OJ waits for second damages bill

The prospects for OJ Simpson's future seem to become bleaker by the day. Jurors in his civil trial, who saddled him with an $8.5m debt on Tuesday, yesterday began the process of fixing a second figure for punitive damages.

Lawyers for Mr Simpson, found liable for the murders of his ex-wife and a friend, pleaded penury in a mini-trial for the jury to hear just how much remains to a celebrity athlete once worth an estimated $10m. But Judge Hiroshi Fujisaki ruled the families of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman could present evidence that Mr Simpson's future earning power was still huge.

Jurors could consider the value of his name and image, he said. Goldman family attorney Daniel Petrocelli, Mr Simpson's courtroom Nemesis, urged them yesterday to make an example of a man still worth "many millions of dollars".

"We don't have the power to take away a person's freedom or liberty," he said. "All we can do is make him pay money." Mr Simpson's lawyer, Robert Baker, fired back that his client had "negative net worth" even before he lost the civil law suit against him. "He owes lawyers. He owes mortgage payments ... he is in effect without assets," Mr Baker said.

Mr Simpson, bound by a trial gag order, has made no public statement since the jury awarded $8.5m compensatory damages in a wrongful death suit to the Goldman family. The share going to Nicole Brown Simpson's estate - including her two children by Mr Simpson, who now live with him - will rest entirely on punitive damages.

A US newspaper reported, however, that he had jokingly asked a golfing friend to spare him the cash. "He's not crying, he's not angry, he's not yelling, he's not in despair," said a friend, Leo Terrell.

As media coverage finally subsided in a case that produced 40 books and nine cover stories in Newsweek magazine alone, the Brown and Goldman families were filmed visiting the victims' graves.

Former detective Mark Fuhrman, excoriated by the Simpson defence for allegedly plotting a racist frame-up, joined the Los Angeles Police Department's discreet crowing over the result. "I'm glad that they are able to say we've proved that he did this. I'm glad that he was exposed for what he did," he said.

The prospect for Mr Simpson of a successful appeal seemed to lessen yesterday. While there are several possible grounds, "elected judges in California will think long and hard before they think about reversing a popular verdict", observed Alan Dershowitz, a former Simpson attorney.

The Brown and Goldman families have little hope of recovering more than a fraction of their damages. But their judgments against him would stand even if he declared bankruptcy, and would be renewable every 10 years until paid in full. Simpson's assets include his Los Angeles estate, worth about $3.5m, a condominium in San Francisco, and pension funds worth several million dollars. But he is said to have taken out large loans to pay legal fees.