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O.J. Simpson Trials: 1995 & 1996-97

The Goldmans And Browns Sue

While the murder trial was going on, three civil suits for wrongful death had been filed against O.J. Simpson: by Fred Goldman, father of Ron Goldman; by Ron's mother, Sharon Rufo, who had divorced Fred when Ron was six years old; and by the Brown family.

California law permitted two kinds of suits. The estate of a dead person could bring a survival suit by the victim's personal representative—parents or other immediate relatives—for punitive damages. The victim's heirs would share any money won by the suit.

The other permissible suit was a wrongful death claim. This could be brought by an heir for loss of financial support or loss of emotional support (i.e., loss of a relationship). Fred Goldman filed only for the latter. Although Sharon Rufo had had no relationship with her son since he was six, she filed her own wrongful death suit.

The Brown family decided to bring only a survival suit for the assault and battery that resulted in Nicole's death. They didn't want to put her young children through a wrongful death suit. It would be up to a jury to decide whether Simpson had attacked and battered Ron Goldman and Nicole and whether he had killed Ron; they did not have to determine whether he had killed Nicole.

Simpson and his defense lawyers found the rules and courtroom atmosphere different this time. They lost a motion to seal Simpson's depositions explaining the cuts on his hand and body and ownership of gloves and shoes. Judge Hiroshi Fujisaki allowed no courtroom cameras of any kind, and permitted only an audio feed to reporters who could not be accommodated inside. He issued a gag order to keep the lawyers on both sides from commenting on the trial. He excluded irrelevant and prejudiced evidence that Judge Ito had permitted. He did not sequester the jury.

Plaintiff lawyers Daniel Petrocelli and Tom Lambert brought in all the pertinent witnesses from the criminal trial and took the jury through the evidence. The defense had to admit that lab test results of various bloodstains were valid and proper, and it quickly became clear that no blood had been "planted" anywhere. After glove expert Richard Rubin demonstrated that the bloody gloves could easily fit if latex gloves were not put on first, defense lawyer Robert Baker avoided asking Simpson to try them on. Testimony by Kato Kaelin and limo driver Allan Park destroyed Simpson's alibi that he was napping at home between 10:00 and 11:00 P.M. Telephone records not previously revealed proved that early in the evening of the murders Simpson had received an ego-shattering "Dear John" call from girlfriend Paula Barbieri that probably enraged him. Forensic pathologist Dr. Werner Spitz described in sickening detail how quickly the victims were killed, countering the testimony of defense expert Michael Baden that Simpson hadn't had enough time. An attendant on Simpson's redeye flight told of his using the lavatory every 10 or 15 minutes yet never flushing the toilet—apparently, the jury was led to believe, treating his bleeding finger.

With the defendant on the witness stand, Petrocelli led him through each moment of the 911-call batterings of Nicole, and made him describe his movements on the day of the murders. During his two-day testimony, Simpson denied committing the murders but could not adequately explain his own injuries or his whereabouts during the time between the McDonald's trip with Kato Kaelin and the limo coming to pick him up.

The defense failed to prove its contention that one photo of Simpson in the Bruno Magli shoes was a fake, then fell apart when 31 pictures of O.J. wearing the shoes by another photographer turned up. It called no DNA expert to question the blood tests that incriminated Simpson. It offered no witness to counter the hair and fiber matches.

The judge instructed the jury that they were not bound by the verdict of the criminal trial. Nor was unanimity required. Rather, 9 of the 12 had to find that a preponderance of the evidence supported their verdict.

The jury deliberated for five days. On Tuesday, February 4, 1997, it unanimously found that 0.j. Simpson had willfully and wrongfully caused the death of Ronald Goldman and had maliciously attacked and assaulted Nicole Brown Simpson. It ordered Simpson to pay the Goldman family $8.5 million in compensatory damages, and to pay $12.5 million in punitive damages to each of the two families.

Bernard Ryan, Jr.

Suggestions for Further Reading

Bugliosi, Vincent. Outrage: The Five Reasons Why 0.1 Simpson Got Away with Murder. New York: Norton, 1996.

Cochran, Johnnie L, Jr. with Tim Rutten. Journey to Justice. New York: One World (Ballantine), 1996.

Darden, Christopher with Jess Walter. In Contempt. New York: Regan (HarperCollins), 1996.

Dershowitz, Alan M. Reasonable Doubts: The O.J. Simpson Case and the Criminal Justice System. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996.

Goldberg, Hank. The Prosecution Responds: An O.J. Simpson Trial Prosecutor Reveals What Really Happened. Secaucus, N.J.: Carol, 1996.

Petrocelli, Daniel with Peter Knobler. Triumph of Justice: The Final Judgment on the Simpson Saga. New York: Crown, 1998.

Schiller, Lawrence and James Willwerth. American Tragedy: The Uncensored Story of the Simpson Defense. New York: Random House. 1996. _

Shapiro, Robert L. with Larkin Warren. The Search for Justice: A Defense Attorney's Brief on the 0.J. Simpson Case. New York: Warner, 1996.

Toobin, Jeffrey. The Run of His Life: The People v. 0.J. Simpson. New York: Random House, 1996.

Uelmen, Gerald F. Lessons from the Trial. The People v. 0.J. Simpson. Kansas City, Mo.: Andrews and McMeel, 1996.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1995 to PresentO.J. Simpson Trials: 1995 1996-97 - Criminal Trial, Civil Trial, The Infamous Chase, The Trial Of The Century Begins, Kato Kaelin Testifies - The Verdict