The children who will be brought up by their mother's murderer

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The Independent Online
Los Angeles - On his way home from the Santa Monica courthouse, his black Chevy Suburban shadowed by a squadron of helicopters, OJ Simpson stopped for ice cream. He jumped out, ran into Baskin-Robbins and bought a single cup of chocolate cookie dough for his waiting daughter Sydney. It seemed a gesture of both defiance and futility. He faced a unanimous jury's decision that he was responsible for the murder of the mother of Sydney, 11, and her brother Justin, eight. Damages of $8.5m (pounds 5.3m) were awarded against him, with more to come. He had just driven away from a court- house crowd yelling "killer".

The bodies of Nicole Brown Simpson, and Nicole's friend, Ronald Goldman, were found, savagely slashed and stabbed, at Nicole's home on a Sunday night in June 1994. Prosecutors said Simpson murdered his ex-wife and Goldman in a frenzy, and then began a sustained attempt at a cover-up, minutes after the killings. He was found not guilty in a criminal trial in 1995.

The civil trial jury found on a "preponderance of the evidence", a lower standard than "beyond reasonable doubt", that Simpson had "wilfully and wrongfully" caused Goldman's death and committed battery, oppression, and "malice in the conduct" against Nicole.

It was the fate of the two children, consigned to a man damned by public opinion, that seemed the most contradictory aspect of the case. They were asleep in Nicole's condominium on the night she was murdered. His anger at being excluded from the family group at a dance recital by Sydney on the day of the murders was cited as a possible motive.

Nicole's parents, Louis and Juditha Brown, looked after Sydney and Justin during the criminal trial. Though Juditha, his mother-in-law, was once Simpson's confidante, the couple became parties to the law suit against him. "I want to get outside and scream," Mr Brown said after the verdict. The Browns promised to appeal against a family court's ruling that finally returned the children to Simpson's custody last December.

Legal observers, however, say the result of the civil trial is unlikely to overturn the rights of a surviving biological parent. A court-appointed doctor said the children "would be best served by being placed" with Simpson. He has long had a pillow inscribed "No 1 Dad". Now, at the age of 50, Simpson has told friends he will try to resurrect his family life, while indulging his passion for golf.

Occasionally Simpson has ventured out with them to book shops and restaurants. "I think he will spend more time with his kids than he ever has," one associate told the Los Angeles Times. "He loves them and just wants them". It is not clear how he will maintain them or pay the fees at their exclusive West Los Angeles private school.

The jurors in Simpson's civil trial are to begin hearings today on Simpson's assets. Having awarded compensatory damages in the wrongful-death law suit brought by Goldman's family, they will now set a figure for punitive damages for the "battery" of Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson.

The Goldman and Brown families will probably win the right to seize his bank accounts and sell off his property, it is reported. His Chevy, along with the Bentley, could soon be on the auction block. So could the estate on Rockingham Drive in West Los Angeles, where he remained cloistered with his children yesterday.

Simpson stayed relaxed and composed during the week-long wait for the verdict and seemed impassive as the answers to eight questions on the jury form were read. But Kim Goldman, sister to the 25-year-old victim, broke the silence by shouting at him: "Oh my God. You're a murderer!"

To avoid forcing the Simpson children, Nicole's legal heirs, to sue their father and testify on the witness stand, no wrongful death case was brought on their behalf. Theoretically, Sydney and Justin can sue their father any time in the next decade.

Polls showed the racial divide over the case remains very much alive. About three-quarters of whites believed in Simpson's guilt, and about three-quarters of blacks believed the opposite.

Shunned by the mostly white and wealthy circles he used to move in as an actor, sports hero, and TV commentator, Simpson may have lost the sympathy of leading black figures.

The actor Wesley Snipes, and other celebrities failed to show up at a fundraiser at his house last year. In interviews, many black Americans rejected the finding of a jury on which there were nine whites but no black members. But political leaders, such as John Mack, head of the Los Angeles Urban League, observed that Simpson now carries a great deal of "baggage".

Witnesses scheduled for today's hearing, including presumably Simpson himself, will include a forensic accountant, hired to dissect his fortune. It was once valued at $10m (pounds 6.2m) but is now thought to be less than half that. If they wish, the Goldman and Brown families can hound Simpson financially for the rest of his life, even if he declares bankruptcy. Under California law he would be entitled to a car worth no more than $2,000, a home worth $75,000, and $5,000 worth of jewellery and art.

Simpson, it was reported, was contemplating his own law suit yesterday against his friend and attorney Robert Kardashian who was the main source for a recent best-selling book on the case, American Tragedy. Chief among the book's revelations was that Simpson secretly took, and disastrously failed, a "practice" lie detector test.

The thoughts of most of America, however, remain with Sydney and Justin. In his only recorded comment since the verdict, Simpson told a reporter who called him at home: "I'm sitting with my kids right now." Then he hung up.

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