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Witness questions tape's veracity

One of O.J. Simpson's alleged victims says a recording of the Vegas encounter may have been tampered with.

September 26, 2008|Ashley Powers and Harriet Ryan | Times Staff Writers

LAS VEGAS — One of the memorabilia dealers whom O.J. Simpson and five associates allegedly robbed at gunpoint testified Thursday that he considered a recording of the encounter -- which is a key piece of evidence in the prosecution's case -- a "work of art."

Alfred Beardsley blamed auctioneer Thomas Riccio, not Simpson, for the events last year at the Palace Station Hotel & Casino. Beardsley suggested that Riccio, who secretly recorded the confrontation and sold the tape to TMZ.com for $150,000 before turning it over to police, might have tampered with it.

"I am not going to support that tape," said Beardsley, who has sued Riccio in civil court.

Earlier, jurors heard an FBI analyst testify that he could not determine whether the tape had been altered.

Simpson, 61, is charged with a dozen crimes, including kidnapping, which carries a potential life sentence. He maintains that he was trying to get back stolen footballs, plaques and personal mementos in Room 1203.

Beardsley's testimony underscores a challenge for the prosecution: Simpson's two alleged victims profess to like him. His other accuser, Bruce Fromong, became teary-eyed when he testified about his frayed friendship with the onetime football star. And Fromong was recorded moments after the confrontation saying he could make "big money" off the incident.

Testifying under subpoena, Beardsley was noticeably uncomfortable. He is 6-foot-6 but looked shorter because he slouched on the stand. He wore a button-down shirt instead of jail garb, though he is in California custody on a parole violation related to a stalking conviction.

Beardsley -- who declared "I do not want to be here" -- alternately crossed his arms and drummed his fingers. Many of his answers were monosyllabic, though he became animated when sparring with Dist. Atty. David Roger.

At one point, Beardsley declared that "whole chunks of conversation" were missing from the recording and referred to Riccio as a "rat." (During his testimony, Riccio called Beardsley "criminally insane.")

Roger played a section in which Beardsley calls 911, begs for police help and says, "We were just robbed at gunpoint by O.J. Simpson."

Roger asked whether anything on that recording was missing. Beardsley said no.

Roger switched his line of questioning.

"Do you know what a snitch is?" he asked.

"Yes," Beardsley said. "Thomas Riccio."

Beardsley was not the prosecution's sole trouble spot Thursday. A sports agent who had a bitter falling-out with Simpson also took the stand, but he was barred from telling jurors about his feud with Simpson or much of anything else.

Judge Jackie Glass said the information prosecutors planned to elicit from Mike Gilbert -- that Simpson hid memorabilia to avoid paying a civil judgment -- might bias the jury.

Simpson was acquitted in 1995 of murdering his former wife and her friend, but was later found liable for their deaths in civil court and ordered to pay $33.5 million. Prosecutors contend the items Simpson is accused of stealing were among the valuables he concealed from the court.

In May, Gilbert published a book, "How I Helped O.J. Get Away With Murder," in which he said Simpson confessed in a drug stupor to killing Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman. Lawyers for Simpson did not want Gilbert to testify.

Gilbert was in the witness chair for 20 minutes -- and spent much of the time gazing around the courtroom as lawyers argued at the judge's bench. He and Simpson did not appear to make eye contact.

Gilbert, sounding like a star-struck fan, recounted feeling "honored" when then-L.A. Raiders star Marcus Allen introduced him to Simpson in the late 1980s. Asked to describe the closeness of the friendship that developed, Gilbert said, "My kids called him Uncle O.J."

Outside the courtroom, Gilbert took a swipe at his former friend: "This is a really bad guy who lived down to the lowest expectations of America."

--

ashley.powers@latimes.com

harriet.ryan@latimes.com

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