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'The People v. O.J. Simpson' recap: 'A Jury in Jail'

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Prashant Gupta/FX

The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story

type:
TV Show
Current Status:
In Season
tvpgr:
TV-MA
seasons:
1
run date:
02/02/16
performer:
Cuba Gooding Jr., Sarah Paulson, David Schwimmer, Selma Blair, Connie Britton
broadcaster:
FX
genre:
Biography, Crime, Drama

Stockholm Syndrome is named after a 1973 bank robbery in Sweden, in which a standoff ensued and the hostages grew compassionate and defensive of their captors. It is also the title of the 19th chapter of Jeffrey Toobin’s The Run of His Life, the main source book for The People v. O.J. Simpson, and Toobin deserves props for devoting 18 uninterrupted pages to the one of the trial’s juiciest topics: the jury. The Stockholm Syndrome reference is both ironic (as they were ostensibly performing a civil duty) and in another way chilling, since the accused double murderer whose trial they were all impanelled and sequestered for, O.J. Simpson, was inexplicably a source of their sympathy.

This episode of The People v. O.J. Simpson, “A Jury in Jail,” written by Joe Robert Cole (Marvel’s upcoming Black Panther writer) and directed by Anthony Hemingway, sees the jury jumble as a cause for very entertaining drama. Or, you could almost say, comedy. The episode begins with a transfer of three deputies away from the Intercontinental Hotel, halfway through the 265-day sequestration of the jury, which reportedly cost the city $3 million. Then we flash back eight months to the excited arrival of these 24 people (12 jurors and 12 alternates) to the hotel at the trial’s beginning.

Those 12 alternates would eventually be whittled down to just two. And the rage over the removal of the guards from the hotel (which is the explicit link to Toobin’s choice of the phrase Stockholm Syndrome) was the impetus for at least one of those dismissals. That would be 25-year-old Tracy Hampton, who apparently had no idea what she was in for when she volunteered to serve, spending most of her time as a juror “looking catatonic,” according to Toobin, “rarely directing her glance away from her feet during testimony.” It was her suspicion that the guards were reading her private letters to friends which prompted Hampton to request to Judge Ito that they be removed — as she explained in this CNN interview:

She also describes the other juror’s cold attitude toward her on the day after the guards were transferred, which the show accurately depicts, though goes a step further by portraying Hampton experiencing a grand mal anxiety attack when she notices her fellow members gossiping about her. In fact, that came the day after his ultimate dismissal, when she was carried out of her house on a stretcher and hospitalized for panic and depression. (She fully recovered and posed naked for Playboy later in 1995, followed by the media rounds, including an very interesting interview with a very interested Howard Stern.)

But the jury revolt as seen in the episode — wherein the aggrieved members wore all black to protest the expulsion of the guards — happened as shown. Obviously there are no pictures of the members from that or any other day during the trial, but the facts where as shown. “One of the more curious public spectacles in the history of American jurisprudence,” Toobin wrote. Twelve members wore all black, but the remaining members wore bright colors as a counterprotest to the ones wearing black. The episode doesn’t have time to go down that rabbit hole more that to simply depict the jury entering the courtroom, but it’s indeed a rabbit hole that Bugs Bunny would be proud of. (Two of the counterprotesting jurors hated each other, for example, and the leader of the revolt, Armanda Cooley, would later be voted the jury’s foreperson.)

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But “A Jury in Jail” does zero in on a few other aspects of the surreal circus. It doesn’t mention the trip to Catalina Island, during which the whole gang was rendered seasick. But it does begin to explore the case of Jeanette Harris, a 38-year-old woman who Judge Ito dismissed because she had failed to mention a previous domestic violence incident. Ito’s befuddlement at the defense and prosecution’s arguments was warranted. Here was a victim of spousal abuse, a main ingredient in the people’s case against Simpson, and Johnnie Cochran as desperate to keep her on the jury, while Marcia Clark was desperate to see her kicked off.

But that’s only the punchline in the Harris saga. She was also the juror who complained that white members were given extra time to shop at Target (attributed to Tracy Hampton, incidentally, in the episode) and would claim that multiple of her fellow jurors, including a 63-year-old secretary, had struck and shoved her during the trial. After she was dismissed, Harris went public with her thoughts about the case against Simpson. In other words, what case against Simpson. “From day one, I didn’t see it as being a fair trial,” she explained, referring to the prosecution’s case as “a whole lot of nothing.”

NEXT: A tantalizing letter enters the picture — as well as three not-so-tantalizing letters, D-N-A.[pagebreak]

One of the jurors that Jeanette Harris hated most passionately was Francine Florio-Bunten, a 38-year-old telephone company employee on the jury. She was also white, viewed as a huge asset for the prosecution. And it was in reference to her that Judge Ito received a letter from an anonymous source saying that Florio-Bunten was intending to write a book called Standing Alone: A Verdict for Nicole. Florio-Bunten denied it, and Judge Ito allowed her to stay on the jury — until something else happened.

Ito was told by a juror named Yolanda Crawford that another juror had scribbled a note to Florio-Bunten on the front of a Wall Street Journal newspaper. The note said, “They asked me about a juror writing a book,” and for that Florio-Bunten was dismissed. Unlike several of the other jurors, such as the white man who was dismissed for taking notes for a book, Florio-Bunten never published anything. And aside from the heresy letter, no evidence was ever shown suggesting she tried to.

Fascinatingly, the jury’s theater of the absurd is intertwined in this episode like a double helix with DNA — in the form of the disastrous cross-examination by Barry Scheck of supposed forensic evidence expert Dennis Fung (played by Jun Hee Lee). After F. Lee Bailey’s cross of Detective Mark Fuhrman, Scheck’s performance versus the frightened Fung is considered the Dream Team’s greatest non-Cochran-related success.

Fung, in fact, spent a total of nine days on the witness stand, nearly two weeks of an already gargantuan case, but Scheck’s relentless tearing apart of the DNA evidence against Simpson is all (or at least most) of what history remembers. And while much of the jury was bored by the actual evidence, it seemed that Robert Kardashian was capable of being swayed. He wasn’t among the cadre of Dream Teamers (and Simpson himself) who shook hands with Fung after his testimony, a spectacle that court officers were said to be too dumbfounded to prevent. Robert Shapiro, who according to the New York Times had handed out fortune cookies the week before and joked then that they came from a restaurant called Hang Fung, even embraced him.

In speaking about the case later, Marcia Clark did not have kind words to share about Scheck (played with maximum smarm by TV veteran Rob Morrow), but she was even harder on Fung. As seen in this 1996 clip from Oprah, featuring a word association lighting round about all the key players, she calls him a “f—ing idiot.” Later, back in the DA’s office, Clark exercises some rage by throwing the Fung file to the floor, while the Folk Implosion’s “Natural One” (a highlight of the soundtrack to the movie Kids) blasts on the soundtrack.

The episode also features a very real consideration that the defense entertained to have Simpson testify — seemingly insane now, especially given how things turned out in his civil trial, where he did speak on his own behalf, or his robbery trial in 2008. It was F. Lee Bailey who most adamantly believed that Simpson should take the stand, on the grounds that O.J. would have no chance of getting his former life back, even with an acquittal, without professing himself innocent for the world to hear. And of course, Cochran was repeatedly telling reporters how much he wanted O.J. to speak up. And after the mock testimony, Cochran still claimed as much:

Early in the episode, in one of the show’s cleverest cutaways, the action moves from the disgruntled jurors arguing over what to watch on TV (the black jurors prefer Martin and the white jurors want Seinfeld) to O.J. in jail, playing cards with his buddies. Simpson is talking and laughing about a TV show that he apparently thinks is the funniest program on the air. His dialogue gives us just enough for us to know what he’s talking about.

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