Thirteen jurors and alternates in the O.J. Simpson case protested coming to court Friday because of the dismissal of three deputies guarding the panel, a sheriff's deparment source said.
The panelists asked to speak to the judge and were told they had to come to court to do that, because the judge wouldn't come to them.The sheriff's official said the jurors and alternates involved were on their way to the Criminal Courts Building. Some were wearing black.
Superior Court Judge Lance Ito on Thursday ordered that the three deputies be removed, apparently in response to complaints by a dismissed juror that some white
members of the panel got preferential treatment.
The judge's decision angered Sheriff Sherman Block, who said the judge didn't even interview the deputies involved.
"I just think it is wholly inappropriate to take the action that he did relative to these deputies," Block said, adding that the slow pace of the trial was to blame for juror discontent.
"I have every confidence that the deputies performed their duties professionally and consistent with their responsibility," he said.
The turmoil came the day after one juror, a 25-year-old black woman, told Ito, "I can't take it anymore." She asked to be released from the case, according to a transcript of her comments. There was no immediate action for her request.
Thursday was the 100th day of sequestration. Jury-related problems shifted the trial's focus away from the start of testimony by a rookie criminalist who collected most of the evidence in the case.
Commenting before Friday's developments, law professor Myrna Raeder of Southwestern University said Ito made "an excellent decision" - even if the deputies didn't do anything wrong.
"It really seems to me if enough individuals have a perception that the deputies were exacerbating racial tension, then they should be removed, because the comfort of the jury panel as a whole is what we have to ensure," Raeder said.
Meanwhile, criminalist Andrea Mazzola took the witness stand following nine days of testimony by her supervisor, Dennis Fung. Mazzola, who returns to court Friday, testified about minor paperwork lapses and inconsistencies in her statements, but no serious errors were elicited.
Simpson's lawyers have accused Mazzola of bungling evidence collection. She told the jury that she immediately logged every item she handled but one - a vial containing Simpson's blood, which wasn't booked until June 14, 1994, the day after it was collected.
Asked by prosecutor Hank Goldberg why she waited, Mazzola said, "Our checklist was locked in the back of the truck and we had to get back (to the crime lab) to prepare evidence."
Defense attorneys have seized upon the handling of the former football star's blood sample as the touchstone of their frame-up defense. They say the detective who carried the blood about 20 miles from police headquarters to Simpson's home did not give it to Fung that evening, as the prosecution maintains. That could have given police the opportunity to scatter Simpson's blood at his estate and at the murder scene to frame him, the defense says.
Defender wants O.J. to testify
F. Lee Bailey says O.J. Simpson should testify in his own defense - even though it could hurt his case - because he needs to become a hero again to the public.
"Silence, even though legally proper and strategically a good idea, is not acceptable to the big jury out there that's going to decide whether or not to let O.J. Simpson run through airports again," the Simpson attorney said in an interview with David Frost.
Simpson is accused of murdering his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman.
Bailey, a member of the high-priced defense "Dream Team," also predicted that the costs of the trial "will break O.J."