Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections
(Page 2 of 3)

Simpson Verdict: $25 Million : Punitive Damages Bring Total to $33.5 Million

Trial: Jury in civil case awards $12.5 million to the heirs of each victim. The huge judgments leave no doubt that most panelists were outraged by the slayings.

February 11, 1997|STEPHANIE SIMON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"There's just no way anyone could have planted all that evidence," Bigelow said. Plus, he added, even as defense lawyers tarred the Los Angeles Police Department as sinister conspirators, they blasted them as inept bunglers. "And how could incompetent people plant all that evidence? It doesn't make sense," he said.

Simpson's contradictory statements, painstakingly laid out by the plaintiffs' team, appeared to have sealed the verdicts against him.

The jurors who participated in the news conference voiced doubts about his testimony: How he could remember every detail of his alibi, but not how he cut his left hand the night of the slayings? How he could deny ever hitting Nicole, when they could see her battered face in photos? How he could insist he never, ever wore Bruno Magli shoes even when confronted with 31 photos of him in the exact model that tracked bloody prints at the crime scene?

"Finding O.J. Simpson liable of the murders and [finding that he acted] with oppression and malice was one of the easiest decisions I have ever had to make," one female juror said.

To prevail, the plaintiffs had to prove their case by showing it was probable that Simpson killed his ex-wife and Goldman on June 12, 1994. But some jurors said they far exceeded that standard, even satisfying the criminal trial burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

"It's 100% for me," another female juror said. "I really believe Mr. Simpson is guilty."

Another, who had taken notes so intently she was often the last to leave the jury box, concurred: "Beyond a shadow of a doubt," she said.

But in calculating the judgments against him, the jurors may have given Simpson a potent argument on appeal. California law requires that jurors take into account the defendant's net worth. But the punitive damage award far outstrips even the most optimistic estimate of Simpson's assets.

In basing their punitive award on the $25-million estimate of Simpson's future earning, the panel did not subtract the substantial liabilities Simpson has incurred, including tax bills, attorneys fees and bank loans. Factoring those debts into account, even the plaintiffs figured he was worth only $15.7 million.

Given that top-drawer estimate, "you probably can't have a punitive damage award worth more than $15 million," legal analyst Brian Lysaght said. "I would expect [Superior Court Judge Hiroshi] Fujisaki to whittle it down a bit."

Fujisaki is likely to get his chance soon.

Defense attorney Robert C. Baker--who, like the rest of Simpson's team, declined to comment on the verdicts--served notice that he will file appeals almost immediately. Fujisaki ordered the plaintiffs to hold off collecting Simpson's money for 10 days, until he has time to review some of the appeal motions.

Baker said his first step will be to demand a new trial. He can also ask Fujisaki to override the jury and strike down the verdicts. Or he can plead with the judge to cut the damage award. If Fujisaki turns down any or all of those requests, Simpson can appeal to a higher court.

Simpson's supporters mobilized to press that appeal within minutes of the verdicts. Morris Griffin, for one, was circulating through the low-key crowd outside the courthouse waving a sign that said, "Help O.J. Appeal," followed by a phone number for potential donors to call.

"We know the man is innocent," said Griffin. The civil trial jurors, he added, "were impulsively and compulsively emotional . . . they were reacting and not thinking about the evidence" in reaching a verdict.

Griffin's passion--echoed by several other protesters in the crowd--indicated that this verdict, however resounding, is unlikely to seal shut the Simpson case. Even some of the victims' relatives said that although they felt relief and vindication, they were not ready to put the tumultuous pain of the past 2 1/2 years behind them.

"I think it will be quite some time before any of us feel any closure," Dominique Brown said.

The Browns emphasized that any money that flows to Sydney, 11, and Justin, 8, will be set aside in a trust fund. Neither Simpson nor the Browns will be able to tap the fund, which will be preserved intact until the children reach adulthood.

But it is far from clear how much of the $12.5-million award the children will actually receive.

To come up with anything close to the $15.7 million the plaintiffs say he has, Simpson would have to auction off his furniture, his artwork, his cars, his house and the rights to use his name on various products. He would also have to liquidate his pension funds.

California law protects him from having to take such drastic measures. Though the plaintiffs have the right to seize Simpson's assets, they cannot force him into utter poverty.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|