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Simpson wanted guns displayed, cohort says

November 14, 2007|Ashley Powers | Times Staff Writer

LAS VEGAS — O.J. Simpson told two friends to "get some heat" so they could bully a pair of memorabilia dealers into handing over sports collectibles that the former NFL star said had been stolen from him, one of the armed men testified Tuesday.

Walter Alexander testified during a preliminary hearing for Simpson -- who is charged with multiple felonies stemming from the September incident at the Palace Station Hotel & Casino. Alexander, a longtime golfing buddy of Simpson's, said he had asked Simpson why he hadn't simply told authorities that the dealers were planning to sell the signed footballs and framed awards.

"What are they [police] going to do, take me to jail for taking my own stuff?" Simpson said in between expletives, according to Alexander.

Listening in the courtroom Tuesday, Simpson, 60, winced and shook his head. Alexander's account undercuts Simpson's repeated assertions that he did not know that Alexander and their friend Michael "Spencer" McClinton were armed.

The two men, along with Charles Cashmore, have pleaded guilty to reduced charges in exchange for their testimony.

"I carried a gun at the request of O.J. Simpson," said McClinton, who also took the stand Tuesday.

At the end of the hearing, which enters its fourth day today, Justice of the Peace Joe M. Bonaventure will decide whether there is enough evidence for Simpson -- who was acquitted in the 1994 slayings of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ronald Goldman -- to stand trial.

Simpson associates Clarence J. Stewart Jr. and Charles B. Ehrlich are charged with the same array of felonies, including kidnapping and armed robbery. If convicted on all counts, the men could face life in prison.

On Tuesday, Simpson attorney Yale Galanter tried to attack Alexander's credibility, accusing him of brokering prostitution and offering his testimony to the highest bidder.

Galanter's cross-examination underscored a problem that prosecutors likely will face if the case goes to trial: Many of their witnesses have checkered pasts or suspect motivations.

When Galanter confronted Alexander with an e-mail that appeared to link him to online prostitution, the witness' easy manner evaporated. He told the attorney to stop yelling. "I'm sticking to my testimony that I'm not a pimp," Alexander said.

Alexander also said he was dissatisfied with the plea deal prosecutors offered. He wanted immunity, which prosecutors had granted to Thomas Riccio, the auctioneer who set up the meeting between Simpson and memorabilia dealers Bruce Fromong and Alfred Beardsley. Beardsley is to testify today.

Galanter argued that Alexander had offered to slant his testimony to help Simpson if a mutual friend would give him money for his legal defense. The attorney played a voice mail in which Alexander repeatedly asked the friend, Tom Scotto, for help.

Alexander said he believed Riccio had set Simpson up, and "I felt like I could lean toward that angle rather than telling the exact truth." He said he was never paid.

The day of the alleged robbery, Sept. 13, Alexander had flown to Las Vegas from Arizona for Scotto's wedding. Simpson was the best man. Alexander and McClinton met Simpson in his Palms Hotel room, where he told them he wanted to get back the memorabilia.

For weeks, Simpson and Riccio had been plotting to recoup collectibles that Beardsley said were taken from Simpson's trophy room and his mother's storage locker. Riccio testified last week that Simpson did not mention guns.

But at the Palms, Alexander testified, Simpson told Alexander and McClinton that he "needed a couple guys to watch my back." He asked them to bring firearms and to see McClinton's concealed-weapons permit, McClinton testified.

At McClinton's home, the men changed into suits and armed themselves, they said. Alexander placed a .22-caliber handgun in the left side of his waistband; McClinton slid a .45-caliber pistol into a holster.

The men also brought at least one recording device -- either to keep them out of the trouble if the caper went awry, as Alexander testified, or to sell video to the tabloids, as McClinton said.

The pair met Simpson at the Palace Station. Before they entered Room 1203, the men testified, Simpson said the memorabilia dealers might have guns. He told McClinton, "Show them your weapon and look menacing," he testified.

In the tiny room -- where Riccio was surreptitiously tape recording the meeting -- were Beardsley, Fromong and hundreds of sports collectibles, including Joe Montana lithographs and Pete Rose baseballs.

The men were expecting a wealthy buyer. Instead, they got an angry Simpson, who barked, "Don't let nobody out of the room," McClinton said.

Stewart patted down the memorabilia dealers, and McClinton waved his gun so wildly that Simpson told him to calm down, Alexander testified. Fromong said McClinton threatened to shoot him.

McClinton said he never pointed the gun at anyone, standing up to show the courtroom how his left arm was locked at his side.

The men hauled out the collectibles in pillowcases and boxes. The whole episode lasted less than 10 minutes.

At McClinton's house, he and Alexander changed out of their suits because they assumed police might be looking for them, Alexander said. Alexander asked for a towel to wipe off the gun, said McClinton, who returned both pistols to a dresser.

At a pre-wedding dinner at the Palms' Little Buddha restaurant, Simpson laughed about the incident, Alexander said, but predicted a media onslaught.

"Yeah, whatever happens in Vegas stays in Vegas," said the former football star, according to Alexander. "But not if you're O.J. Simpson."

ashley.powers@latimes.com

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