When it comes to race, the Las Vegas jury that will decide O.J. Simpson’s fate couldn’t be more different than the one that acquitted him in a double murder case more than a decade ago.
"What they have is a Brentwood jury, not a South Central jury," Las Vegas defense attorney James "Bucky" Buchanan said, referring to an affluent, mostly white neighborhood and a poor, minority neighborhood in Southern California.
The Los Angeles County jury that found Simpson not guilty of killing his ex-wife and her friend consisted of nine blacks, one Hispanic and two whites.
The Las Vegas jury seated last week to hear Simpson’s case on armed robbery and kidnapping charges consists of 10 whites and two Hispanics. The only two black jurors are alternates.
Buchanan, who has participated in hundreds of criminal trials, said the jury is typical for a Las Vegas courtroom. In fact, he had predicted a jury of nine whites, two Hispanics and one black person, he said.
The jury includes four members who disagreed with Simpson’s 1995 acquittal but said they could set their feelings aside.
The eight other jurors said they had no opinions about that verdict, often because they were too busy with school or family to pay attention to the "Trial of the Century."
One juror, a pharmaceutical saleswoman, said she didn’t even recognize Simpson’s name when she saw the juror questionnaire.
Simpson and co-defendant Clarence "C.J." Stewart, who are black, are charged with robbing two sports memorabilia dealers last year at Palace Station.
Their lawyers fought to keep a black woman on the jury after she was dismissed by prosecutors who said she was "too forgiving." And they fought to keep another black woman in the alternate jury pool who was dismissed for similar reasons.
The defense lawyers accused prosecutors of systematically removing black jurors.
District Attorney David Roger gave nonracial reasons for the dismissals, which is required under the 1986 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Batson v. Kentucky.
District Judge Jackie Glass accepted Roger’s reasons and okayed the dismissals.
If the trial ends in a conviction, those dismissals give defense lawyers a good place to start for an appeal, said Charles Kelly, a defense lawyer and former prosecutor.
"It’s a strong issue (to appeal). It always is," he said.
Kelly recalled a case he prosecuted that was overturned after a Batson challenge, even though he believed he gave a strong nonracial explanation for the juror’s dismissal.
"You just can’t strike a black juror without a very good reason," Kelly said.
In June, the Nevada Supreme Court overturned a Clark County conviction based on a Batson challenge.
In that case, Jose Diomampo was convicted of midlevel drug trafficking after Las Vegas police found methamphetamine in his car during a 2004 traffic stop. His lawyers appealed the conviction on several issues, including the argument that prosecutors systematically removed minorities from the jury.
The Nevada Supreme Court agreed, saying prosecutors gave inadequate reasons for dismissing two jurors, including one whom prosecutors said didn’t understand English. The court found the juror understood the language.
The case was sent to District Court for a retrial.
John Momot, a longtime Las Vegas defense lawyer, said Roger and Chief Deputy District Attorney Christopher Owens are sophisticated lawyers who are above removing jurors on the basis of race. And if they did, Glass would "bend over backwards to make sure that doesn’t happen," Momot said.
Momot said he didn’t believe race would play a factor in the Simpson case.
"Maybe I’m an idealist, but I don’t think people have some deep-rooted prejudice based on race in a situation like this," he said.
Buchanan agreed, saying white jurors, in his experience, tend to judge cases without racial prejudice or bias.
The biggest challenge for Simpson is the lack of men on the jury, Buchanan said.
"Every woman I talked to said she would find him guilty because of what happened in L.A.," he said, adding that white women tend to empathize with Simpson’s slain wife, Nicole Brown Simpson.
If Buchanan represented Simpson, he would have tried to stack the jury with men between 25 and 40 years old who understand football and sports memorabilia, he said.
Defense lawyer Dayvid Figler said Las Vegas juries rarely represent a cross-section of the community, and it’s frustrating for minority defendants to see a jury box filled with middle-aged whites.
Simpson and Stewart will find themselves in that situation when opening statements begin Monday, but their lawyers can’t worry about their failed attempts to keep the black women on the jury.
"You have to stop thinking about it the moment you lose," Figler said. "You have to play the hand you’re dealt."
Contact reporter Brian Haynes at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0281.