Will the Goldmans Find Closure in OJ Sentencing?

For Fred Goldman, "there's never closure." Still, moments after a Las Vegas judge sentenced O.J. Simpson to 15 years in prison Friday for armed robbery, assault and kidnapping, Goldman told reporters that it was "a good day for the family," even if it didn't change the fact that "Ron is always gone."

Goldman has doggedly pursued Simpson, who was acquitted 13 years ago of double murder charges in the death of Ronald Goldman and Simpson's ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson. The Goldmans pursued a successful wrongful death civil case, an unsuccessful attempt to collect the $33 million judgment in that case, and, more recently, the battle over the rights to Simpson's quasi-confessional book, "If I Did It."

Crime victims and surviving family members frequently speak of gaining closure, but what is closure, exactly? Before she pronounced sentence on Simpson, Judge Jackie Glass made clear that Friday's sentencing wasn't "payback" for Simpson's acquittal in the murder cases. But the two cases are clearly connected in the minds of the Goldman family.

Dr. Emanuel Maidenberg, a clinical psychologist who is an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at UCLA Medical School, defines closure as gaining the ability to face the traumatic memory with "emotional equilibrium." While not wanting to speculate about the Goldmans directly, Maidenberg told NEWSWEEK's Andrew Murr that victims often find closure by taking an active role in gaining justice, as the Goldmans did. Excerpts:

NEWSWEEK: We often speak of closure for victims ' families. What is it exactly?
Dr. Emanuel Maidenberg: The goal really in achieving what we call closure is being able to remember … what happened that used to be stressful or depressing … and not experiencing these emotions any more. It's being able to store the traumatic memories the same way we store anything.

What factors help people to gain closure?
One of the things that helps is that whatever lack of justice that occurred was either corrected or that fairness was [somehow] achieved. It's all about perceived justice and fairness. There's no general agreement of what it is. Every person wants to know that if there was some lack of fairness that it was addressed. When that happens it becomes easier to go through a process where the memories are being expressed, the emotions are being felt, and the intensity of the emotions becomes lessened.

The Goldman family ' s views aren ' t entirely clear, but what happens with closure when the justice that comes is n ' t directly related to their family ' s trauma, as was the case here. Does that matter?
I would think that it does matter. We all would want the sense of repair to be directly related to the violations that were personal. I would assume it's more relevant. It's hard to know how they will feel and what they will say about it.

If obtaining justice helps gain closure, what happens when one tries, as the Goldmans did, to get justice and fails repeatedly?
It causes frustration that depending on the person, it leads to either more attempts [to get justice] or a sense of hopelessness or depression.

The family today seemed to take pride that their actions over the years may have contributed to Simpson ' s current case. Kim Goldman said, " We believe that our pursuit of him over all these years brought him to the brink of this, " and " I'm proud of our efforts. " Does that make sense?
That's very interesting. That's an attribution of success of their efforts. That's psychologically a very helpful maneuver, to attribute success to your own efforts. It's gratifying.

When should people seek professional help to get closure?
If in six to 12 months after the event, if things continue to be disruptive … strong emotions are difficult to control … that's the time to consider getting advice.

Control does matter. In this case more than a decade went by in which I ' m sure the family felt it was not in control. Does that exacerbate problems?
Absolutely. It could make things feel more frustrating and hopeless. But people engage in different activities that provide them with a sense of having control over what happens to them. These are behaviors that empower people. Many people start foundations. Or become active in support groups. People become very involved in a cause that makes them feel in control.

That was certainly the case here. Nicole Simpson ' s sisters launched a foundation.

There ' s often a real desire for retribution. Does retribution bring closure, too?
It depends on one's moral values. There are those who believe all crimes should be punished, and those who have less categorical views of what has to be done to achieve fairness. It's something we see on the debate on the death penalty. In general, it's human nature to seek fairness or balance. If someone does what we perceive as bad behavior, we would typically want to see that person experience consequences.

Patience, following the instincts that one has to cope with emotional distress, and not being shy if things do not work out to seek professional help. Generally, being able to express it in some form, and to feel the emotion associated with distress. It's important to go through the emotion, whether it's fear or grief or whatever it is.

After the case is over, is there any sort of letdown that victims may feel where they ' ve anticipated success or closure for so long and then when it comes, it doesn ' t measure up?
Yes. It's not just that it does not measure up. It's like anything else. If we invest ourselves in something, that is grandiose and big and serious and we put a lot of effort into it, when it's done there can be a sense of emptiness. Because we develop our lives around the purpose, and once it's achieved, we feel empty. It's like people who achieve their medical degrees frequently say they are empty and sad at the end of this huge effort. It's the same thing.