A civil jury Tuesday night unanimously held O.J. Simpson responsible for killing his ex-wife and her friend Ronald Goldman, granting the Goldmans $8.5 million in compensatory damages and a verdict they felt was denied them the first time.
The verdict means that a hearing assessing Simpson’s finances will be held before the jury deliberates again to determine what could be millions more in punitive damages, for both the Goldmans and the estate of Nicole Brown Simpson. The hearing was set for Thursday.
When the verdict was read, yelps went up from the Browns and the Goldmans. Ron Goldman’s father, Fred, swung around to face his family sitting on the bench behind him, and he, daughter Kim and wife Patti all dissolved into tears.
Simpson, in contrast, sat impassively, only a slight clenching of his fists betraying his emotions.
Although only nine votes were required for a verdict, the jury’s conclusions were underscored by its unanimity. As the jurors were polled one by one, many looked directly at the former football star and, in clear and emphatic voices, answered “yes” when asked whether that was their verdict.
Even before the verdict, the Goldmans and Browns had blared their emotions, standing dabbing their tears away and hugging one another in the hallways outside the courtroom. The defense team looked relaxed and even seemed to crack some jokes, prompting nervous laughter.
The jury of six men and six women deliberated for 14 hours over 2-1/2 days. That was more than four times longer than the criminal-trial jury that in October 1995 acquitted Simpson in the June 12, 1994, stabbing deaths.
Nicole Simpson’s parents, Lou and Juditha Brown, and their daughter Denise left the courthouse Tuesday night with broad smiles.
“We’re coming to the end of the public phase of more suffering, more pain, more loneliness and more loss than any one family can be expected to endure,” their attorney, John Kelly, said as he stood with his arms draped around the shoulders of his clients. “Nicole was a great mother, daughter, sister and friend, and no jury verdict is ever going to change that.”
Fred Goldman, who had been outspoken against Simpson during and after the criminal trial, said: “We finally got some justice for Ron and Nicole. This is all we ever wanted. We have it. Thank God.”
The jury was handed the case a week ago, but had to start deliberations anew Friday when one of its members - the only African American on the panel - was suddenly dismissed. She had failed to disclose that her daughter works in the office of the prosecutor who unsuccessfully tried Simpson on murder charges. An alternate, an Asian male, joined the panel.
In the three hours it took for the Browns, Goldmans and Simpson to arrive in the courtroom, the Santa Monica courthouse grew to resemble a disaster area.
Patrol cars blocked off traffic around the courthouse. Police escorted the lawyers and their clients through a crush of media and hundreds of onlookers who alternately heckled and jeered the arriving principals. News helicopters hovered overheard.
The predominantly white jury heard much of the same evidence that had led the predominantly African American jury in the criminal trial to decide he should be acquitted. But the trials could not have been more different.
The criminal trial focused on race, with the defense contending that Simpson was framed by racist police investigators. In the civil trial, the defense alleged that Simpson had been framed by police determined to win a big case to compensate for losses in other highly publicized trials.
The plaintiffs this time also had some key evidence that had not been available to prosecutors. They had uncovered 31 photographs of Simpson wearing a pair of lace-up shoes that appeared similar to the Bruno Maglis that left a footprint in the blood at the murder scene, though Simpson insisted he had never owned a pair. And cellular phone records showed that Simpson had called his voice mail for messages about half an hour before the murders, though he denied ever retrieving a breakup message that day from his girlfriend Paula Barbieri.
But the biggest difference was the testimony of Simpson himself. Defendants in criminal trials have a constitutional right not to testify, and Simpson did not do so in 1995. When he was called to the stand by plaintiffs this time, his credibility faltered, though his demeanor and voice exuded confidence.
He denied striking his ex-wife, even as he sat in front of a blown-up picture of Nicole Simpson’s face mottled with bruises that he attributed to her squeezing pimples. He consistently denied ever hitting her, contradicting the testimony both of strangers who said they had seen him slap her and of friends who said she had told them he had hit her.
Six separate times, defense attorney Robert Baker asked Superior Court Judge Hiroshi Fujisaki to declare a mistrial, but every motion was denied.
It is not clear whether the plaintiffs will get much, if any, money from Simpson. He is believed to have up to $3 million in pension funds that under state law cannot be awarded in a lawsuit. He is known to have heavily mortgaged his home to pay his legal bills, though he does own a San Francisco condominium in which his mother lives.
The finding against Simpson is likely to have little impact on the ongoing custody battle over his children with maternal grandparents Louis and Juditha Brown, several legal experts said Tuesday. The Browns are appealing a Dec. 20 decision in which a judge ruled Simpson is entitled to full custody of Sydney, 11, and Justin, 8.