Philadelphia's Nancy Glass always thought there was a huge piece missing from the public's understanding of the 1995 O.J. Simpson murder trial: the jury.
"Every single day, we broadcast from the area where all the journalists sort of camped out," the former American Journal anchor recalled last week. "I knew about the jury. That's the thing that bothered me. I knew that there was more to the story from day one. The public had their own reaction, but I knew that the jury was much more complex than that."
On Saturday, Glass, who these days works behind the cameras as a producer and the CEO of Glass Entertainment Group in Bala Cynwyd (formerly Nancy Glass Productions), gets to help tell the jurors' side of that controversial verdict. Her four-night documentary miniseries for Oxygen, The Jury Speaks, opens with a reexamination of the Simpson case that includes interviews with — and a revote by — a small group of the case's jurors.
On Sunday, the miniseries continues with jurors from Michael Jackson's 2005 trial on child-molestation charges. Monday's installment deals with the jury that acquitted George Zimmerman in the 2012 shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, and Tuesday's with the people who in 2003 acquitted Robert Durst (subject of HBO's The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst) in the murder of the neighbor he'd admitted dismembering but claimed to have killed in self-defense. A fifth episode, about the 2005 acquittal of actor Robert Blake in his wife's murder, will be available On Demand.
Premiering the week of Simpson's scheduled parole hearing on his sentence for armed robbery and assault with a weapon and coming on the heels of the Bill Cosby mistrial, The Jury Speaks might seem particularly well-timed, but it's "just serendipitous," Glass said.
She narrates the series, and conducted some of the interviews, something she said she doesn't normally do for her company's productions, which include such series as Animal Planet's Tanked,the Travel Channel's Dangerous Grounds — featuring Philadelphia coffee entrepreneur Todd Carmichael — and Investigation Discovery true-crime documentaries such as Too Pretty to Live and A Checklist for Murder.
"Frankly, I'm not needed for this kind of thing. We have great staff. We have fabulous producers," she said. "This was just something I really cared about."
Oxygen, the NBC Universal-owned cable channel whose original founders included Oprah Winfrey, has recently shifted its focus to true crime, but the channel "wants to do crime in a different way, not only the story of a murder," Glass said.
"This was, we thought, a very different way to go about it, and to really look at the true story. I think people want to know about the true story. The truth is so flexible nowadays, that perhaps … people want to judge for themselves, and not be told what's what. And this way you can. When you hear how the jury thought about it, you can form your own thoughts. You can understand why they did what they did. Or maybe you'll be even madder."
And maybe you'll feel sorry for the people summoned to sit in judgment. One takeaway from the two episodes I've seen, on Simpson's and Jackson's cases, was that jurors in those cases had put up with a lot.
"Their sequestration was a nightmare," Glass said of the Simpson jury. (She hadn't seen FX's American Crime Story: The People v. O.J., and its jury-focused episode, "A Jury in Jail": "I didn't watch any of it, because I covered it too much," she said.)
"What most people don't understand is being sequestered means you can't watch TV [without supervision], you can't read a newspaper, you have supervised phone calls, so you really can't talk about much because somebody else is listening. You can't talk to each other about the case. It's really awful. Ten months, they were sequestered, and they didn't all like each other. In the beginning or end," she said.
Getting even a small group of jurors together from old cases proved challenging.
"Some of them have died, some of them are sick, … and some just don't want to talk about it anymore or be identified," she said. "Because these jurors had been battered," some singled out for humiliation during the trial — one woman recalls being known as the "fat juror" — or harassed afterward by people who disagreed with the verdicts.
"They had to listen to this and then they are torn apart in the press. And some of them were afraid," Glass said.
"It doesn't gain them anything to talk. But here they wanted to talk, because someone wanted to hear their side of the story. Someone wanted them to lay out exactly what happened. And what's interesting is, as a viewer, you might change your mind on a case … and you might not. But it certainly gives you a lot more to think about."