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

“In the OJ case, because we had done a lot of pre-trial research, we knew there was a certain demographic that was going to be more open to what our defense was,” he told CNN.

At the time, she was an African-American woman with a high school education or less, she recalled. In Rittenhouse’s case, however, he said, “We didn’t find anything that was predictive.”

So, they dug.

“Familiarity with weapons was an important thing to explore,” he told CNN. “Generally, to get an idea of ​​whether someone was a supporter of the Second Amendment, a supporter of the First Amendment as well.” That includes both in real life and your “fingerprints” on social media.

“By looking at the profiles of the jurors, you are looking for individuals who will be more receptive to whatever evidence comes up,” he added.

Before the trial, Dimitrius and the Rittenhouse team tested that in the form of three sets of mock jurors.

The defense knew the video would be paramount, but a central question quickly became whether Rittenhouse would actually testify. “There were concerns on the part of everyone involved in the case,” according to Dimitrius, especially given his age and the care in his every move.

“We had three separate groups of twelve mock jurors. One of them saw only the testimony on video and the other two saw not only the testimony on video, but they saw Kyle testify,” Dimitrius said. “As a result of that, it became very, very clear that her story needed to be told about what happened that night.”

Mark Richards, Rittenhouse’s defense attorney, told CNN: “He scored much worse. [with those who did not hear his story] than the people who heard his story. “

“That was the subject of a cross-examination by a trained former prosecutor. And that made the decision, I don’t want to say it easy, but it was the right decision … you need to tell your story,” he added.

On November 10, Rittenhouse finally took the stand in his own defense, sometimes emotionally, describing how August 25, 2020 ended with him killing two people and wounding a third.

According to Dimitrius, the “perfect jury” in the Rittenhouse case was someone who was willing to “listen to what was presented in court and make their decision based solely on that evidence.”

“The rest is history,” he said.

Jury selection process ‘very frustrating’

Of the 179 potential jurors who arrived for Rittenhouse’s trial, the final 20 required for the trial were shortened by one day.

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

Jurors ranked by the dozen at a time, and the pace made it difficult at times to keep up with what was really at stake.

“It was very frustrating,” Dimitrius said.

She was hired months before trial and was present during jury selection, jury supervision, and trial assistance, and was often seen sitting next to Wendy Rittenhouse, the defendant’s mother.

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

Jurors in Rittenhouse’s trial were overwhelmingly white, not just in the original pool of 179 prospects, but also in the final decision panel of 12, where there was only one person of color.

“It should reflect the community in which the trial will take place,” Dimitrius told CNN. “I saw the very accurate demographic representation of what Kenosha has.”

In 2019, approximately 79 percent of Kenosha’s population was white, according to the US Census.

“I believe in the bottom of my heart that we ended up with a jury that would be very fair,” said Dimitrius.

Rittenhouse protesters closed the Brooklyn Bridge.  Portland protesters force open jail

Rittenhouse faced charges of murder and reckless endangerment for the murders of Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber, the wounds of Gaige Grosskreutz and for shooting the man commonly known in court as a “jump-kicking man.” The shootings occurred after police shot Jacob Blake sparking protests in Kenosha.

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

After the verdict, Chief Prosecutor Thomas Binger told the court: “The jury has represented our community in this trial and has spoken.”

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

The judge praised the jurors, saying “I couldn’t have asked for a better jury.”

Rittenhouse vs. Simpson

To be sure, there are a lot of differences between the 1995 OJ Simpson murder trials and the 2021 Kyle Rittenhouse trials, mainly, as Dimitrius put it, “In ’95, people hopefully remember that the internet was not at the center.”

Another key difference, according to Dimitrius, was the lack of demographic data that was necessarily “predictive” in the case of Rittenhouse, as was the case with Simpson.

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

At least half of the 12 jurors in Simpson’s trial were black women.

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

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

The case was dubbed the “trial of the century” for its revolving themes of celebrity, race, criminal justice, trust in the police, and domestic violence. After nearly nine months of proceedings, the jurors rendered their not guilty verdict in less than four hours.

Later, Simpson was found liable in a civil wrongful death lawsuit brought by the families of the victims. On the stand, he denied killing Brown Simpson and Goldman.

Dimitrius said one of the key similarities between the trials was the dynamic in which the two were televised, including receiving “important information because people were watching what was happening on TV and then they may have met someone, they may have felt compelled to come. ” to testify. “

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According to Dimitrius, that included Drew Hernandez as “one of those people who reached out to us after he saw Richie McGinniss testify. The same thing happened at OJ.” Hernández was an independent commentator who was the 10th witness called by the defense during the testimony.

Hernandez, who recorded video of the protests, testified that Rittenhouse attempted to defuse tensions at one point on the night of the shooting. He told the jury that Rosenbaum, the first person to be shot, was “physically aggressive” even before his encounter with Rittenhouse.

Although the selection of the jury is important in a trial, Dimitrius emphasized, “I do not change the evidence”, since he admitted that he is not always right and considers that his position is “complementary to the experience of a good trial lawyer.”

Throughout her decades of career, she has been involved in many high-profile cases on both the criminal and civil sides, including the estate of George Floyd’s civil case with the City of Minneapolis, one that ended as one of the largest pre-trial settlements in history. . Many of the cases she has been involved in are polarizing in nature, from Rodney King to Francis Ford Coppola, Kobe Bryant and more.

“What I have seen, particularly in OJ and in the case of Kyle, is that unfortunately there are certain bodies of the public that find an uncomfortable truth if in fact there is an acquittal. And who are those people from one trial to another, issue to issue, it’s different, “Dimitrius told CNN.

She hopes the public will learn from the results of Rittenhouse’s trial.

“Whether it’s Kenosha, Seattle, Portland, Chicago, wherever. I think everyone has the First Amendment right too, to protest and make their opinion known, but where it crosses the line is where there is destruction of property or destruction of property. life, “she added.

“I hope that something has been learned from these types of cases and that we can move forward as a country and continue to exercise the constitutional rights that we have, but also accept responsibility when the line is crossed.”

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