(Trends Wide) — There is a common thread between the acquittal of OJ Simpson in 1995 and the acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse in 2021: a jury and trial consultant named Jo-Ellan Dimitrius.
She developed the jury profile in Simpson’s case and now, decades later, worked “hand in hand” with Rittenhouse attorneys to help build the “correct” jury profile in her case.
“In the OJ case, because we had done so much pre-trial research, we knew there was a certain demographic that was going to be more open to what our defense was,” he told Trends Wide.
At the time, it 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 inquired.
“Familiarity with weapons was an important thing to explore,” Dimitrius told Trends Wide. “Generally, to get an idea of whether someone was a supporter of the Second Amendment, a supporter of the First Amendment as well.” That included both in real life and from his “fingerprints” on social media.
“By looking at the profiles of the jurors, you are looking for the people who are going to be most receptive to the evidence that is presented,” he added.
Before the trial, Dimitrius and the Rittenhouse team tested him with three sets of mock jurors.
The defense knew that video would be paramount, but a central question quickly became whether Rittenhouse would actually testify. According to Dimitrius, “everyone involved in the case was concerned, especially considering his age and the attention paid to his every move.”
“We had three different groups with 12 trial jurors. One of them only saw the testimony on video and the other two not only saw the testimony on video, but they saw Kyle actually testify,” Dimitrius said. “As a result, it became very, very clear that it was necessary to tell her story about what happened that night.”
Mark Richards, Rittenhouse’s defense attorney, told Trends Wide: “He scored much worse. [con los que no escucharon su historia] than with those who did listen to it. “
“That was cross-examined by a trained former prosecutor. And that made the decision, I don’t want to say it was easy, but it was the right decision … it has to tell its story,” he added.
On November 10, Rittenhouse ended up taking the stand in his own, at times emotional defense, describing how on August 25, 2020, he ended up 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 to make their decision based solely on that evidence.”
“The rest is history,” he commented.
“Very frustrating” jury selection process
Of the 179 potential jurors who arrived for Rittenhouse’s trial, the last 20 needed for the trial were selected in one day.
“Judge (Bruce) Schroeder did not allow us to use a written questionnaire, a questionnaire for the jury, which is very unusual in a high-profile case,” Dimitrius told Trends Wide. “Second, he limited the voir dire to one hour each … generally to ask the questions you want to ask, it’s a very, very short period of time.”
Jurors were ranked by the dozen at a time, and the pace made it difficult at times to keep up with the stakes.
“It was very frustrating,” Dimitrius said.
She was hired months in advance of the trial and was present during the jury selection, supervision and attendance at the trial, and was often seen sitting next to Wendy Rittenhouse, the defendant’s mother.
Jurors in Rittenhouse’s trial were overwhelmingly white, not just in the original pool of 179 candidates, but also in the final deciding panel of 12, where there was only one person of color.
“It should be a reflection of the community in which the trial is taking place,” Dimitrius told Trends Wide. “I saw the demographic representation very true to what Kenosha has.”
In 2019, about 79% of Kenosha’s population was white, according to the United States Census.
“I do believe in my heart that we ended up with a jury that would be very fair,” Dimitrius said.
Rittenhouse was facing manslaughter and reckless recklessness charges for the murders of Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber, for wounding Gaige Grosskreutz, and for shooting the man commonly known in court as a “jump kick man.” The shootings came after police shooting Jacob Blake sparked protests in Kenosha.
During their deliberations, the jurors asked 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.
Following 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: “Although 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
There is no doubt that there are many differences between the murder trials of OJ Simpson of 1995 and Kyle Rittenhouse of 2021, mainly, as Dimitrius put it, “in 95 people certainly remember that the internet was not in the foreground.”
Another key difference, according to Dimitrius, was the lack of a demographic that was clearly “predictive” in the Rittenhouse case as it was in the Simpson case.
“We learned that African American women with a high school education level or less, for whatever reason, did not believe that the next step in domestic abuse or domestic violence was necessarily murder,” she told Trends Wide. “I couldn’t explain it then, I can’t explain it now, but for whatever reason they were the ones who were most, in some way, open to that component.”
At least half of the 12 jurors in Simpson’s trial were black women.
That jury eventually acquitted Simpson of charges for the murder of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and his friend, Ron Goldman.
The case was dubbed the “trial of the century” because of the issues involved: fame, race, criminal justice, trust in the police, and domestic violence. After almost nine months of process, the jury delivered its acquittal verdict in less than four hours.
Later, Simpson was found liable in a civil lawsuit for involuntary manslaughter brought by the families of the victims. On the stand, he denied killing Brown Simpson and Goldman.
Dimitrius said one of the main similarities between the trials was the dynamics around the two that were televised, including receiving “important information because people were watching what was going on, on TV and then they may have met someone. , they may have felt compelled to come and testify. “
According to Dimitrius, that included Drew Hernandez as “one of those people who contacted us after seeing Richie McGinniss testify.” The same thing happened at OJ. ”Hernandez 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 tried to defuse tensions at one point the night of the shooting. He told jury that Rosenbaum – the first person he shot – was “physically aggressive” even before his encounter with Rittenhouse.
Although the selection of the jury is important in a trial, Dimitrius stressed that “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 his decades of career, he has participated in many high-profile criminal and civil cases, including George Floyd’s civil case with the City of Minneapolis, one that ended as one of the largest prior settlements. to the judgment of history. Many of the cases in which he has participated are polarizing in nature, from Rodney King to Francis Ford Coppola to Kobe Bryant.
“What I have seen, especially in the case of OJ and Kyle, is that, unfortunately, there are certain sectors of the public who find it an uncomfortable truth that there is an acquittal. And who are those people from a trial to another, from one issue to another, is different, “Dimitrius told Trends Wide.
She hopes the public will learn from the results of the Rittenhouse trial.
“Whether in Kenosha, Seattle, Portland, Chicago, wherever. I think everyone has a First Amendment right to protest and make their opinion known, but when the line is crossed is when there is destruction of property or destruction of life, “he added.
“I hope that something is learned from these types of cases and that we can move forward as a country and continue to exercise those constitutional rights that we have, but also accept responsibility when the line is crossed.”