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Facts led to verdict, Simpson jurors say

Panelists reject a defense charge that their decision was 'payback' for the 1995 murder trial result.

October 05, 2008|Harriet Ryan and Ashley Powers | Times Staff Writers

LAS VEGAS — Was it what he did in a $39-a-night hotel room in Las Vegas last year, or what many people think he did on a dark sidewalk in Brentwood 14 years ago?

A day after a jury convicted O.J. Simpson of armed robbery, kidnapping and 10 other charges, an attorney for the former NFL star dismissed the guilty finding as "payback" from a largely white jury for Simpson's 1995 murder acquittal.

But jurors said they were focused solely on the case at hand.

"We went out of our way not to mention that," juror Fred Jones said, referring to the racially charged "trial of the century" in which a mostly black jury found Simpson not guilty of killing his ex-wife and her friend.

The retired steel salesman acknowledged that he thought the Hall of Famer killed Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman in 1994 but said he had put it aside during 13 hours of deliberations.

"That was never, never in our thoughts," he said.

The foreman, Paul Connelly, called the Los Angeles acquittal "fair" and said the slayings "really didn't come up" in jury room discussions.

"I honestly believe in my heart of hearts that it did not" affect the verdict, said Connelly, 41, a mechanical engineer.

The jurors' finding -- guilty on all counts -- was a complete rejection of Simpson's defense. His legal team laid much of the blame on the process of selecting jurors. Prosecutors purposely excluded African Americans, the defense charged, and the judge prevented them from pressing other prospective jurors on their opinions of the football great.

There were 11 white jurors and one Latino.

"I firmly believe [the case] was lost the night we picked the jury," Simpson's longtime attorney, Yale Galanter, said.

Judge Jackie Glass ruled then that prosecutors had "race-neutral" reasons for using peremptory challenges to remove two African Americans. Galanter said the defense was hindered further when the judge cut off questioning of other panelists who said they could be unbiased even when their questionnaires indicated they had strong opinions.

"We had people who would say, 'I think he murdered Ron and Nicole. I hate the fact that he wrote the book. I don't like his life. He definitely murdered them.' But if they checked the 'fair and impartial' box, they were in the pool," Galanter said.

Edited jury questionnaires released by the judge Saturday show that several of the 12 jurors said they disagreed with the 1995 Simpson verdict. Most others were uncertain or did not answer the question.

The attorney said jury selection would be "the cornerstone" of an appeal. Simpson, 61, faces 15 years to life in prison when he is sentenced Dec. 5.

A high-profile jury consultant who helped prosecutors select the jury rejected Galanter's suggestion that the panel was exacting revenge rather than considering the facts of the case.

"What else is he supposed to say? Jurors are conscientious, and more so when they are under a microscope as they were in this case," said Howard Varinsky, who worked with prosecutors in the Scott Peterson, Martha Stewart and Timothy McVeigh trials.

The two jurors described deliberations that appeared to lack the drama and emotion that often accompany discussions of Simpson's murder trial. They said the panel worked methodically through the 24 counts -- a dozen for Simpson and a dozen for his codefendant, Clarence Stewart, who was also convicted on all charges. They said they paid scant attention to testimony about Simpson's 1997 civil trial and the efforts by the Goldman family to recover their share of that $33.5-million judgment.

They also said his fame was not a factor. "We were not enthralled by his celebrity-ship. There are other famous football players," Connelly said.

Instead, the panel focused on extensive surreptitious recordings, the use of weapons and robbery law as it related to Simpson's defense, the foreman and fellow juror Jones said.

The hours of secret tapes captured the confrontation with the dealers as well as conversations surrounding the incident. "We played those recordings over and over and over," Jones said.

Portions of the tapes contradicted Simpson's assertion that he never saw any guns during the encounter and never asked two associates to arm themselves.

The onetime USC running back claimed he and five associates went to the Palace Station Hotel & Casino on Sept. 13, 2007, to recover family heirlooms and other personal mementos stolen by an ex-agent.

Under the Nevada robbery statute, who owns the property that was taken is irrelevant. By disputing the provenance of the memorabilia, the defense appeared to be trying to persuade jurors to ignore that.

The jurors, however, said they used the legal instructions given by the judge as a guide. The panelists decided that even if some of the $100,000 in sports memorabilia seized belonged to Simpson, a crime still occurred, Connelly said.

"There were several ways that things could have been returned to him. I didn't think the proper way was chosen," Connelly said.

Jones said jurors also focused on the law as it applied to guns. He said the recordings and the testimony of others present in the hotel room convinced him that two men were armed. But, he said, he initially struggled with the idea that Simpson could be guilty of weapons offenses when he never touched a gun. Ultimately, the legal instructions convinced him, he said.

Galanter met with Simpson in jail Saturday afternoon and said Simpson was "obviously disappointed" and eager to start the appeals process. Simpson is permitted to call witnesses at his sentencing but is unlikely to do so given the 15-year minimum prison term.

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harriet.ryan@latimes.com

ashley.powers@latimes.com

Times researchers Cary Schneider and James Kim contributed to this report.

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