A jury today found former football great O.J. Simpson responsible for the deaths of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald L. Goldman and awarded compensatory damages to Goldman's parents of $8.5 million.
In effect, the jury, by a 12 to 0 vote, agreed with the plaintiffs in the civil trial that Simpson, wearing a dark sweat suit, designer shoes and fancy gloves, slashed Nicole Simpson'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 16 months ago in his criminal trial, when he was found not guilty of the double murders by a jury, 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.
After emerging from the courthouse, surrounded by television cameras, the Goldman family was beaming and weeping, raising their arms in victory, as onlookers shouted, "Way to go!" Fred Goldman, father of Ronald, said, "Thank God for some justice for Ron and Nicole. . . . This is all we ever wanted. We have it." He also said: "We feel great. We feel appreciated."
Denise Brown, Nicole Simpson's sister, said, "Finally there is a justice system in this world."
Louis Brown, the father of Nicole Simpson, stood and smiled after the verdicts were announced and said: "I want to get outside and scream."
O.J. Simpson, whose advisers said he would make a statement, did not appear before cameras after the verdict. Reached by telephone later at his home, Simpson told The Associated Press, "I'm sitting with my kids right now," but he declined to comment further.
The jury's $8.5 million award was for compensatory damages to Goldman's mother and father for the loss of their slain son's love and companionship. Nicole Simpson's estate was not seeking compensatory damages.
In the second phase of the civil trial, to begin Thursday, attorneys for Goldman's parents and Nicole Simpson's estate will seek additional punitive damages from Simpson. Jurors will hear testimony as to Simpson's net worth, and could decide an award that might reach into the millions.
As the verdicts were read, Simpson showed no obvious emotion. But Ronald Goldman's sister, Kim Goldman, screamed "Yes!" as Fred Goldman and his wife raised their arms in jubilation. The civil trial was based on three separate lawsuits. One was filed by Fred Goldman; one by his former wife and mother of Ronald Goldman, Sharon Rufo; and one by Nicole Simpson's estate, filed by her father. The beneficiaries of that estate are Simpson's two children, who now reside with him.
The combined suits effectively sought to find O.J. Simpson "responsible" for the wrongful deaths of Nicole Brown and Ronald Goldman, in a similar way that families of the victims of drunken driving accidents seek compensation.
Simpson, however, never faced the possibility of jail in the civil trial -- only monetary damages for causing the deaths. Simpson, while his money and some future earnings will go to the plaintiffs, will live as a free man.
He may also choose to appeal the finding based on decisions that the judge made during the trial about what evidence could be introduced and any number of decisions that Superior Court Judge Hiroshi Fujisaki made.
In contrast to the criminal trial, where jurors had to reach a verdict "beyond a reasonable doubt," the civil jurors faced a much lower burden of proof. They only had to conclude whether Simpson was responsible for the deaths based on "a preponderance of the evidence," which lawyers for the plaintiffs stressed meant that Simpson "probably" was the killer. And unlike in the criminal trial, where a unanimous verdict of guilt or innocence must be reached, in a civil trial just nine of the 12 jurors had to agree to the verdict.
The civil jury was composed of nine whites, one Hispanic, one Asian American and a Jamaican immigrant who described himself as black and Asian. The criminal trial jury was mostly black. Because they will be returning to decide punitive damages, they still are not allowed to speak to the media.
Unlike the criminal trial, where Simpson's attorneys focused on former LAPD detective Mark Fuhrman and his use of racial slurs, the civil trial largely skirted the issues of race and class. Fuhrman did not testify in the civil proceedings, and the trial made little mention of black or white issues. While defense lawyers for Simpson in the civil trial portrayed the police as corrupt, they did not paint them as racists, as did Simpson's criminal trial attorneys.
The verdict came more than four months after the civil trial began, and after jurors heard more than 100 witnesses testify and viewed more than 2,500 exhibits.
With no cameras in the courtroom, and the stakes lessened, this trial has lacked much of the circus atmosphere and racial fireworks of the criminal trial, which ended in October 1995 with Simpson's acquittal. Yet the main themes of the civil trial mirrored the earlier court battle: The jury could believe Simpson or the police, but not both.
Though to a lesser degree than the criminal trial, the deliberations in the wrongful death civil case have been marked by periodic tumult: the dismissal of one juror, a suggestion of jury tampering and calls for a mistrial by Simpson's defense attorneys.
After the first jury panel had deliberated for more than 14 hours, Fujisaki received a faxed letter from the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office notifying him that one of the jurors, the only African American on the panel, had a daughter who worked as a legal secretary in District Attorney Gil Garcetti's office.
The juror, Rosemary Caraway, was dismissed and replaced by an Asian American computer programmer in his thirties. Simpson's lead attorney, Robert Baker, argued forcefully that the judge should declare a mistrial, suggesting that Caraway could have tainted the panel.
The newly configured jury of six men and six women deliberated for three days before deciding that Simpson was liable for the deaths of his ex-wife and her friend. While it is not yet known what they discussed behind closed doors, they asked to have the court reporter read back testimony that focused on Simpon's alibi the night of the slayings; a New Year's 1989 fight with Nicole Simpson that left her bruised and battered; and recollections of Allan Park, the limousine driver who tried repeatedly to contact Simpson on the night of the killings.
Simpson, who did not testify in the criminal trial, spent several days on the witness stand in the civil trial. As a witness, courtroom observers described him as alternately charming and evasive. He was not sure how he cut his hand, but suggested that he nicked himself while wrestling with his son. He denied ever wearing a dark-colored running suit consistent with fibers found at the murder scene, even though houseguest Brian "Kato" Kaelin said he did.
In his testimony, Simpson said he was resting, showering, chipping golf balls and walking his dog at the time of the double killing. He denied ever having hit his ex-wife. Instead, he testified, the two, both drunk, "wrestled."
The civil lawsuit and the criminal trial both focused on similar themes, though at the civil trial damning new evidence was introduced -- more than 30 photographs taken months before the slayings showing Simpson wearing a pair of Bruno Magli shoes -- the same style that experts testified left bloody footprints behind at the murder scene.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs sought to portray Simpson as a vain and violent man who killed his ex-wife and Goldman in a fit of rage after Nicole Simpson rejected him. They argued that he left a trail of overwhelming, irrefutable physical evidence including "a trail of blood" that pointed to Simpson as the killer. There were the bloody gloves at the murder scene and Simpson's mansion; blood matching O.J. Simpson's DNA dribbled at the murder scene; Nicole Simpson's and Goldman's blood in Simpson's Ford Bronco and on a pair of bloody socks found at his home.
"There is a murderer in this courtroom," shouted plaintiffs' lead attorney Daniel Petrocelli in his closing arguments.
Simpson's defense focused again on police, who his attorneys characterized as liars who planted evidence and would do anything to make their case against the former football great.
"It's O.J. Simpson versus law enforcement," his attorney Baker told jurors.
Simpson's lawyers argued that former LAPD detective Tom Vannatter, who handled a sample of Simpson's blood collected the day after the murders, contaminated evidence to implicate Simpson. Moreover, Simpson did not have time to kill two people, his lawyers said. Nor would he. In his own testimony, Simpson stated that he loved his ex-wife and would never hurt the mother of two of his children. He was not enraged, he said, and it was he, and not his former wife, who was prepared to get on with his life and end their stormy relationship.
CAPTION: Two Trials, Two Different Outcomes
After trials that kept the country rapt for two and a half years, one jury found him not guilty; one found him liable. 1994 June 12: Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald L. Goldman are knifed to death outside her condominium. June 17: O.J. Simpson is charged with murder. July 20: Goldman's mother files wrongful death lawsuit. July 22: Simpson pleads "absolutely, 100 percent not guilty." Sept. 26: Criminal trial jury selection begins. 1995 Jan. 24: Opening statements begin in criminal trial. May 4: Goldman family files wrongful death lawsuit. June 12: Brown family files wrongful death lawsuit. Sept. 22: Defense and prosecution rest. Simpson tells judge: "I did not, could not and would not have committed this crime." Oct. 3: Jury finds Simpson not guilty. Nov. 15: Judge consolidates three wrongful death lawsuits. 1996 July 23: Judge Hiroshi Fujisaki named judge for civil trial. Oct. 23: Opening statements begin. Nov. 1: Defense suggests cap and glove might have been planted near bodies. Nov. 6: Harry Scull says he took picture of Simpson in September 1993 wearing what appear to be rare Bruno Magli shoes, the type that left prints at the crime scene. Nov. 11: Forensic pathologist says gouges on Simpson's hands could have been caused by fingernails as victims struggled to fend off killer. Nov. 19: Secretly taped 1993 conversations of couple played for jurors. Nicole Simpson says her husband was "animalistic." Nov. 22: Simpson testifies before a jury for first time. Denies killing the pair but cannot explain physical evidence used against him. Nov. 25: Simpson calls Scull picture a fraud. Simpson says he might have cut his hand wrestling with young son. Dec. 4: Volunteer at battered women's shelter describes call from "Nicole" five days before slaying. Dec. 5: Judge tells jurors they cannot consider shelter phone call testimony as evidence that Simpson stalked or threatened his wife. Dec. 9: Plaintiffs rest after calling victim's father, Fred Goldman. Dec. 20: Simpson is awarded full custody of his children. 1997 Jan. 6: Plaintiffs show jurors 30 more pictures they claim further prove Simpson owned Bruno Magli shoes. Jan. 8: Criminalist Dennis Fung suggests glove in evidence and glove in photos of killing scene may not be the same. Jan. 9: Defense expert Henry Lee says he found new blood trail at killing scene, repeats claim of errors in evidence collection techniques. Jan. 10: Simpson takes stand again, describing ex-wife's increasingly erratic behavior in months before she was killed. Jan. 13: Simpson denies ever owning or wearing Bruno Magli shoes. Judge lets jurors hear parts of undated letter written by Nicole Simpson claiming Simpson "beat the holy hell out of me." Simpson says he was unfaithful during marriage but didn't view that as a lie. Jan. 14: Defense rests and plaintiff rebuttal begins. Jan. 15: Fung recants testimony. Jan. 16: Both sides rest after calling 101 witnesses over 41 days of testimony. Jan. 17: Attorneys and judge agree on jury instructions. Feb. 3: Jurors restart deliberations interrupted when one panelist was dismissed. Feb. 4: Simpson held liable for deaths of Nicole Simpson and Ronald Goldman. $8.5 million in compensatory damages awarded to Goldman family.Simpson when he was found not guilty in 1995.Goldman's stepmother, father and sister during the civil trial. They and Goldman's mother won $8.5 million in damages yesterday.Nicole Brown Simpson's father, sister and mother during the civil trial.
SOURCE: Associated Press
CAPTION: Simpson when he was found not guilty in 1995.
CAPTION: Goldman's stepmother, father and sister during the civil trial. They and Goldman's mother won $8.5 million in damages yesterday.
CAPTION: Nicole Brown Simpson's father, sister and mother during the civil trial.
CAPTION: O.J. Simpson arrives at courthouse before announcement of the verdict.