From OJ Simpson to Kyle Rittenhouse: A jury consultant binds the two

“In the case of OJ, we knew there was a certain section of the population who would be more open to our defense because we had done so much preliminary research,” she told CNN.

At the time it was an African American woman with or without a high school diploma, she recalls. In the case of Rittenhouse, however, she said, “We haven’t found anything predictable.”

So they dug.

“Familiarity with guns was an important thing to research,” she told CNN. “In general, to get a sense of whether someone was a supporter of the second amendment, or a supporter of the first amendment, too.” This is true both in real life and in their “digital footprints” on social media.

“When you look at jury profiles, you’re looking for people who are most receptive to any evidence that comes out,” she added.

In the run-up to the process, Dimitrius and the Rittenhouse team tested this in the form of three false jurors.

The defense knew video would be paramount, but the central question quickly arose whether Rittenhouse would actually testify. “There were concerns from everyone involved in the case,” said Dimitrius, especially given his age and the attentiveness to his every move.

“We had three different groups of twelve false jurors. One of them just saw the video statement and the other two not only saw the video statement, they actually saw Kyle testify, ”said Dimitrius. “So it was very, very clear that his story had to be told about what happened that night.”

Rittenhouse defense attorney Mark Richards told CNN, “He did a lot worse [with those who did not hear his story] than the people who heard his story. “

“That was cross-examined by a trained ex-prosecutor. And that made the decision, I don’t mean to say, easy, but it was the right decision … he has to tell his story,” he added.

On November 10, Rittenhouse finally came out in his own defense, sometimes emotional, describing how August 25, 2020 ended with killing two people and wounding a third.

According to Dimitrius, the “perfect juror” in the Rittenhouse case was someone who was willing “to hear what was presented in court and make a decision based only on that evidence.”

“The rest is history,” she said.

“Very frustrating” jury selection process

Of the 179 budding jurors who came to the Rittenhouse trial, the last 20 needed for the trial were reduced in one day.

“Judge (Bruce) Schroeder did not allow us to use a written questionnaire, a jury questionnaire, which is highly unusual in a high profile case,” Dimitrius told CNN. “Number two, he limited the voir dire to an hour apiece … in general, to answer the questions you want to ask, that’s a very, very short time.”

The jurors were sorted by the dozen, and the pace sometimes made it difficult to keep up with what was actually at play.

“It was very frustrating,” said Dimitrius.

Hired months in advance of the trial, she was in attendance during jury selection, jury supervision and litigation assistance, and was often seen alongside Wendy Rittenhouse, the defendant’s mother.

Jury expert Jo-Ellan Dimitrius with Wendy Rittenhouse during the trial.

The jury in the Rittenhouse trial was overwhelmingly white, not only in the original pool of 179 prospects, but also in the final decision-making body of 12, which included only one black person.

“It should reflect the community in which the trial will take place,” Dimitrius told CNN. “I looked very closely at the demographics of what Kenosha did.”

According to the 2019 U.S. Census, about 79 percent of the population of Kenosha was white.

“I believe with all my heart that we got a very fair jury in the end,” said Dimitrius.

Rittenhouse protesters have closed the Brooklyn Bridge.  Protesters in Portland force the prison to open

Rittenhouse saw himself accused of manslaughter and reckless endangerment because of the killing of Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber, the wounding of Gaige Großkreutz and the shooting of the man generally known as the “jump-kick man” in court. The shootings came after the police shooting of Jacob Blake sparked protests in Kenosha.

During their deliberations, the jury requested that much of the video evidence of the shootings be re-viewed. In the end, they agreed with Rittenhouse’s statement that he feared for his life and acted in self-defense. He was acquitted of all charges on November 19.

After the verdict, the chief public prosecutor Thomas Binger said in court: “The jury represented and spoke to our community in this process.”

Binger said in a statement: “Although we are disappointed with the judgment, it must be respected.”

The judge praised the jury and said he “couldn’t have asked for a better jury”.

Rittenhouse vs. Simpson

There are undoubtedly many differences between the 1995 OJ Simpson murder trials and the 2021 Kyle Rittenhouse trials, mainly, as Dimitrius put it, “hopefully in 1995 people remember that the internet was not at the fore”.

Another important difference, Dimitrius said, was the lack of demographics that were necessarily “predictable” in the Rittenhouse case, as was the Simpson case.

“We learned that African American women with high school or lower education for whatever reason did not believe that the next step from domestic violence or domestic violence would necessarily be murder,” she told CNN. “I couldn’t explain then, I can’t explain now, but for some reason they were the ones most open to that component.”

At least half of the 12 jurors at the Simpson trial were black women.

That jury eventually acquitted Simpson of the charges for the murder of Simpson’s ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her boyfriend Ron Goldman.

OJ Simpson's defense team.  From left: Barry Scheck, Howard Harris, Shawn Chapman, Carl Douglas, Johnnie Cochran, Robert Blazier, Jo-Ellan Dimitrius (behind Blasier) and Robert Shapiro

The case has been dubbed the “Trial of the Century” because of its swirling themes of celebrity, race, criminal justice, trust in the police and domestic violence. After nearly nine months of trial, the jury returned her acquittal in less than four hours.

Simpson was later found liable for wrongful death in a civil lawsuit filed by the victims’ families. On the stand, he denied killing Brown Simpson and Goldman.

Dimitrius said one of the main similarities between the processes is the dynamics associated with televising the two, including getting “important information because people saw what was going on on television and then maybe they knew someone.” , they may have felt compelled to come ”. to testify. “

Is this the beginning of a vigilante era?According to Dimitrius, Drew Hernandez was among them as “one of the people who turned to us after seeing Richie McGinniss testify. The same happened at the OJ. ”Hernandez was a freelance commentator named the tenth defense witness named during the testimony.

Hernandez, who filmed a video of the protests, testified that Rittenhouse tried to de-escalate tensions on the night of the shooting. He told the jury that Rosenbaum – the first person to be shot – was “physically aggressive” before he met Rittenhouse.

While jury selection is important in a lawsuit, Dimitrius emphasized, “I don’t change the evidence,” as she admitted she’s not always right and sees her position as “complementary to the experience of a good trial attorney.”

Over her decades of career, she has been involved in many high profile criminal and civil cases, including the estate of George Floyd’s civil suit against the city of Minneapolis, which ended up being one of the largest pre-trial settlements in history. Many of the cases she has been involved in are inherently polarizing from Rodney King to Francis Ford Coppola, Kobe Bryant and more.

“What I have seen, especially in the case of OJ and Kyle, is that, unfortunately, there are certain bodies of the public who believe it to be an inconvenient truth when there is indeed an acquittal. And who these people are, from process to process, issue is different, “Dimitrius told CNN.

She hopes the public will learn from the results of the Rittenhouse process.

“Whether Kenosha, Seattle, Portland, Chicago, wherever. I believe everyone has the right under the First Amendment to protest and speak out, but where the line is crossed is either the destruction of property or the destruction of life. “She added.

“I hope that we have learned something from such cases and that we can move forward as a country and continue to exercise our constitutional rights, but also take responsibility when they cross the border.”

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