CNN O.J. Simpson Trial

Returned verdict catches everyone off guard

CNN Correspondent gives first-hand view of courtroom during announcement


October 3, 1995
Web posted at: 1:00 a.m. EDT

From Correspondent Art Harris

LOS ANGELES (CNN) - After a mid-afternoon coffee break, prosecutors Bill Hodgman and Christopher Darden got the word: a verdict had been reached and they were off to the courtroom.

It so surprised everyone that only one Simpson lawyer was present, Carl Douglas. Lead prosecutor Marcia Clark had taken the day off to be with her children. Only a handful of reporters were on hand, and I wound up in a seat on the front row closest to the jury.

As they filed in, I watched them closely and not one juror appeared to look Simpson in the eye. Several looked around the room and at the judge, poker faced as usual, but all appeared to avert their eyes from Simpson. As they filed in, Simpson stood ramrod straight, tilting slightly forward on the balls of his feet, his double breasted jacket unbuttoned. He looked almost imploringly at the jury, with a wan, sort of half-smile on his face.

Then, after they acknowledged they had a verdict and filed out, Simpson let out a sigh that was loud enought to almost echo in the courtroom, as if he were deflating. He looked grim-faced, as did his attorney Carl Douglas.

Although quick verdicts where jurors don't look at the defendant can suggest a guilty verdict, prosecutors weren't predicting what it meant.

One prosecutor said it could mean the worst for their case: what if the jury had not even bothered to look at the evidence and reached a not guilty verdict? "If they didn't bother to look at the evidence, that could mean they ignored the judge's order and were themselves guilty of irresponsibility, even misconduct."

Other prosecutors said they weren't so quick to see the decision that way, however, but the mood outside their offices on the 18th floor of the Los Angeles County Criminal Courts building was tense. Everyone was nervous with anticipation.

In an exclusive telephone interview with CNN, Marcia Clark said she had "never in my life, predicted juries" because they are unpredictable. In this case, however, she was as stunned as everyone. "I've had quick verdicts before, but I've never heard of such a quick verdict in a case with so many special circumstances," Clark said.

She was in her car, and her two small sons could be heard yelling the background. She was "relieved," she told CNN, that it was coming to an end, and she would be able to spend more time with her boys and get her life back to normal. "I'm relieved there's a verdict," whatever it is, she remarked, "because it means I don't have to retry it."

Reacting to the verdict, F. Lee Bailey scoffed at some pundits who were predicting a guilty one. "How could they convict in four hours?" asked Bailey.

Bailey also added, "No jury has convicted a man in four hours."

"So that's a statement of confidence?" Bailey was asked.

"You bet," he answered.

Asked how he saw a jury that didn't look at his client when they filed in, he insisted, "It doesn't mean anything if they don't look at him, if they don't look at him and then look at the floor, maybe," said Bailey.

As to what the rapid verdict means for Simpson, Bailey said, "I think it means not guilty. I've never seen such a fast guilty verdict like this unless it was open and shut like the Susan Smith case and the jury had no choice."

Another member of the defense team also put a not guilty spin on the fast verdict saying to find him guilty would require them to spend time debating whether it was first degree murder, second degree or a combination of both. "A case this complex, to come to such a quick verdict has to mean they threw the prosecution case out. It sounds like there were no deliberations."

In fact, while several prosecutors appeared confident after the Park testimony was called for by the jury, they told CNN they were surprised they stopped short of asking that the portion be reread that describes a six-foot 200 pound figure walking across Simpson's driveway that night.

"I'm worried," one prosecutor confided. But Christopher Darden was cool and more upbeat. "I've seen it go both ways when there's a quick verdict," said Darden.


Copyright © 1995 Cable News Network, Inc.