The families always knew it would come down to this: to winners and losers, to grief or relief. And so O.J. Simpson's family thanked God for answering their prayers. The Browns stoically said they accepted the jury's verdict. The Goldmans? They spoke of damnation and nightmares.

If the Simpson trial was often seen by lawyers and pundits as a battle of evidence and witnesses and strategies, the families were always waiting for this moment, for release, for justice -- to avenge the death of their loved ones or to free one wrongly accused.

Minutes after Simpson's acquittal, his sisters, mother and daughter sat in Judge Lance A. Ito's courtroom, dressed in the colors of the rainbow, their faces beaming with smiles, their faces streaked with tears of joy. As Simpson was being driven to the city jail to retrieve his belongings and begin his drive home, his family was already talking of putting their lives back together, of moving on.

"I feel like standing on top of this table and dancing a jig!" boomed Shirley Simpson Baker, when asked again the ubiquitous question of the modern media age: How do you feel? The reporters laughed.

Eunice Simpson, O.J's mother and the regal grand dame of the trial, sat crippled with arthritis in a wheelchair, but made the chair seem like a throne. "I was always in prayer," she said. "I knew my son was innocent. I kept the faith."

For Ronald L. Goldman's family, it was a day to sorely test their faith. When the verdicts were read, Kim Goldman, Ron's sister, began sobbing, and clung to her father as she cried uncontrollably. As the words "not guilty" filled the room, Ron's stepmother Patti Goldman dropped to her knees. His father, Fred Goldman, shut his eyes, and then seemed to draw back, as if he were punched or his heart stopped.

"Murderer," Fred Goldman hissed.

"Oh, my God, how could they?" Patti Goldman said.

Upstairs in the prosecutors' offices, an hour later, it was like walking into an emergency room moments after a patient was declared dead. The silence. The restraint. The faintest trembling of lead prosecutor Marcia Clark's hands.

When she spoke, Clark talked not of the trial's evidence, or her future or disappointment, but about the Goldman and Brown families.

"Their strength and dignity have been a source of inspiration," she said quietly. "My sympathy and love go out to them."

Deputy District Attorney Christopher Darden stood at the lectern, barely audible, and whispered that he never imagined being here, "never imagined having to turn to the Goldmans when he was acquitted."

Darden said he was not bitter, not angry. He turned toward the family of Ron Goldman, who were leaning on each other for support, only the father Fred Goldman visible above the prosecutors.

"I am honored to have . . . " Darden began.

But he could not continue. Darden began to weep and he turned quickly away from the cameras, almost falling onto a group of his fellow prosecutors, who huddled around him, wrapping him in their arms as he cried. Darden left the room, followed by his partner, Clark.

William Hodgman, another member of the prosecution team, who was hospitalized with chest pains at the trial's onset, took Darden's place and said, "We won't forget Ron and Nicole. We won't ever forget."

Minutes later, Fred Goldman came before the cameras, wearing a button showing the face of his son, the 25-year-old aspiring actor who went to Nicole Brown Simpson's condominium to return a pair of eyeglasses one June night and was murdered with her.

"June 13, 1994, was the worst nightmare of my life," Goldman said, squinting back the sting of tears recalling the day after the murder when he knew his son was gone. "This is the second."

Goldman, who during the trial repeatedly lashed out at Simpson's defense team, raging against defense lawyer Johnnie L. Cochran Jr.'s comparison of former LAPD detective Mark Fuhrman to Adolf Hitler, seemed numbed today. The Goldmans are Jewish and tonight is Yom Kippur, the most somber of the Jewish holidays, the day of atonement.

"I deeply believe this country lost today," Goldman croaked. "Justice was not served."

With his wife by his side, her face red and wet, Fred Goldman blurted out: "I will forever be proud of my son and my family . . . thank you."

And then he rushed from the room to join Darden, who never returned after he broke down.

Nicole Simpson's family left the courthouse without speaking to reporters. When the verdicts came down, Nicole's sister Denise and her mother Juditha sat still, staring. Only after long minutes did Denise weep.

"The jury has rendered a verdict," Denise Brown said later, reading a statement in an appearance on CNBC's "Rivera Live." "The trial is over. Whatever our personal feelings about the right or wrong of their decision, the trial is over. Now we have to get on with the rest of our lives."

But in an interview with ABC News, her anger was apparent. If there was any doubt that Simpson had abused her sister, she said, she had diaries that would prove it.

Lou Brown, Nicole's father, said the family would not try to fight Simpson for custody of their two grandchildren, Sydney and Justin. "We gain nothing by fighting. Infighting in a family is never healthy."

"The kids would suffer," he said, adding: "At least they have one parent." When Simpson's family was asked about the fate of the two children, Arnelle Simpson, the former football star's daughter from his first marriage, said the families all had healing to do.

"We've got to take it one day at a time," Arnelle Simpson said.

O.J. Simpson's sister, Shirley, reminded the reporters that there were two sets of families hurt by the trial -- hers and the victims'.

"We're going to do the very best we can for the children," she said.

When he spoke to reporters after the verdicts, Los Angeles District Attorney Gil Garcetti said he did not feel like his colleague Darden, a man who claimed no bitterness.

"I'm angry," Garcetti said. "I don't think you can appreciate the profound disappointment we're experiencing."

Garcetti agreed that the jurors did not seem to take enough time to deliberate and that future historians might see the verdicts as "nullification," a word that describes a deliberate attempt by jurors not to weigh the evidence but judge with emotion. CAPTION: Motorists on freeway greet minivan carrying O.J. Simpson home after he was acquitted of double murder charges.