Simpson Ii: The Never-ending Story

Posted: October 03, 1996

The O.J. Simpson case is back - with a vengeance.

After being held hostage by the often surprising and sometimes outrageous double-murder trial that ended a year ago today with two not-guilty verdicts, people seem considerably less interested in the football legend's civil trial now getting under way with jury selection in Santa Monica, Calif., south of Los Angeles.

But now these logs have been thrown on the smoldering fire:

* Former L.A. police detective Mark Fuhrman was charged yesterday with perjury for lying during the murder trial about using a racial epithet.

He entered a no-contest plea and was sentenced to three years' probation and fined $200. He could have gotten up to four years in prison.

Also yesterday, Fuhrman was subpoenaed to appear at the civil trial, but because he is now an Idaho resident may not be required to do so.

In an irony some will find delicious and others outrageous, Simpson himself is obligated to testify at the civil trial, but will not serve jail time if found liable.

* The volcanic Fred Goldman, father of murder victim Ronald Goldman, violated the gag order imposed by the civil trial judge and popped off in a call to CNN's ``Larry King Live'' and during an impromptu press conference on the steps of the Santa Monica courthouse.

Goldman lashed out at the author of a recent book who suggested his son was killed because he was caught up in the drug underworld, and people critical of the direct-mail campaign he and his family have mounted to pay their civil suit lawyers.

Civil trial Judge Hiroshi Fujisaki implied that if Goldman blabs again, he could land in jail.

* Nicole Brown Simpson's friend, Faye Resnick, whose intimate biography of the murder victim read like a blueprint of the prosecution's case well before the criminal trial had even started, reported that her L.A. area home had been burglarized.

The only things taken, she claimed, were computer files for an autobiography she is writing, implying that the break-in was another effort by Simpson allies to prove she was part of that drug underworld and the target of a botched hit that left Nicole Simpson and Goldman dead.

* Simpson ``Dream Team'' defense ace Johnnie Cochran Jr.'s personal take on the trial finally hit bookstores.

Like most of the many other books, ``Journey to Justice'' arrived more with a whimper than a bang: No new revelations, nothing about whether he believes Simpson is innocent, but plenty of grist for TV talk shows starved for anything O.J.

Interest in the civil trial is not feverish, but it's there, said CNN executive vice president Ed Turner. ``There is an intense band of O.J. followers that will not go away, and we don't want them to.''

During the first trial, viewers saw virtually every courtroom twist and turn, usually live, and the lawyers talked almost as much outside Judge Lance Ito's L.A. courtroom as they did inside.

One reason there has been less interest in the civil trial so far is that, unlike Ito, who at times seemed to be running a three-ring circus, Fujisaki barred cameras and slapped a gag order on lawyers and victims' families that more or less held until Fred Goldman broke it.

Turner said interest will really surge once the spotlight returns to figures like Brian ``Kato'' Kaelin and Simpson himself, who, unlike the first trial, is expected to testify.

Here's what to expect, not to expect and the substantial differences in the second trial that could provide some surprises.

Why is there even a second trial? Some people believe that Simpson has been singled out for persecution because Fred Goldman and others can't stand to see him go free.

Very few convicted murderers face civil trial, and even fewer acquitted suspects like Simpson, primarily because most don't have his deep pockets.

The victims' families say it's justice, not money they're after, but it's less likely they'd be back in court if Simpson were broke, which he apparently is not.

Isn't a second trial double jeopardy? No. People accused of wrongdoing can be held accountable both in criminal court for violating the law, and in civil court to victims and their families.

Isn't there a third trial, too? Sort of, in the form of a lengthy hearing for custody of Simpson's young children in Orange County, Calif.

Sydney, 10, and Justin Simpson, 8, have lived with Nicole Simpson's parents since the murders. O.J. Simpson wants them back. The hearing began last month and is in recess until the civil trial is over.

What's the book on Fujisaki? Tough as nails, and described as the ideal judge to prevent the posturing and pandemonium that characterized the criminal trial.

Fujisaki plans to retire early next year, and has said he expects the trial to be over by then.

Is jury selection a big deal in this trial, too? Even bigger. The L.A. district attorney made several politically tainted decisions that dogged the prosecution team. But most trial observers agree that none was more significant than deciding to try the case in racially and ethnically diverse central L.A., not the less diverse and more affluent Brentwood area where the murders occurred and Simpson and the victims lived.

The result was a predominately black jury that deliberated for barely four hours before rejecting the prosecution case and acquitting Simpson.

The civil jury will be from overwhelmingly white and wealthy Santa Monica, where Goldman's family lives, so the racial makeup of this jury may be even more important.

Speaking of race, what about the much-debated racial gulf that was so obvious after the criminal trial verdict? It's alive and well, according to recent public opinion polls, and Fuhrman's new troubles could further fan the flames.

The polls show that blacks still tend to believe there are two justice systems - one for whites and one for others - and that the verdict was proper. Whites have a more favorable impression of the justice system and think Simpson should have been convicted.

How will this trial be different? In addition to the TV blackout and gag order, the biggest change will be the lower standard the jury will use in determining Simpson's guilt or innocence.

In the first trial, all 12 jurors had to determine that Simpson was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. But only nine of the 12 members of the jury now being selected have to determine that there is a preponderance of evidence to convict.

Also, Fujisaki is significantly limiting the defense's ability to try to portray Fuhrman and the L.A. Police Department as bunglers and conspirators - a cornerstone of the first trial defense strategy - and said testimony must focus on who committed the murders.

Who is likely to testify? Kato Kaelin, the befuddled houseboy. Limo driver Allan Park. Criminalist Henry Lee, one of the defense's best witnesses last time.

Also returning: Wailing dog testimony, boring DNA lectures, bloody socks and gloves, and arthritic knees.

Among those expected to testify for the first time are Harry Scull, a photographer who says he took a shot of Simpson in the pricey Bruno Magli shoes Simpson claims he never wore, but left bloody footprints at the murder scene. Also on tap are former Simpson girlfriend Paula Barbieri and Kansas City Chiefs star Marcus Allen.

Allen ducked having to take the stand last year about his alleged affair with Nicole Simpson, but as a California resident has been subpoenaed for the civil trial and must testify if called.

Who won't testify? In addition to Fuhrman, Al ``A.C.'' Cowlings, who during civil case depositions refused to answer questions about his role in the freeway chase and apparently has been written off as a witness.

L.A. deputy coroner Irwin Golden, who did the autopsies, is also unlikely to appear. The defense unsuccessfully tried to put him on the stand in the first trial, and won't this time because the new defense team failed to disclose his name to the court in time.

What about O.J.? You can probably bet the ranch on him being on the stand for days to testify for the first time about what he was doing on the evening of June 12, 1994, the freeway Bronco chase and abuse allegations detailed in Nicole Simpson's diaries.

What about those diaries? Expect the plaintiff's lawyers to use them extensively.

They were considered hearsay evidence at the first trial and were inadmissible. But California Gov. Pete Wilson has since signed a law that created an exception to the hearsay rule that permits some written or recorded statements of ``unavailable'' victims to be admitted.

How about the lawyers? Almost all new faces, same nice suits.

Fred Goldman has hired four lawyers, his former wife has her own, and the Browns have four. The most prominent of the nine is the tenacious Daniel M. Petrocelli, who spent most of his career defending big corporations.

Simpson's new team is led by the formidable Robert C. Baker, a legendary civil litigator. Defense lawyer Robert Blaiser is the lone holdover from the first trial.

Will there be much media coverage since there's a courtroom camera ban? You bet, although CNN, Court TV and the networks will have to do it the old-fashioned way: Reporters reporting what happened in the courtroom from outside the courtroom.

Court TV and E! Entertainment Television, which along with CNN provided gavel-to-gavel coverage of the criminal trial, will have updates several times a day.

Syndicated tabloid TV shows like ``Hard Copy'' and ``Inside Edition'' actually see the blackout as an advantage and a way to attract more viewers.

If there's a conviction, how much might O.J. have to pay? Perhaps everything he owns, if the jury is so inclined. So Simpson could potentially be bankrupted, but not sent to jail.

The jury will have to decide four awards of varying amounts.

Why? There are two kinds of potential awards in this case - wrongful death and survival.

Goldman's father and mother, Sharon Rufo, are separately seeking unspecified big bucks through wrongful-death claims. If there is a conviction, the jury might award Rufo less because she and Fred Goldman have been long-divorced and Rufo had little contact with her son.

Goldman's estate, represented by both parents, is seeking a survival award, in effect nothing more than payment for the clothes that were torn and bloodied in the murder.

Technically, the Browns are not plaintiffs. They are representatives of Nicole Simpson's estate, which is seeking a survival award, but not a wrongful-death award.

This is unusual, but may be in keeping with the Browns' efforts to shield the children from the likelihood of their having to testify if there was a wrongful-death claim.

Can't the kids sue? Not until they turn 19, which (gasp!) sets up the possibility of a Trial of the Next Century.

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