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COMPANIES COURT THE O.J. JURY

SHARE COMPANIES COURT THE O.J. JURY

For leisure-oriented businesses, the O.J. Simpson jury is a natural market: adults cooped up for hours on end with nowhere to go.

Dozens of companies have been donating exercise equipment, electronic games, televisions and movies to help the sequestered panelists pass the time.The only hitch: The amusements cannot make even oblique reference to the double-murder trial or anything else "too controversial."

The example, the instruction manual for a "Draw Today" portrait kit contains photographs of many famous people, but "O.J. Simpson is NOT among them," the court was assured by Ross Sarracino, president of Walter Foster Publishing Inc. in Tustin, Calif.

The prohibition against controversial material also made for some tame cinematic offerings.

"We actually started watching `Carlito's Way' and they pulled it. Some murder scene," said Jeanette Harris, who was kicked off the panel in April.

Donors haven't received many rewards in return, other than prompt thank-you notes from Superior Court Judge Lance Ito, who's sort of camp director to the remaining 12 jurors and two alternates.

But publicity has been beside the point for many gift-givers.

"In all honesty, we didn't tell anyone we were doing it," said Marc Rosenberg, public relations director for Tiger Electronics in suburban Chicago. He sent 16 copies of the hand-held electronic brain teaser "Lights Out," which challenges players to turn out a series of lights in the fewest possible moves.

Although most gifts were unsolicited, concern for the jurors' mental and physical health did lead the judge to pursue loans of fitness equipment, videos and yarn for crocheting, said Jerrianne Hayslett, a spokeswoman for Ito.

"There were a lot of jurors that complained that they had to have this, and had to have that," Harris said.

Two kinds of stationary bikes, a treadmill and a stair-stepper were loaned by LifeFitness, based in Franklin Park, Ill., because chief executive officer Augie Nieto found Ito's request compelling.

"It was strictly to help the jurors out. It seemed sincere," said Judy Sullivan, Nieto's assistant. After the trial ends, the company will donate the equipment, valued at about $8,000, to charity.

NordicTrack of Chaska, Minn., furnished a cross-country ski machine, a treadmill and a home gym, valued together at about $2,500.

NordicTrack "decided to do it . . . . because we knew it was going for the jurors' use. It is not something probably we would have dreamed up on our own," company spokesman Don Cowan said.

At least one female juror has been showing significant weight loss, which might be related to the availability of the exercise machines.

Others, however, appear to have packed on some pounds, possibly because of free meals provided by several restaurants.

When Ito learned jurors were squabbling about television viewing, he turned to Paul "The King of Big Screen" Goldenberg, owner of Paul's in La Habra, Calif.

Goldenberg responded with two 45-inch Mitsubishi sets, valued at about $6,000, that he'll eventually give to a boy's club.

"I feel for those people going through seven or eight months of being locked up. They're more a prisoner than O.J.," he said.

The King was twice rewarded. A day after the sets arrived Ito mentioned in open court that there had been improvements in "Cinema I and Cinema II" and said it would be nice "to thank the King."

Two weeks later, Ito signed off a personal note with: "P.S., You are the King!"

A local Blockbuster Video lends at least five tapes a week. Universal Studios provided two movies that hadn't yet made it to the stores. Orion Pictures sent a messenger with a copy of "Blue Sky," for which Jessica Lange won an Academy Award.

Some of the hottest watching has been episodes of Fox's sometimes steamy "Melrose Place" and ABC's gritty "NYPD Blue" - minus commercials.

And then there have been the free outings, including Disney Animation Studios; a Goodyear blimp ride; a performance of "Miss Saigon"; Angels, Lakers and Dodgers games; and a private performance by "Tonight" show host Jay Leno.

As for jurors' thanks, Sheriff's Deputy John Castro, who spends weekends with them, said: "Maybe the real gratitude is yet to come, when they get on TV talk shows."