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They wanted $50,000 'or else'

A Simpson friend testifies that two men who played a role in the hotel altercation tried to blackmail him.

October 02, 2008|Ashley Powers | Times Staff Writer

LAS VEGAS — At a barbecue the night after O.J. Simpson allegedly robbed two memorabilia dealers, his associates purportedly cornered his friend Tom Scotto and demanded $50,000 "or else."

Michael McClinton and Walter Alexander, Scotto testified Wednesday, twice ushered him away from his pre-wedding party and into the backyard.

McClinton, Scotto said, told him, "You know me, Tom, but you don't know me that well." Their faces were inches apart. "I'm a street [expletive] and I'll shoot everybody up."

Scotto never told investigators about the alleged shakedown by the men, who testified that they carried guns to the hotel room altercation at Simpson's behest.

A few weeks later, Scotto gave authorities a voice mail in which Alexander appeared to ask for money.

Dist. Atty. David Roger asked Scotto if he said Alexander "didn't need to live" and threatened to have him killed.

"That's ridiculous," said Scotto, the final Simpson defense witness.

Scotto, who befriended the former NFL star in Florida, was in Las Vegas in last September to get married; Simpson was his best man. In the hours leading up to the alleged robbery, Scotto testified, Simpson acquaintance Clarence "C.J." Stewart took the couple to get their marriage license, wedding cake and flowers.

Later that night, prosecutors say, Simpson, Stewart and four associates robbed the memorabilia dealers at gunpoint in a room at the Palace Station Hotel & Casino.

Simpson maintains the group, which Scotto had initially planned to join, was trying to retrieve stolen footballs and plaques.

Prosecutors contend that Simpson had given some of the items to a former agent to evade a multimillion-dollar court judgment. Though Simpson was acquitted in the 1994 slayings of ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman, a civil jury later found him liable for their deaths.

Simpson and codefendant Stewart, neither of whom took the stand, are each charged with a dozen crimes, including armed robbery and kidnapping, which carries a potential life sentence. All of their cohorts took the stand for the prosecution during nearly three weeks of testimony.

After closing arguments, scheduled for today, jurors will have to weigh contradictory accounts of the events and extensive questioning of witness motives. Even Scotto, a Simpson friend for about eight years, tried to wring a book deal out of the case.

"Nobody wants to hear a good book about O.J.," Scotto grumbled.

After the defense rested, prosecutors called a pair of rebuttal witnesses. The case's lead detective suggested that Scotto's wife -- though attorneys initially thought he blamed Scotto -- tried to tamper with witnesses during the preliminary hearing. The defense moved for a mistrial, which was denied after extensive arguments outside the presence of jurors.

"I'm surprised you haven't seen my head spin and fire come out of my mouth," snapped Judge Jackie Glass.

A key question in the case is whether Simpson saw weapons during the incident or told anyone to bring them; nearly everyone else in Room 1203 testified to seeing at least one gun.

Alexander and McClinton said they carried a .22-caliber Beretta and a .45-caliber Ruger, respectively. Simpson, McClinton said, further ordered him to "show" his weapon and "look menacing."

In a recording McClinton secretly made after the incident, a man identified as Simpson asks McClinton whether he pulled out "the piece" in the hall -- and in view of security cameras. McClinton repeatedly says no.

"There ain't nothing on that video . . . ain't nothing they can see," Simpson says.

Scotto, who has a voice so soft that the judge repeatedly told him to speak up, said McClinton and Alexander approached him the next night at Stewart's home. Scotto testified that they said he and Simpson needed to pay up "or else," and that there were no weapons in the hotel room.

Scotto's testimony was part of a defense attempt to portray Simpson as a victim of his shady cohorts -- not their ringleader.

Defense attorneys also suggested that Alexander was willing to shade his testimony for a price.

On Oct. 3, 2007, Alexander left a message for Scotto in which he asked for help.

"I will do whatever I can," Alexander said in the voice mail repeatedly played in court. "And I think I can do quite a bit."

Alexander testified that he needed help getting a lawyer. Scotto said that wasn't the case.

"His testimony was for sale," Scotto said.

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ashley.powers@latimes.com

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