Of the many factors that influenced the ultimate outcome of the O.J. Simpson trial, the most overlooked is fatigue. It's easy to be riveted by The People vs. O.J. Simpson, which distills more than a year of complicated legal wrangling into 10 compact episodes. But for the people who were actually involved in the day-to-day workings of the trial, it was a plodding, exhausting, and often frustrating experience. In its first seven episodes, The People vs. O.J. largely trained its spotlight on the professionals controlling the flow of the trial. In this week's episode, the episode pivots to another vital force in the trial that has largely been confined to the sidelines: the jury.
At the beginning of the episode, we meet the jury as they walk through the entrance of Los Angeles' Intercontinental Hotel, eager to settle into their swanky new digs. "This is like the Super Bowl, man — and we get to pick the winner," says one eager juror.
But reality sets in as soon as the LAPD deputies assigned to monitor the jurors start laying out the extremely strict rules for the sequester. The jurors aren't allowed to speak to each other about the trial, or speak to the hotel's other guests at all. They're forbidden from using amenities like the pool. TVs have been removed from the hotel room, and magazines are forbidden; all other reading material needs to be scanned and approved by police officials. Monitored phone calls are approved, and weekly conjugal visits are scheduled in advance — but by and large, each juror has been plucked from anything resembling his or her normal life for the purposes of America's biggest trial. As the episode's title, "A Jury in Jail," makes explicit, the jury's sequester was not entirely dissimilar to the incarceration of O.J. Simpson itself.
Think about what it was actually like to be on that jury. It started with a 294-question survey, requiring jurors to explain a huge list of potential biases: whether they were fans of any particular sports teams, whether they'd ever taken a science or math class, whether they owned "special knives," whether their urine had ever been tested. From 250 potential jurors, 27 were selected at the end of an elaborate voir dire process: 12 confirmed jurors, and 15 alternates. And that was all before the trial had even begun. As monotonous days turned into monotonous weeks, and eventually monotonous months, the case must have begun to seem purgatorial to the jurors, who were trapped at the center of a media whirlwind without any sense of how the rest of the world was reacting to it.
At the time, some legal experts speculated that the infamous "juror revolt" — in which a majority of jurors staged a silent protest by wearing all black to the trial, successfully getting Judge Ito to put the trial on hold for two days so he could personally meet with each juror — could be enough to force a mistrial. "What this revolt really tells us is how much the conditions of sequestration and the amount of down time are upsetting these jurors," said a UCLA professor in a 1995 interview with The New York Times. "If jurors are willing to revolt on an issue like this, how likely is it they can reach a unanimous verdict? A hung jury was always the most likely outcome to this case, and the psychological unraveling of the jury only increases that probability."
So why didn't the trial come to halt? Perhaps because, at this late stage in the proceedings, all sides had a vested interest in keeping things moving forward. When "A Jury in Jail" pivots away from the jurors themselves, it focuses on the gamesmanship between Marcia Clark and Johnnie Cochran, as each attempts to reshuffle the jury pool to increase their side's chances. It's a process that seems unduly weighted toward the prosecution. Several of the defense's likely "not guilty" voters are eliminated over newly discovered omissions during the voir dire process, including previous incidences with kidnapping and domestic violence. As the jurors are dismissed without public explanation, and replaced with alternates, the remaining jurors can't help but notice that everyone being asked to leave just happens to be black. "You know, those deputies will find all kinds of ways to get rid of us brown folk," says one skeptical juror.
And while the prosecution's reasons for dismissing those jurors may be legally justifiable, they're not entirely pure. A white, elderly woman tapped to serve as a replacement juror — nicknamed "WHITE DEMON" by the defense — is a favorite of Marcia Clark's, in part, because she has a clear aversion to Johnnie Cochran. The U.S. justice system has a level of gamesmanship built into its very foundation, but some of the strategies employed during the O.J. Simpson trial are so extralegal that they feel like cheating.
So what happened? The more The People vs. O.J. digs into the trial — and the more extracurricular research you pile on top of the show's depiction of the story — the more you realize that it's possible to be both sympathetic to the jury and infuriated by it. Last year, juror David Aldana spoke about his memories of the trial, revealing that he lost friends and got into "at least five different physical confrontations" over the verdict. That's an enormous personal cost to a man who spent nearly a year of his life squirreled away from his loved ones and the rest of the world, all in the name of performing his civic duty.
Here are some other facts about the O.J. Simpson jury, as collected in a research project by the school of law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. One juror was accused of betting money that Simpson would be acquitted — a nasty wager in any murder trial, but particularly one in which he had some sway over the outcome. Another juror was dismissed after being accused of collecting material for a possible book about the trial. After the trial was over, several jurors did publish tell-all accounts of their perspectives on the trial. (It's worth noting that those books contain some surprising revelations; despite the hubbub over the glove, which persists today, the three jurors who collaborated on the book Madam Foreman: A Rush to Judgment? insist that infamous courtroom gaffe was a non-factor in their decision. "They would have fit anybody," said juror Marsha Rubin-Jackson.)
In short: Jurors are human beings, and human beings are flawed. In the midst of his generally sympathetic story about how the O.J. Simpson first took over (and eventually came to define) his entire life, David Aldana also complained that the testimony was "often boring."
To which the only sane response is: Who cares? The O.J. Simpson trial may have been a circus, but the legal system is designed for justice, not entertainment. The jurors were understandably wowed by the showmanship of O.J. Simpson trying on the glove, and understandably bored by the tedious-but-necessary explanation of how DNA evidence works. But in the end, their job is to put those knee-jerk human reactions aside and base their verdict on the steak, not the sizzle. The defense's wild and entirely hypothetical arguments about LAPD conspiracies and Colombian drug cartels can't overwhelm the simple fact of the bloody DNA evidence all over O.J.'s car and house, which points to him at odds of 170 million to one.
The bleakest and most accurate takeaway from The People vs. O.J. Simpson is the reminder that the justice system is only as just as the people swept up in it. Everyone came in with their own sets of values and biases, and everyone did their jobs (including, of course, the defense, which — as Johnnie Cochran said a few weeks ago — is all about seeding doubt by telling a story). So how did the outcome come out so wrong? "A Jury in Jail" hints at the answer in a chilling postscript, as someone calls a tip line to submit some extraordinarily troubling recordings from the prosecution's key witness, Mark Fuhrman.