The Great Escape

UPDATED 07/03/1995 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 07/03/1995 at 01:00 AM EDT

THE SUMMONS ARRIVED SIX WEEKS after O.J. Simpson was arrested for murder: Michael Knox, 47, a Federal Express deliveryman living in Long Beach, Calif., with his wife and their five children, was ordered to report for jury duty in Los Angeles. Knox sensed that he could be one of the 12 chosen to decide Simpson's fate. "This was something that would probably never happen again," says Knox, who was impaneled that autumn. "I felt I had won a big prize."

Only two weeks into sequestration, Knox, one of the more outgoing Simpson jurors, began to feel differently. He found himself stifled by the enforced silence, bored by the tedious routine and angry at petty prejudices that divided the group. "It's unnatural for human beings to be isolated and not allowed to talk about things weighing heavily on their minds," he says. "Tell the jury not to talk, but let them go home and lead normal lives."

As it turned out, Knox got his wish after 50 days of sequestration, when Judge Lance Ito abruptly dismissed him for failing to disclose allegations that he had kidnapped a former girlfriend more than a decade ago—a charge that had later been dropped. In his revealing new book, The Private Diary of an O.J. Juror: Behind the Scenes of the Trial of the Century, written with Mike Walker, coauthor of Faye Resnick's bestseller Nicole Simpson: The Private Diary of a Life Interrupted, Knox charges that prosecutors launched an investigation into his background after he showed up for a court tour of the crime scene wearing a San Francisco 49ers jacket and cap—freebies from his brother, the director of the team's public relations office, not a sign that he sympathized with the defendant, who had played briefly for the 49ers near the end of his pro-football career. Three weeks later, Knox was gone from the jury.

"Based on the evidence presented so far," says Knox, the first of 10 ousted jurors to publish a book, "O.J. Simpson is guilty. I'll bet Chris Darden and Marcia Clark never guessed I'd make that judgment."

Yet, evidence aside, it was O.J.'s Dream Team, particularly F. Lee Bailey and Johnnie Cochran, who most impressed Knox. "They were warm, charismatic," he says, "not robots"—his impression of Clark and her "very stiff" prosecutorial colleagues.

Born and raised in San Diego, where his father was a Navy chef, Knox had never imagined the strain of living in forced isolation with the other jurors. As soon as the trial began, the members of the panel began dividing along racial lines for meals and in the two rooms set aside for watching videos such as True Lies and The Flintstones.

According to Knox, the only open hostility he witnessed came from African-Americans—like the older black juror who chided him for being too friendly toward whites. Knox disputes Jeanette Harris's charge that sheriff's deputies discriminated against black jurors. "I never saw any hint of racism directed at black jurors by white deputies," he says. Though Knox was embarrassed to have his past exposed, he says he is "disappointed but not grieved" to have surrendered his place on the jury. "I could hardly wait to watch TV, listen to the radio," he says, "and read newspapers that didn't have big holes where O.J. stories had been cut out by deputies."

Besides, he adds, "I had a lot to come home to—a big family." His wife, Beverly, 37, had to stretch Michael's $11.92-an-hour pay to feed their multiethnic brood, ranging in age from 16-month-old James, a white foster child, to Trevon, 11, her son from a previous marriage. With Knox back at work—and a $50,000 book advance—life is returning to normal. "I've done quite a bit in my life," he says, as his step-granddaughter, Jasmyn, 5, perches in his lap reading Cinderella. "When it's all over, I'm back to being who I am—Michael Knox, father and grandfather."

PATRICK ROGERS
LYNDON STAMBLER in Long Beach

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