of the things I've learned since the trial is that one of the most famous moments in television history, which is that shot of O.J., is fundamentally a fraud because he looked surprised, but he wasn't."

Toobin's book, "The Run of His Life," also asserts that two defense lawyers told friends they believed their client guilty of the June 1994 murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Lyle Goldman.

Although both Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. and Shapiro loudly proclaimed Simpson's innocence, "they wanted to tell their friends that they knew the score . . . they knew O.J. Simpson had killed these people," Toobin told "Dateline." The day Simpson was arrested, Toobin said, Cochran told a friend that the former football great was "just in massive denial" and suggested that he should plead guilty.

At that point, Cochran had not been retained by Simpson.

Cochran on Friday faxed a statement calling Toobin's account "an unmitigated, bold-faced lie." Asserting that Toobin's reporting was consistently biased in favor of the prosecution, Cochran wrote: "My experience has taught me that you cannot trust much of what Jeffrey Toobin writes or reports."

Shapiro did not return a call Friday seeking comment.

In his own book, Shapiro insists that he never considered urging Simpson to plea bargain. And when people pump him for his innermost belief about his client's innocence, Shapiro wrote, he gives a stock answer: "I wasn't there, you weren't there. Ultimately, it is a matter to be decided by the court."

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