LOS ANGELES (REUTER) - O. J. Simpson was faced with the threat of financial ruin on Wednesday after a civil trial jury blamed him for the murders of his ex-wife and her friend and ordered him to pay $8.5 million in compensatory damages. Sixteen months after a mostly black jury acquitted him of criminal charges in the killings of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman, a mostly white panel on Tuesday unanimously found the former football star "liable" for both deaths. It was the dramatic culmination of a four-month trial in which Simpson`s accusers claimed he had gotten away with murder while his defenders portrayed him as the innocent victim of a vast police frame-up. Once again, public reaction to a Simpson case verdict was split along racial lines. But this time most whites supported the jury`s decision while most blacks called it unjust. Simpson, 49, will serve no jail time but could lose much of what is left of the fortune he earned in his days as a star running back, advertising pitchman and sportscaster. Along with compensatory damages, Simpson could be slapped with millions more in punitive damages in the next phase of the trial set to begin on Thursday. Simpson`s net worth, estimated at $11 million four years ago, has been decimated by legal costs. But legal analysts say the plaintiffs can hound him for the rest of his life, forcing him to auction off his Bentley, give up his tennis courts and adopt a more modest lifestyle. In the first round, jurors deliberated for six days - compared to about 3-1/2 hours in Simpson`s criminal case. Simpson`s second trial did not amount to "double jeopardy" - which is prohibited by law - but rarely in the history of U.S. jurisprudence has a criminal defendant been acquitted only to be tried again on civil charges. Judge Hiroshi Fujisaki had barred the black celebrity`s lawyers from using race as an issue in the trial as was done so effectively by the defence in his criminal case. The jury ended up evenly divided between men and women but with nine whites, one Hispanic, one Asian-American and one member of mixed black and Asian descent.Another factor that may have weighed against Simpson: Unlike the criminal trial, which required "proof beyond a reasonable doubt," the plaintiffs in the civil trial only had to prove a 50.1 percent probability - a "preponderance of the evidence" - that Simpson committed the murders.