Imagine for a moment that you've been told you're going to serve on the jury for one of the most high-profile criminal cases of all time. Months pass and the trial is far from over. Then another month, and another month — you're cut off from all contact with the outside world and are only allowed to speak to other people under supervision by the police. After a certain point, it starts to look less like a staycation and instead resembles a prison sentence. The latest episode of The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story shows the stress of such a situation as it portrays a jury member leaving after a breakdown at breakfast. But is this fictionalized or did it really happen?
There seems to be an account of a real juror who went through periods of depression and great stress during her time on the Simpson trial, though there's no record of her screaming and running during a jury breakfast one day. Tracy Hampton, a dismissed juror, fits the description of a "26-year-old single black woman who works as a flight attendant," as detailed in USA Today's profile of the jurors. The newspaper also reported that this juror "told the judge, 'I can't take it anymore.'" Hampton has since spoken out about her experiences and why she felt she had to leave.
In the above interview with CNN, Hampton talks about returning to her hotel room to allegedly find her personal belongings having been gone through, and her discussions with Judge Ito to have certain deputies removed from the jury sequester location, which made her unpopular with the other jurors to the point where she was excluded from the infamous jury revolt. She described her state of being as "stressed out and depressed."
In The Run Of His Life: The People v. O.J. Simpson, the book that serves as the basis for American Crime Story, Jeffrey Toobin wrote, "Hampton was rushed to the hospital with an apparent anxiety attack on the day after she left the jury," which was likely a result of the stress of the trial and her new presence in the media. However, despite the great amount of stress that Hampton dealt with and the method in which she was dismissed, there seems to be no real-life account of Hampton trying to physically escape the jury sequester or other incidents like the one shown on the FX series.
But from Hampton's account of her time on the jury, the incident may serve as a good emotional representation of everything that she was going through. Isolated from friends and family, Hampton's experience on the jury proved to be far from the simple procedure it was intended to be. Though this scene of a juror screaming and running through the hotel may not have really happened, it allows American Crime Story to reach the emotional truth of how Hampton felt.
The difficulties of providing an accurate portrayal of a real-life event are unparalleled. Events that take place over the course of days, weeks, and months are boiled down into broad strokes that fit neatly within the course of a few hours. The Simpson trial was full of twists and turns that prove the truth will always be stranger than fiction, and boiling down those events while also pushing the theme of each episode home is not an easy task — sometimes shortcuts are involved. Hampton may not have physically run, but it seems that she wanted to get out of the jury, asking Judge Ito to dismiss her. With only a few minutes to communicate the effects of seclusion on the jury, American Crime Story was able to boil that all down into one simple, memorable scene.
Image: Ray Mickshaw/FX