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Simpson tape appears to refer to gun

Jurors hear a recording in which the ex-NFL star asks an associate about 'the piece.'

September 27, 2008|Ashley Powers and Harriet Ryan | Times Staff Writers

LAS VEGAS — Shortly after allegedly robbing a pair of memorabilia dealers in a hotel room here, O.J. Simpson asked one of his cohorts if he had pulled out "the piece" in the hallway, according to an audio recording played in court Friday.

"I kept that thing in my pocket till we got inside that room," Michael McClinton assured him, according to the recording.

Simpson sounded relieved; he said investigators would probably scour security videos. "There ain't nothing on that video . . . ain't nothing he can see," he says. "They gonna see us going in the place. They gonna see leaving us with just the boxes."

In an armed robbery trial where jurors have heard hours of surreptitious exchanges, the 26-minute conversation at a sushi restaurant might be the prosecution's strongest audio evidence.

Simpson, 61, has maintained that he never saw weapons in the Palace Station hotel room and never asked anyone to bring one. But McClinton, who said he waved a .45-caliber Ruger at the dealers at Simpson's behest, secretly taped him seeming to say otherwise after the incident.

At the Little Buddha restaurant, Simpson, McClinton and Walter Alexander -- who testified earlier this week that he carried a .22-caliber Beretta -- laugh about the encounter.

Simpson: "It's a tabloid story."

McClinton: "We the goon squad."

Alexander: "O.J. and his goon squad came in."

Simpson repeatedly says he doesn't want to be arrested -- the cops, he says "would love to say O.J. had a gun" -- and reassures his associates that things should turn out OK.

"This ain't no major crime," he says.

The former USC football standout is charged with a dozen crimes including kidnapping, which carries a potential life sentence. He claims that he and five associates, four of whom are cooperating with prosecutors, were simply retrieving his stolen personal mementos, including pictures of his late parents.

McClinton -- deep-voiced, bald-headed and wearing a blue-and-black-checked suit and a white pocket square -- provided dramatic, if staccato, testimony. His formal demeanor was at odds with the hot-headed gunman recorded during the confrontation shouting: "Stand the [expletive] up before it gets ugly in here!"

Simpson, McClinton said, had directed him and Alexander to arm themselves on Sept. 13, 2007. Just before entering Room 1203, "Mr. Simpson asked me to show my weapon and look menacing," McClinton testified.

He and Simpson stood shoulder-to-shoulder, McClinton said, as he brandished the gun in his left hand and barked orders. He said he cut short the encounter by squeezing Simpson's arm and telling him it was time to go.

After the six-minute incident, McClinton said, Simpson told his associates at least once that "there were no guns." Alexander has testified that he interpreted this as Simpson prodding them to lie.

The day opened with another recording that proved more helpful to the defense. Thomas Riccio, the auctioneer who set up the meeting with the dealers, had left a digital recorder running while authorities combed the room.

It captured two investigators -- Michael Perkins, a crime scene analyst, and Lt. Clint Nichols -- mocking Simpson's acquittal in the 1994 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," an investigator told Perkins.

"Yep," Perkins replied.

A lawyer for Simpson played snippets of the exchange as he questioned the case's lead detective, Andy Caldwell. Simpson's defense contends that the comments are proof that investigators were bent on blaming Simpson regardless of the evidence.

Perkins calls him "a [dirt]-bag with his bum knees" and says it would be "great to see that guy's face . . . when he actually pays for something that he does."

In turn, Nichols ridicules the NFL hero for phoning police with his side of the story. "You think after all his problems he would learn not to talk to anyone," Nichols says.

Defense attorney Gabriel Grasso intimated that some comments on the tape had racial overtones.

As the investigators bagged a Muhammad Ali boxing glove as evidence, Nichols said, "They always do it [with] one glove."

"Hey, if the glove don't fit, then you must acquit," Perkins quipped -- a reference to a line that Simpson attorney Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. had used during closing arguments in the murder trial.

"Who is 'they'?" Grasso asked Caldwell, who said he did not know.

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ashley.powers@latimes.com

harriet.ryan@latimes.com

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