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Crime and punishment


IT WAS 1999, and the O.J. Simpson trial had reached the halfway mark. The prediction was that by the year 2000 the defense would call its first witness.

Judge Ito had been appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court and had withdrawn from the case. He was replaced by Judge Geraldo Rivera, who had earned a law degree in 1996 and had been appointed to the bench by Gov. Sonny Bono.

By this time there was only one juror left.

Everyone else had been eliminated for one reason or another. Some had had nervous breakdowns, six had been shot by marshals when they rioted over the quality of the food, two had been discovered trying to get O.J. to autograph their footballs and one juror was caught kicking Marcia Clark in the shins.

The final juror was Larry Siegel, who had managed to survive by never talking to the other jurors and sticking cotton in his ears during the trial in the courtroom.

Ordinarily, the judge would have preferred 12 jurors, as would the defense and prosecution, but neither side wanted a mistrial, and so they agreed to try the case with only Larry.

Siegel was disappointed with their decision, particularly since his wife had stopped coming to the hotel for conjugal visits, claiming that the thrill was gone. He was also tired of the case itself. During the five years of the trial he had been permitted to hear only 15 minutes of evidence. The rest of the time he was sequestered while the lawyers argued their cases before the judge.

There were some advantages to Larry being the solitary juror. He had the entire hotel floor set aside for the Simpson jury all to himself. His first request had been for a table tennis paddle so he could play Ping-Pong against the wall.

Another advantage was that, even though he was all alone, the hotel continued to send up 12 meals to the suite so he had a big choice of desserts.

Every so often a marshal would report to the judge that Larry was talking to himself and kept asking to see President Clinton. Nobody was permitted to tell Larry that Clinton was no longer President and had been replaced by Steven Spielberg.

Finally, it was Larry's birthday. His mother baked him a beautiful key lime pie with a single candle on it. She also put a hacksaw blade at the bottom.

That evening Larry sawed his way out of the hotel bedroom window and, with sheets tied together, climbed down to the street. He ran into the first bar he saw and asked them to turn on Court TV so that he could watch its team of experts.

After an hour he knew that he was compromised and the judge had to throw him off the jury. Thus on April 30, 1999, with a complete lack of a jury, Judge Rivera was forced to call a mistrial, and everyone involved in the most famous trial of our time had to start all over again.

Art Buchwald is a syndicated columnist

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