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When a jury won't even deliberate


I HAVE COVERED nearly every high-profile trial in this nation, including the speedy acquittals and speedy convictions of many famous defendants, but never have I seen anything like what the O.J. Simpson jury did last week.

It's not what the Simpson jury said; it was how the jury said it.

"Not guilty, not guilty" were their verdicts and it was their right to bring them. But did they have the right to ignore the time-worn judicial admonition? In fairness to both sides, do not deliberate, do not make up your minds, do not discuss the evidence until you get the case. This is the foundation of the U.S. jury system.

Did they have the right to tell the world, by returning a verdict in less than three hours of deliberation, that despite their oaths to obey that admonition, their minds were made up so firmly that they did not have to discuss the months of testimony and mountains of evidence?

When the murder trials of Charles Manson and his three "family" members ended, a jury that had been sequestered for 10 months convicted the four defendants -- to the surprise of no one.

This was a case involving senseless slaughter of innocent victims by repellent defendants. No one, not even the defense attorneys, could hope for acquittal. The three young women defendants confessed to the murders on the witness stand. But for more than a week, the Manson jurors deliberated, as they had promised they would. When the defendants were convicted, you felt that there had been perhaps some attempt by the jurors to consider both sides.

The Jack Ruby jury

It took more than three hours for Jack Ruby's jurors to convict him, even though millions saw him on television when he killed President Kennedy's alleged assassin. His Dallas jurors were sequestered throughout his trial, in cells in the same jailhouse where Ruby was kept. Their verdict was returned the same day, but they deliberated more than three hours over evidence presented during a trial that lasted a month.

The conviction of Patty Hearst was speedy and so was the acquittal of Angela Davis. Both were highly controversial cases -- but there was nothing to compare with the shocking three-hour deliberation of the Simpson jury.

A former trial reporter on the East Coast, who covered the Claus Von Bulow and Jean Harris trials with me, was one of the first to telephone when it was learned that the jurors had spent only three hours in deliberation.

What this reporter wanted to know was: Is this the end of the jury trial as we knew it, when we trusted the jury?

I couldn't answer.

Theo Wilson covered many high-profile trials for the New Yor Daily News, including those of Sam Sheppard, the Boston Strangler, Sirhan Sirhan and John DeLorean. She is writing a book about the trials.

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