LOS ANGELES CORRESPONDENT Jim Willwerth headed to work Monday morning expecting an easy day. He and Elaine Lafferty had covered the O.J. Simpson murder trial from the beginning, and they were anticipating a long deliberation. When the verdict was returned in less than four hours, however, they suddenly had another cover story on their hands--a big one.
Editors in New York City immediately dispatched reinforcements. Denver bureau chief Dick Woodbury was headed for Montana when he received a message redeploying him to Los Angeles. At the San Francisco airport, bureau chief David S. Jackson ran into another harried traveler: Simpson lawyer Johnnie Cochran. New York correspondent Sharon Epperson and Chicago correspondent Wendy Cole found themselves on planes packed with other journalists. Cole dubbed hers "the O.J. Express." Seated behind her were talk-show staff members who spent most of the trip on an air phone trying to book Los Angeles camera crews.
The TIME team, coordinated by correspondent Jeanne McDowell, set up shop at the Inter-Continental Hotel, just above the rooms that had served for nine months as the secret home of the Simpson jurors. Competition among the press, fierce all along, reached a peak as TV and tabloid reporters offered tens of thousands of dollars for exclusives. TIME, like most serious news publications, does not pay for interviews. Our reporters had to pursue the story, as deputy chief of correspondents Jan Simpson puts it, "the old-fashioned way: by getting to the right sources."
The approach paid off. National correspondent Jack White joined Cochran on a four-hour flight to Cleveland. Los Angeles bureau chief Jordan Bonfante and correspondent Sylvester Monroe got the cops to open up despite an L.A.P.D. gag order. While photo researcher Martha Bardach scoured the town for pictures, correspondents Margot Hornblower and Patrick Cole and reporter Dan Cray sought out more Simpson lawyers and the Goldman family. And Lafferty's deep connections within the D.A.'s office came through with surprising details about what prosecutors believe really happened the night of the murders. "We think we've seen it all on TV," says senior editor Howard Chua-Eoan, "but so much went on in smoke-filled rooms." Fortunately, TIME's reporters were able to penetrate the haze.