Second jury puts OJ's defence to the test

"There is a killer in this courtroom," attorney Daniel Petrocelli told the jury, summing up his case in the OJ Simpson civil trial. "We've proved it to a certainty. We've proved it beyond any reasonable doubt."

The jury of seven women and five men were expected to begin deliberations today in the wrongful death law suit, opening the final chapter in the Simpson case. They heard 101 witnesses over 41 days of testimony.

The irony of the civil trial for Peter Arenella, a Los Angeles law professor, is that the plaintiffs presented a far more compelling case against Mr Simpson than the prosecutors in his criminal trial. They dwelt on Mr Simpson's bizarre flight from justice, his suicide note, and fibres allegedly matching his clothes found at the murder scene. "They have clearly proved beyond reasonable doubt that he was the killer. But that doesn't mean these jurors will share my assessment," Mr Arenella said.

Only two weeks ago, lawyers for the families of Mr Simpson's ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and waiter Ronald Goldman - who were stabbed and slashed to death in June 1994 - produced what commentators agree is one of the most damning pieces of evidence in the entire case. It was a reel of 30 newly discovered photographs of Mr Simpson, wearing what were identified as rare Italian-designed Bruno Magli shoes.

One was published in a newspaper before the killings, ruling out fraud. Mr Simpson denied ever owning such shoes, but his defence never tried to contest that they matched bloody footprints at the murder scene. "If that photo is real," said Mr Petrocelli, "That's it. It's the end of the ball game."

From the outset, the dynamics of the civil case - with Mr Simpson sued for money damages by the Brown and Goldman families - have been different. The Santa Monica jury includes eight whites, two blacks, a Latino woman and a Jamaican immigrant who called himself half black, half Asian.

Judge Hiroshi Fujisaki, vowing to prevent a "circus atmosphere", banned cameras and barred either side from talking to the press. And he also barred defence theories that Mrs Simpson was killed in a drug hit, and evidence that Detective Mark Fuhrman was a lying racist, as irrelevant.

The highlight undoubtedly came with Mr Simpson's testimony, when the former football star and actor portrayed himself as his wife's concerned confidant and friend, rather than abuser and killer. She asked his advice when she got pregnant by another man, he said, later aborting the child. When she got pneumonia a month before her death, he took her soup.

At the same time, his lawyers launched an assault on Mrs Simpson as a promiscuous, overbearing woman who relentlessly pursued her ex-husband, to the golf course and even on a Mexican vacation. The effort was blunted when Judge Fujisaki allowed evidence of a letter from Mrs Simpson that Mr Simpson said he never received - mentioning at least two violent incidents. "There was also that time," it read, "you beat the holy hell out of me. And we lied at the X-ray I said I fell off a bike."

Mr Petrocelli, the Goldman family attorney, has repeatedly tried to destroy, in full-frontal attack, any lingering image of Mr Simpson as the dream athlete. "He's lying, he's lying, he's lying," he said. "And he got caught, got caught, got caught."

Yesterday in a dramatic finale he asked jurors to make Mr Simpson pay his client, Fred Goldman, for the loss of "his lovely living boy", Ronald. "You can't give him back his son," he said. "All you can do is make Mr Simpson pay for what he did."

Members of Mr Simpson's legal team have been telling reporters that they have won over three or four jurors. They will need at least three, because in the civil case, a 9-3 majority suffices. A hung jury would be a major victory for Mr Simpson, with little likelihood of a retrial, it is said.