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Simpson robbery case goes to the jury

Closing arguments conclude as the defense blames overzealous prosecutors and opportunistic witnesses.

October 03, 2008|Ashley Powers | Times Staff Writer

LAS VEGAS — Neither side in the courtroom disputed that O.J. Simpson and five associates marched into a hotel room in September 2007 intent on getting back the former NFL star's footballs and plaques.

But during closing arguments Thursday in Simpson's armed robbery and kidnapping trial here, jurors were presented with conflicting accounts of most everything else about the alleged crimes.

Throughout the four-week trial, prosecutors argued that Simpson was the mastermind of a brief, chaotic robbery. Simpson's defense attorney, meanwhile, maintained his client was the victim of opportunist acquaintances and overzealous prosecutors and police.

"This case has taken on a life of its own because of Mr. Simpson's involvement," said defense attorney Yale Galanter in his 90-minute closing remarks.

Simpson and codefendant Clarence Stewart are charged with a dozen crimes in connection with the six-minute altercation at Palace Station Hotel & Casino. Prosecutors say they took up to $100,000 in collectibles at gunpoint from a pair of memorabilia dealers.

Four former codefendants -- two of whom said they were armed at Simpson's behest -- testified for the prosecution. Simpson maintained he never saw a gun or asked anyone to bring one to Room 1203.

In a one-hour presentation, Dist. Atty. David Roger played snippets of secretly recorded conversations.

Simpson spoke on the recordings about getting back stolen mementos with "the boys," whom he wanted to "look menacing." Simpson, Roger said, also asked two associates to "bring some heat" -- one of the few exchanges not captured on tape.

During the trial, jurors repeatedly listened to the resulting encounter, in which Simpson associate Michael McClinton could be heard shouting at others in the room to stand up "before it gets ugly in here."

Roger said that "intimidation, force, violence -- those are just a few of the adjectives of things that happened in that room."

Several witnesses in the room testified that the Simpson told them afterward that "there were no guns."

But in a conversation after the incident, which McClinton surreptitiously recorded, Simpson is heard asking whether McClinton had pulled out "the piece" in the hotel hallway.

Roger argued that it made little legal difference whether the items originally belonged to Simpson. In a "civilized community," Roger said, people go to police or file a lawsuit to retrieve purportedly stolen goods.

"People who go into hotels with guns to rob people of property must be held accountable for their actions," he said.

In his final remarks, Simpson's defense attorney crumpled a piece of paper, tossed it into the trash and pronounced that argument "garbage."

"This is the foundation of this man's life," said Galanter, gesturing to several footballs in clear plastic. Simpson's milestones, he said, were "measured in one-of-a-kind footballs."

At another point, Galanter held up a framed photo of Simpson and former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover that was among the items taken from the hotel room. "This is not memorabilia," Galanter said.

Moreover, he argued, law enforcement had little interest in helping Simpson get back his things. In the weeks leading up to the alleged robbery, Thomas Riccio, the auctioneer who set up the meeting, told the FBI and police officers -- to no avail -- that someone was trying to peddle Simpson's stolen goods.

After the incident, according to tapes played for jurors, Las Vegas authorities joked about Simpson's 1995 acquittal in the slayings of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman.

"You're just picking on him because you are mad about the verdict," one investigator said.

"Yep," replied another in a section Galanter replayed for the jury.

Galanter also attacked Simpson's former codefendants as opportunists willing to slant their testimony to stay out of prison. He said some of them were also looking to cash in on their ties to Simpson.

Prosecutors "gave out so many get-out-of-jail-free cards and so many probation cards in this case that they could get the witnesses to say anything," Galanter said.

Galanter agreed that Simpson's confronting the memorabilia dealers might not have been the best plan.

"But being stupid and being frustrated is not being a crook," he said.

The jury is scheduled to begin deliberating today.


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