February 11, 1997 in Nation/World

Jury Orders Simpson To Pay $25 Million In Punitive Damages

Chicago Tribune
 

Expressing little doubt about the evidence and scant faith in O.J. Simpson’s testimony, a civil jury decided Monday that he should pay $25 million as punishment for the slayings of his former wife and her friend.

Released from the gag order that had kept them silent during the four-month trial, the jurors said they had little difficulty deciding that Simpson was responsible for killing Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman.

It “was one of the easiest decisions I have ever had to make,” said juror Laura Fast-Khazaee, a white woman in her 30s. The other jurors were identified only by number.

The mostly white jury said that race played no part in its decision to hold Simpson liable in the brutal slayings. Nonetheless, even inside the jury room, race affected perceptions in the Simpson case to the end.

While the white jurors unanimously ruled the former football star was responsible for the slayings, the only African-American on the panel, a woman in her 40s who was an alternate juror, said she was not convinced of Simpson’s guilt.

“For the most part, I felt Simpson was pretty credible,” she said. She added that police probably planted evidence and “should still seek other people. One person couldn’t have done this by himself.”

Monday’s verdict in the punitive phase of his trial was the last major event in the 2-1/2-year Simpson case. Last week, 16 months after a criminal court jury acquitted him, the civil panel found him liable for the deaths and awarded $8.5 million in compensation to Goldman’s parents.

The combined judgments against the former football great totaling $33.5 million far exceeded the sum even plaintiffs said he was worth and if the amounts are not reversed or lowered by a judge, could financially cripple Simpson for the rest of his life.

Simpson was not in the courtroom and learned of the jury’s decision while eating lunch in a golf course bar.

“He wasn’t really paying attention (to live TV coverage), to be honest,” the bartender told The Associated Press. “He was having lunch, joking around with his buddies. He didn’t even want to watch the TV.”

Unlike last week’s unanimous verdict on liability, Monday’s punitive verdicts were split. Eleven of the 12 jurors voted in each case to award the damages and 10 of the 12 agreed on the sums that should be given. Only 9 of the 12 had to agree in order to reach a verdict.

Eight of the jurors told reporters that Simpson had not been a credible witness when he took the stand and that most of them would have voted to convict him even under the stricter standards of proof required in a criminal trial.

“I believe (in his guilt) beyond a reasonable doubt,” said the juror who had seat number 3, a white male in his 20s who found suggestions of a police conspiracy preposterous.

“There is no way that anybody could have planted all that evidence,” he said. “And they called them (the police) incompetent. How could incompetent people plant all this? It doesn’t make any sense.”

The same juror also said that he was troubled by Simpson’s inability to remember certain details, such as differing stories he told about how he cut his finger.

“I find it hard to believe that he could the day after not remember a scar-causing cut on the finger,” juror number 3 said. “He can remember chipping golf balls and talking to Paula (Barbieri) in the driveway on his cell phone, but for some reason he can’t remember a … cut.”

Juror No. 4, a white woman in her 20s, also said she was astonished by the number of inconsistencies in Simpson’s testimony. “He really should have gotten his story straight before he got up there,” she said.

But that was not the way things looked to the alternate juror who wore badge number 295, a black woman who never got a seat on the main jury and thus did not participate in the deliberations.

She said that more than 30 pictures showing Simpson wearing shoes that appeared to be identical to the kind that left bloody prints at the murder scene had not convinced her that Simpson was lying when he denied having worn the expensive designer shoes.

She also said that there were many inconsistencies in the case against Simpson that were not resolved by the plaintiffs’ evidence and she accepted the possibility of a police conspiracy.

The stark difference in perception was highlighted by the juror from seat 10, a white woman in her 50s, or 60s who said the issue of race never entered the deliberation room.

“We went by all the evidence, and it had nothing to do with the color of Mr. Simpson’s skin,” she said.

Most jurors said that they were convinced that Simpson still had substantial earning capacity and that despite claims by his defense attorneys that his career was ruined, the former actor and television celebrity could continue to trade off of his name and image.

The jury appeared to agree with lawyer Daniel Petrocelli, attorney for Ronald Goldman’s father, Fred, who said in his closing arguments that the jury “must send him a message as loud as humanly possible” that he could not kill two people and get away with it.

xxxx WHAT’S NEXT? Defense has several options now that punitive damages have been decided in O.J. Simpson’s civil trial: Ask for a new trial on grounds of alleged juror misconduct, disputed testimony and evidence or amount of damage award. Ask for the damages to be reduced. Appeal to a higher court. To file an appeal, Simpson must post a bond equal to 150 percent of the compensatory damage award - $12.75 million. If Simpson declares bankruptcy, he would not have to post bond.


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