Advertisement
  1. Archive

Jury: He did it // Simpson is found liable in the deaths, ordered to pay $8.5-million

Sixteen months after a criminal jury acquitted O. J. Simpson of the slayings of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Lyle Goldman, a civil jury Tuesday found Simpson financially liable for both deaths.

The six-man, six-woman jury deliberated for three days before returning their verdict, which awarded $8.5-million in compensatory damages to Goldman's family. Ms. Simpson's family did not seek compensatory damages.

Unlike the criminal trial, the jury did not have to render a unanimous verdict, although it did. In effect, the jury by a 12-0 vote agreed with the plaintiffs that Simpson slashed his ex-wife's throat and repeatedly stabbed Goldman to death on the night of June 12, 1994.

For Simpson, it was a stunning and costly loss after his acquittal of the double murders in a case that has polarized and fascinated Americans. It was also a victory for those who have concluded Simpson escaped a guilty verdict in his criminal trial.

As the verdict was read, Simpson remained seated and stoic, staring straight ahead. Across the courtroom, a whoop of joy went up from the relatives of Ms. Simpson and Goldman.

"Yes!" screamed sister Kim Goldman, who sobbed openly when Simpson was acquitted in his criminal trial.

"We finally got some justice for Ron and Nicole," said Fred Goldman, the aggrieved father who doggedly pursued Simpson to civil court after denouncing the acquittal. "This is all we ever wanted. We have it. Thank God."

"This is justice!" Denise Brown, sister of Ms. Simpson, said as she left the courtroom.

Her father, Louis Brown, who sat stone still as the verdict was announced, stood and smiled afterward. "I want to get outside and scream."

In the civil trial's second phase, jurors will hear testimony on Simpson's net worth and will be asked to recommend further punitive damages, which could reach millions more.

The jury announced it had reached a decision at 4 p.m. local time, but the reading was delayed more than three hours to allow all the parties to gather in Superior Court Judge Hiroshi Fujisaki's courtroom. While the judge waited for everyone to arrive, crowds of the obsessed and merely curious gathered behind police cordons outside the courthouse.

Tourists snapped photos. Street musicians played. Some spectators brought their babies to the event. Others stood around talking into their cellular phones. "I was coming home from work and I turned the radio on . . . and they said the verdict was in," said onlooker Mildred Slaughter. "I wanted to be a part of history. It is history."

Supporters of both sides traded insults, as they _ along with the nation _ awaited the arrival of Juditha and Lou Brown, the parents of Ms. Simpson; of Fred Goldman; and of Simpson himself.

Simpson's trip _ in a black Suburban escorted by police instead of a white Bronco chased by police, as happened a few days after the killings _ was televised live nationally on a split screen just as President Clinton began his State of the Union address.

After the verdict was read, Simpson left the courthouse with his head bowed and showing no expression. A mix of boos and cheers greeted him as he got back in the Suburban and was taken away.

The attorneys for both sides had kept vigil nearby throughout the third day of deliberations by a jury that had been forced to begin its discussions anew after the dismissal of one of their colleagues Friday. The jury that ultimately rendered the verdict was predominantly white, as opposed to the mostly black jury that acquitted him of murder. The verdict was communicated from a courthouse window via hand-held signs to television cameras posted outside the courthouse.

The plaintiffs' lead attorney, Daniel Petrocelli, said the wait was "painful _ very painful." Simpson's lead counsel, Robert Baker, was not available for comment.

The civil case was at least the second act in one of the most sensational legal dramas in recent memory. Simpson's criminal trial, which ended in his acquittal in 1995, aired daily on live television and demolished the ratings of other daytime programs.

The civil trial was an abbreviated version of the criminal trial _ 41 days of testimony rather than 133 _ and provided a more subdued sequel, since Fujisaki refused to allow television cameras into his courtroom. But it covered much of the same territory and the plaintiffs' attorneys managed to present evidence that had eluded prosecutors in the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office.

Most incriminating for Simpson were 31 photos of him wearing the same style Bruno Magli shoes that left bloody footprints at the crime scene.

And for the first time before any jury, Simpson took the stand, testifying for four days that he never killed anyone and never once hit, kicked or beat his ex-wife. He was not sure how he cut his hand, suggesting he nicked himself wrestling with his son.

But the main themes of his defense remained: Simpson was the victim of an elaborate frame-up, and physical evidence and witnesses couldn't be trusted.

When the first picture of him wearing the Bruno Magli shoes was produced, Simpson called it a fake. Later, confronted with 30 more pictures taken the same day, Simpson said he did not recall ever owning such shoes. His lawyer suggested they, too, were forgeries made to cash in on the case.

Among a series of rulings favorable to the plaintiffs, Judge Hiroshi Fujisaki allowed testimony about a lie-detector test Simpson flunked and blocked defense efforts to play the "race card" that many felt had turned the tide in the criminal case.

Notably absent was former police Detective Mark Fuhrman, branded by Simpson's lawyers in the first trial as a racist who planted a bloody glove at his Rockingham estate.

Plaintiffs in the civil trial moved quickly through the dreary detail of blood drops and DNA evidence, hitting hard on a possible motive _ a history of spousal abuse.

And as the trial drew to a close, plaintiff attorneys took direct aim at Simpson's character, angrily portraying him as a coward trying to "deny the undeniable." Said Petrocelli: "There's a killer in this courtroom."

At its heart, the civil trial came down to one question: Was O.

J. Simpson responsible for the deaths of his ex-wife and her friend on June 12, 1994?

There was a fundamental difference between the civil and criminal trials. The standard of proof for the first part of the civil trial was only "preponderance of the evidence," meaning that jurors had to be more certain than not that the former football star and commercial spokesman had committed the acts of which he was accused.

In the criminal trial, jurors were told the evidence had to meet the higher standard of being "beyond a reasonable doubt."

Simpson was on trial for murder in his criminal trial. The civil trial was a separate proceeding only to determine whether he could be held financially liable for the two deaths.

The families of the victims chose to pursue the action because it was the only form of redress open to them. The constitutional prohibition against double jeopardy dictates that acquittal in a criminal trial precludes any additional prosecution by the state.

The latest verdict encompassed three separate lawsuits, all wrapped in the peculiar legal jargon of the code of civil procedure.

The first lawsuit, filed by Goldman's parents, Fred Goldman and Sharon Rufo, accused Simpson of wrongfully causing their son's death, and asked for compensation for their loss.

The other two were so-called "survivorship claims," filed by the respective estates of Goldman and Ms. Simpson. Technically, those claims accused Simpson of battery _ of harming the two victims without their consent _ and asked the jury to compensate the victims' legal heirs for material damages incurred in the assault.

Ms. Simpson's parents also demanded money from Simpson for fatally assaulting his ex-wife. Any money will go to the Simpson children, Sydney, 11, and Justin, 8. The grandparents did not want to put the children in the position of suing their father for killing their mother.

On his way home, Simpson dashed into an ice cream shop to buy a cup of chocolate cookie dough ice cream for daughter Sydney.

Reached by telephone later at his home, Simpson said just that, "I'm sitting with my kids right now." He declined further comment.

_ Information from Associated Press, Los Angeles Times and Washington Post was used in this report.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Advertisement
Advertisement