The Murder Trial of O.J. Simpson
Justice For the Dead
"The Government Wins When Justice is Done."
— Motto of the U.S. Justice Department
The criminal trial was over, but the law was not finished with Orenthal James Simpson. A year later on October 23rd, 1996, another trial began and once again, he was the defendant.
This time, the venue was the courthouse in Santa Monica. Before a jury of one black, one Hispanic, one Asian, and nine whites, a civil trial began to lay judgment again on him for the murders of Ronald Lyle Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson.
In this civil suit filed by the Goldman and Brown families, Simpson could not invoke the Fifth Amendment and, unlike the criminal case, was forced to testify. Also, the standard of proof was a lot easier than in the criminal case. There, guilt must be proven "beyond a reasonable doubt." In a civil case, guilt had only to be proven according to the "preponderance of the evidence", rather than "beyond a reasonable doubt." In other words its purpose is to decide whether it is more likely than not that the defendant committed the crime.
On February 4th, 1997, the jury awarded $8.5 million in compensatory damages to Fred Goldman and his ex-wife Sharon Rufo for the loss of their son's love, companionship and moral support. A few days later, they brought in punitive damages of $25 million to be shared between Nicole's children and Fred Goldman.
The jury had considered for six days, after the four-month trial. It seemed a lot more deliberate than the five hours it took the criminal court jury to decide after over nine months of testimony.
Fred Goldman, a pathfinder in the legal attack against Simpson, told reporters that Tuesday evening, "We finally have justice for Ron and Nicole. Our family is grateful for a verdict of responsibility."
It seemed at long last that judgment had finally been observed. The money of course, was never paid out. Simpson's lawyer, Robert Baker, told the jury that Simpson was broke, with a negative net worth of $856,157, down from a net positive worth of $10 million. He owed lawyer fees, back taxes of $685,248.00 to the IRS, and mortgage repayments, and in effect was without assets. It appears unlikely that anyone will ever get anything of any consequence.
Simpson would go about living out his life on the income from a $4 million pension fund established when he was playing football. This would bring him in more than $20,000 dollars every month, and could not be touched by the courts. Not a bad life-style for most people, but way below the heady days of his wine and roses period.
Simpson moved to a $1.5 million house in Kendall, Florida with his son and daughter. After the civil trial, Nicole's parents launched a bitter custody battle, which they lost in 2000. His move was a shrewd one. Under the laws of California, any money he acquired can be seized to pay the damages awarded against him in the civil trial. In Florida the law is different. Simpson recently told a journalist, Caroline Graham, "They can't touch my earnings here. And it will be a cold day in hell before I pay a penny."
In due course, the mortgagee, Hawthorne Estates, repossessed his Rockingham estate, which was auctioned off on November 29th, 1997, for a little under $3.9 million and subsequently demolished by the buyer to make way for an even grander Brentwood palace. Simpson had borrowed heavily against his house to help fund his huge legal bills, and hadn't met his very large mortgage payments.
Interest in Simpson faded, and the murder and trials were relegated to the writers and commentators to analyze, dissect and ruminate over. There was plenty of comment that surfaced from members of the jury after the trial was over.
Marsha Rubin-Jackson said, "If a lot of evidence had been brought out, for instance the diaries that contained examples of abuse and the evidence in the Bronco after the chase, I would have given that a lot more thought."
Armanda Cooley, the lady selected as the foreperson, had also been concerned about the presentation of evidence, saying, "I felt Mr. Simpson was guilty when the prosecutors were putting on their case... I changed my thinking when I heard evidence about the glove... another episode that changed my mind was... the picking up of evidence weeks later... the results were so much different... the DNA content being so much different."
She also commented, "Based on the evidence that was presented... a lot pointed to Mr. Simpson's guilt... because we had no direct evidence... I had no alternative but to think he was not guilty. There were many questions that were not answered."
Perhaps the most pertinent commentary came from juror Carrie Bess:
"As far as I'm concerned, Mr. Simpson would have been behind bars if the police work had been done properly."
Her views were shared by Peter Bozanitch, an Assistant District Attorney, who summed up the LAPD's handling of the investigation with some irony," I've been working with the LAPD for 25 years — this is by far the best work they've ever done! This is the best they've ever done; this is their crowning achievement."
By the time it was all over, it had long ceased to be about law and order and justice served, and instead had become about voyeurs feasting on and being titillated by the complex life-styles and tragedies of people whose lives, loves and, ultimately, deaths simply served up a special brand of entertainment to help a bored audience get through the day.