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Former friend testifies against Simpson

THE NATION

Prosecutors link the robbery case to a civil jury's decision after his murder acquittal.

September 16, 2008|Ashley Powers and Harriet Ryan | Times Staff Writers

LAS VEGAS — Expecting to sell O.J. Simpson collectibles to a wealthy buyer at a hotel here, memorabilia dealer Bruce Fromong was instead shoved, patted down and threatened with a gun by associates of the former NFL star, Fromong testified Monday.

Fromong said that during the six-minute confrontation, Simpson shouted: "Don't let anybody out of this room. Nobody gets out of here." Simpson, Fromong added, accused him of stealing the memorabilia, yelling, "I thought you were a good guy!"

Fromong described the scene during the opening day of Simpson's trial -- a muted event compared with his "trial of the century" in Los Angeles, where Simpson was acquitted in the 1994 slayings of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman.

Although more than 500 journalists had requested credentials here, only about 50 showed up. And, unlike his murder trial, which attracted huge crowds, Simpson arrived Monday to a man carrying a banner reading, "Jesus saves sinners from hell."

In opening remarks, Chief Deputy Dist. Atty. Chris Owens tied the alleged robbery of Fromong and another collectibles dealer to the 1997 civil jury decision that awarded $33.5 million to the heirs of Goldman and Simpson's slain ex-wife.

Simpson hid valuable mementos with friends to avoid handing them over to Goldman's father, Fred, Owens said. One of those friends, a former agent, did not return those items to Simpson, Owens said. The former USC football standout, believing some of the items ended up in the hands of a memorabilia dealer, decided to set up a sting, the prosecutor said.

"You will be able to write that final chapter," Owens told the panel. "The chapter of arrogance and hypocrisy, and that will be the true verdict."

Simpson, 61, faces a dozen charges in connection to the alleged robbery of Fromong and another collectibles dealer at the Palace Station Hotel & Casino. The most serious charge -- kidnapping -- carries a potential life sentence.

Simpson maintains that he was trying to retrieve stolen items, including pictures of his children and his late parents.

"This was a recovery; this wasn't a robbery," said Simpson attorney Yale Galanter in his opening remarks.

Four of the men who accompanied Simpson on the day of the confrontation are cooperating with prosecutors and are expected to testify against him. Galanter said the witnesses were only looking to make a buck off Simpson.

"The only person on the planet that wanted all this property is this man here," Galanter said, patting Simpson's shoulder. "You can think whatever you want about his past, and you have been sworn to ignore it."

Fromong said that on Sept. 13, 2007, he had no inkling that Simpson, a longtime friend, would be at the hotel. Simpson used to sing "Happy Birthday" to Fromong's mother over the phone and called Fromong when she died -- a memory that brought Fromong to tears.

Fromong expected to meet a wealthy buyer in Room 1203. He had 700 to 800 items, including signed footballs, baseballs and sports photos; a picture that J. Edgar Hoover had signed for Simpson; and three of Simpson's ties.

Instead, Fromong said, "the door burst open . . . and then people started rushing in."

One man carried a gun in his waistband, Fromong testified. Another waved his weapon and snapped, "If we were in L.A., things would be a lot different," Fromong said.

"They took everything except for two baseball bats," Fromong said.

At the defense table, Simpson alternated between staring at the jury and shaking his head in apparent disgust.

Fromong's cross-examination was cut short after he complained of feeling dizzy and lightheaded. He has suffered four heart attacks since the incident, Fromong's attorney said. Under questioning by Simpson attorney Gabriel Grasso, he said Simpson never physically threatened him.

Clark County Dist. Atty. David Roger asked Fromong whether he stole any items from Simpson. Fromong replied, "No, sir, I did not."

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harriet.ryan@latimes.com

ashley.powers@latimes.com

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