Jury decides it’s payback time, and O.J. Simpson’s doing the paying
SANTA MONICA, Calif. (AP) _ This time, it fit.
The accusations, the evidence, the once-unthinkable notion an amiable ex-football star could slash two throats and leave his two young children without a mother _ it all struck a jury as true.
In a hot, stuffy courtroom full of reporters, cops and tears, a jury decided it was payback time, and O.J. Simpson was to do the paying.
Jurors slapped Simpson with an $8.5 million judgment on Tuesday night, deducing from evidence old and new that he was liable for the slashing deaths of ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman the night of June 12, 1994.
The decision didn’t have to be unanimous, but it was: 12-0. And that was just the beginning.
The jury’s findings of malice and oppression triggered the second phase to determine punitive damages _ money assessed to punish Simpson. The panel returns Thursday for a hearing on Simpson’s financial status.
For relatives of the victims, the end of their painful 2 1/2-year odyssey drew near.
Shouts of ``Yes!″ rose in the courtroom as the verdict was read. Afterward, the victims’ sobbing relatives hugged each other and their lawyers.
``We finally have justice for Ron and Nicole,″ said Fred Goldman, the aggrieved father who doggedly pursued Simpson to civil court after denouncing his October 1995 acquittal.
As the verdict was read, the 49-year-old Simpson stared straight ahead, as one of his lawyers, Phillip Baker, gently patted his back. The Simpson team then walked out of the courtroom and into a maelstrom.
Outside the building, a crowd estimated by police at 2,000 gathered and chanted ``Killer, killer, killer″ before Simpson emerged to a mixture of boos and cheers.
On his way home, he dashed into an ice cream shop to buy a cup of chocolate cookie dough ice cream for his 11-year-old daughter, Sydney.
Reached by telephone later at his home, Simpson told The Associated Press, ``I’m sitting with my kids right now,″ but he refused further comment.
The timing of the verdict spared TV networks the choice of O.J. Simpson or President Clinton, who was giving his State of the Union address. The verdict, delayed more than three hours to allow lawyers and families to get to the courthouse, came just as the president wrapped up his hour-long speech.
At one point, Simpson’s police-escorted trip to the courthouse in his black Suburban was televised live nationally on a split screen just as Clinton began his address.
Later, Clinton said: ``We have to respect the jury verdicts that Americans bring in a situation like this.″
The $8.5 million represented the value of Goldman’s funeral and the loss of his companionship to his parents. Ms. Simpson’s family did not seek compensatory damages.
Ms. Simpson’s parents filed a suit on behalf of her estate and also demanded money from Simpson for fatally assaulting her. Any money awarded will go to Sydney and her brother, 8-year-old Justin.
The verdict and its immediate aftermath proved, dramatically, how different the civil trial was from the criminal trial, which divided the nation over issues of police racism, domestic violence and the quality of justice.
This time around, a mostly white jury used the lesser standard of ``preponderance of evidence″ rather than the ``beyond a reasonable doubt″ standard the mostly black jury used in the first trial.
The civil trial was also conducted outside the camera’s eye by lawyers under a gag order, unlike the televised criminal trial.
Former Detective Mark Fuhrman was mostly a memory in the second trial and Simpson was mostly on the defense, buckling under one adverse ruling after another and having to sit, uncomfortably at times, in the witness chair.
The defense, faced with the less friendly burden of proof, tried a modified version of Johnnie Cochran Jr.’s famous ``If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit″ defense.
This time, it must have flopped.
``They feel that they didn’t get him in the first time so they got him in the second,″ said Leon Burton, a 37-year-old black minister in South Central Los Angeles.
Across town at Brentwood’s Mezzaluna restaurant, where Goldman worked and where Ms. Simpson ate her last meal, stockbroker Vera Kaprielian summed up much of the white reaction: ``It should have happened the first time.″
After 13 hours of deliberations over three days _ more than four times as long as the criminal jury deliberated _ the civil panel weighed some three months of testimony and evidence, and rejected Simpson’s claims of faulty evidence and a police frame-up.
Instead, jurors _ forced to start deliberations anew last Friday after a juror was removed for misconduct _ sided with the plaintiffs, agreeing that the lawyers had placed Simpson’s hands in a killer’s gloves and his feet in a killer’s shoes.
The biggest, newest weapon this time were 31 pictures of Simpson wearing the same model of Bruno Magli shoes that left bloody prints near the bodies _ shoes Simpson said he never owned.
Attention now turns to Simpson’s precarious future. By all indications, $8.5 million is more money than he has now _ and may ever have. Indeed, at the peak of his success, he was worth only a little more than that.
In divorce papers, Simpson listed his net worth at $10.8 million as of Dec. 31, 1991. But he lost much of his fortune after racking up $3.5 million in legal fees during the criminal trial.
But he still has at least $3 million, as well as money sheltered in pension and retirement funds that can’t be touched by the plaintiffs, Time magazine and CNN have reported. The extent of his resources will be explored in the punitive damages phase.
Simpson’s team still has some fight left in it, as attorneys return to court this afternoon for a hearing in which the defense will ask the judge to bar testimony by two plaintiff witnesses about Simpson’s finances.
But the major battle has been waged and lost, and the only question left in this trial is not ``Did he do it?″ but ``How much more should he pay?″
Then come the inevitable appeal and post-trial squabbles between Simpson and his new creditors, and perhaps even among plaintiffs on how to divvy up the spoils.
That, though, is light years away for the families of Goldman and Ms. Simpson.
At an emotional news conference, Goldman lawyer Daniel Petrocelli declared: ``Ron would have been proud.″
Goldman’s sister Kim gently corrected him.
``Ron IS proud,″ she said.