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Carrying guns was Simpson's idea, witness says

Walter Alexander was with the former NFL legend during the Vegas confrontation.

September 25, 2008|Ashley Powers and Harriet Ryan | Times Staff Writers

LAS VEGAS — In his suite at the Palms hotel last year, O.J. Simpson hunched over, lowered his voice and asked two men to arm themselves for a confrontation with a pair of sports memorabilia dealers, one of the alleged gunmen testified Wednesday.

Walter Alexander cautioned Simpson, who said the dealers had stolen his mementos, that the weapons might attract police. "[Forget] the police," said the former NFL star, according to Alexander. "What are they going to do -- take me to jail for trying to get my own [stuff]?"

Alexander, a former Simpson golfing buddy, was the first witness at Simpson's armed robbery and kidnapping trial to tell jurors the guns were Simpson's idea. He said the gridiron great initially told him and another friend, Michael "Spencer" McClinton, to leave the weapons in their waistbands. But as they approached the room where the meeting was to occur, Alexander said, Simpson "told Spencer to take the gun out and put it in his hand."

A sense of foreboding consumed Alexander. "This is going to be a robbery," he recalled thinking.

Jurors appeared rapt by Alexander's account, with some scooting forward in their seats and others requesting new pencils to write in their notebooks. Alexander, possibly more than any other witness, is a litmus test for the prosecution's case. He appeared to have had intimate knowledge of Simpson's actions on Sept. 13, 2007, but was characterized by the defense as a man of suspect motives.

Alexander was accused of asking for up to $50,000 to slant his testimony -- he called that a "total lie" -- and going on TV to solicit a publisher for his book. The exchanges grew so heated that at one point Alexander told defense attorney Yale Galanter: "I don't like the way you smell."

Outside the presence of jurors, the judge turned down the defense's attempt to ask Alexander whether he worked as a pimp -- as lawyers had insinuated at the preliminary hearing in November. At that hearing, Alexander denied being a pimp.

Simpson, 61, faces a dozen charges stemming from the brief encounter at the Palace Station Hotel & Casino. The collectibles dealers say the retired athlete and five associates stole up to $100,000 in memorabilia at gunpoint. Simpson -- who could face life in prison if convicted -- maintains he never saw a weapon and never asked anyone to bring one.

Right after the incident, "He was saying it to everybody that was involved: 'Just remember -- no guns,' " Alexander said.

A husky man with close-cropped hair and goggle-like black glasses, Alexander carried a Bible to the witness stand. After more than three hours of testimony, the defense said it was prejudicial and successfully asked for its removal.

Outside court, Alexander said that if Simpson were convicted, "I would visit him in prison and try to get him to accept Christ as his lord and savior."

Of the four former codefendants to cooperate with prosecutors, Alexander was the first to cut a deal -- though he admitted he did so reluctantly and only after a "divine revelation."

In an aggressive cross-examination of Alexander, Galanter charged that the witness carried a grudge against Simpson because he didn't offer $10,000 to pay for Alexander's father's funeral.

"You were pissed at him," the attorney asserted.

"I wasn't pissed at him. I was disappointed. There's a difference," Alexander shot back.

Things grew testier as Galanter quizzed Alexander about a call he placed to a Simpson friend.

"If I can get some help," Alexander said in a voice mail played for jurors, "I will do whatever I can. And I think I can do quite a bit."

Alexander acknowledged he had reconsidered the plea deal but denied doing anything wrong. If someone had been willing to pay for his lawyer, Alexander said, "I would not have to be badgered by this man." He nodded toward Galanter.

Another former codefendant, Charles Cashmore, also testified Wednesday that he met Simpson just hours before the alleged robbery and was a peripheral player in the incident. His testimony shored up parts of Alexander's account.

Earlier in the day, Judge Jackie Glass barred a lawyer from testifying about his efforts to collect part of a $33.5-million judgment against Simpson. Though he had been acquitted in 1995 of murdering ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman, Simpson was later found liable for the deaths in civil court.

Prosecutors hoped that the attorney for Goldman's father, Fred, would testify, but the judge said delving into the prior cases could prejudice jurors against Simpson. Leaving the courtroom, Goldman attorney David J. Cook said he understood the judge's ruling.

"My physical appearance there," he said, "would just roll into the room the ghost of Ronald Goldman, the ghost of Nicole Brown Simpson and the figure of Fred Goldman."

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ashley.powers@latimes.com

harriet.ryan@latimes.com

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