How the mighty have fallen.
O.J. Simpson, who was once a pro football star and Heisman Trophy winner turned actor, famously beat murder charges in 1995 when he was acquitted of killing ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman. On Wednesday, he appeared in court wearing a blue prison jumpsuit and looking significantly heavier, almost unrecognizably so, playing the part of a poor sap hoodwinked by his lawyer.
Simpson, who was sentenced to nine to 33 years in prison in 2008 after he was found guilty of leading the gunpoint robbery of two men, is hoping that he can convince Clark County District Judge Linda Marie Bell that his trial attorney, Yale Galanter, bungled his case and failed to mention the offer of a plea deal.
Simpson has served five years of his sentence. Now he wants his conviction overturned and is seeking a new trial. But that might be a hard sell. When he and five men stormed into a hotel room at the Las Vegas Palace Station Casino and insisted on the return of sports memorabilia, family heirlooms, and photographs that he claimed were stolen from him, the entire incident was recorded. So were conversations afterward between the men and “The Juice.”
“It turns out everybody was taping everything,” Simpson, who sat quietly during the first two days of proceedings, quipped during his 2 ½ hours on the stand Wednesday. During breaks, the gray-haired former athlete rapped with deputies, at one point during his testimony complaining about tabloid rumors that he was married to a man and had been beaten up by skinheads.
Four of the men pleaded guilty to felonies, testified against Simpson, and were given probation. One of his other co-conspirators, Clarence Stewart, was convicted along with Simpson and served two years in prison before his case was overturned. He made a deal with prosecutors, pleaded guilty to two felonies, and was released from prison.
Simpson, who famously avoided taking the stand in his murder case, also did not testify during his 2008 robbery and kidnapping trial. Wednesday’s testimony provided the first glimpse of his version of the events of Sept. 13, 2007.
A friend had tipped him off about the missing memorabilia, he said. He wanted it back because it belonged to him and his children, and “not some guy selling them in a hotel room in Vegas,” he said.
Simpson said his former attorney told him, “You have a right to get your stuff,” but warned him he couldn’t trespass on someone’s private property.
When Simpson realized that some of the memorabilia included photos of his deceased daughter and parents, he said, he decided to take action.
“That’s when I got interested,” he said. “That’s what got my attention.”
But he said there was never talk of getting back his belongings—which included an All-American certificate and a photo of him and J. Edgar Hoover—by force.
“It was my stuff. I followed what I thought the law was,” he said. “My lawyer told me, ‘You can’t break into a guy’s room,’ and I didn’t break into the room. I didn’t beat up anybody, I didn’t try to muscle the guys either. The guys acknowledged it was my stuff even though they claimed they didn’t steal it.”
There was never any discussion about guns, he said, adding he had no idea that two of the five friends who accompanied him were packing heat.
“There was no talk of guns at all,” he said.
According to Simpson, the day of the incident was hectic and crazy. He had been drinking Bloody Marys since breakfast, was tired from staying out late the night before to celebrate his friend’s pending nuptials, and worse yet, he didn’t get a chance to have a nap.
“That really was bothering me,” he said.
Before they went to the Palace Station, he met up with friends at the pool at the Palms Casino Resort for more drinks, he said. “I have a joke that my doctor says I should never have an empty glass—that’s what I tell the waitress,” he smiled.
Simpson said he and his friends hatched a plan to have a few of them go into the hotel room first and make sure the memorabilia was his. However, he said, the plan went awry when his friends started acting “heavy-handed.”
“It was all wrong,” he said. “I felt it was all wrong how they acted in there.”
But once inside the room, Simpson admitted that he told his friends to not “let anybody out of here” because he “was looking at stuff I hadn’t seen in 10 years.”
“These guys are in here with my stuff,” he said. “I don’t want them to leave. If they don’t volunteer with it, I want them arrested. I was a little emotional about it.”
Simpson later acknowledged that his plan didn’t go off as he expected: “It obviously didn’t go as I hoped it would.”
Simpson also testified that he consulted with Galanter several times about reclaiming his memorabilia and said his former attorney told him, “You have a right to get your stuff,” but warned him he couldn’t trespass on someone’s private property.
During his trial, Simpson said, he trusted that Galanter would present experts and witnesses, but he did not. “I assumed he had an army of some people back there investigating all of those laws and other stuff that they were debating in court,” he said. “I thought anybody that was necessary to prove our case would be brought in.”
Simpson said he never saw any court transcripts or listened in full to the conversations recorded between him and his friends.
His lawyers also never talked to him about a plea deal, he said. “I was the guy ready to talk to the police from Day 1,” he said.
Galanter, he testified, never told him that a plea deal was on the table.
Simpson said he did not testify during the trial on the advice of his attorney.
“If you understood you could be convicted on the state's evidence, would you have testified?” asked his attorney Patricia Palm.
“Yes,” he answered.
Simpson said Galanter told him there was no reason for him to testify because he had proved his case. “He felt there was no way I could be convicted,” he said.
“Did you believe him?” asked Palm.
“Yeah, I trusted his judgment on that,” said Simpson. He said Galanter was convinced that he would not be found guilty because he was innocent. “He said, ‘You did nothing wrong. You had a right to your stuff and we can prove it’s your stuff.’Basically that was it,” Simpson said.
There is no jury listening to the proceedings, and if Simpson is granted a new trial it will be solely up to district judge Linda Marie Bell. Galanter, Simpson's former attorney, is scheduled to take the stand on Friday.