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O.J. Simpson shows a few flashes of old self in Las Vegas court

A heavier, at times weary-looking O.J. Simpson takes the stand as he seeks a retrial in his sports memorabilia case.

May 15, 2013|By John M. Glionna, Los Angeles Times
  • O.J. Simpson is handcuffed and escorted away from the witness stand during a break at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas.
O.J. Simpson is handcuffed and escorted away from the witness stand during… (Julie Jacobson / Pool Photo )

LAS VEGAS — On this day, there was no Johnnie Cochran. There was no brash fist-pumping former Heisman Trophy winner in a tailored suit hugging his lead defense attorney after beating murder charges in a California courtroom.

After a nearly five-year absence, in which he was locked away in a northern Nevada prison cell, O.J. Simpson returned to the public spotlight Wednesday. The 65-year-old fallen football star, once known for his manic bursts of speed on the field, has been in scores of end zones, TV commercials, movie trailers and two well-publicized Los Angeles court trials.

But this time he took the witness stand — one of America's most notorious celebrities seeking a retrial on the 2008 kidnapping and robbery charges that sent him to prison for up to 33 years.

This was no "trial of the century." The bland courtroom narrative held none of the theatrics and high drama of Simpson's mid-1990s murder trial for the deaths of ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman.

Missing this time were the public frenzy, the "Free O.J." signs and legal dream team, with swaggering lead counsel Cochran holding up the crumpled glove with the now-famous challenge, "If it doesn't fit, you must acquit."

On this day, the man for years known as "Juice" hobbled in and out of a Clark County courtroom in a blue correctional jumpsuit and shackles.

At times weary-looking, moon-faced from the added pounds pasted on during confinement, the gray-haired Simpson used reading glasses to decipher court documents and struggled to pour himself a glass of water from a plastic pitcher, his left wrist chained to his body.

Instead of the infamous white Bronco, the vehicle involved in this case was a white Lincoln Navigator that took Simpson and five associates to the Palace Station hotel and casino on a September evening in 2007 to recover family heirlooms and other personal mementos the ex-athlete said were stolen by a former agent.

Unlike in his sartorial days of old, Simpson's drab jailhouse duds were outshone by the clothes of his attorneys, including the bright turquoise dress worn by lead lawyer Patricia Palm, who sipped from a can of Rockstar energy drink before the proceeding.

On this day, there would be no rock star treatment for Simpson, who spent the lunch hour eating a simple jail bag lunch of a sandwich, piece of fruit and drink.

Asked to state his name when he took the stand Wednesday morning, Simpson offered no jazzy nicknames, no winning smile.

"Orenthal James Simpson," he said solemnly.

But over nearly four hours of testimony, mostly guided by Palm's gentle questioning in which the killings of Simpson's ex-wife and her friend were alluded to as "the deaths in California," Simpson showed flashes of the old star wattage: the streetwise humor and easy laugh of a guy used to being the life of the party.

On this day, Simpson got to tell his version of what happened in that $39-a-night hotel room, and to argue that Yale Galanter, his lead defense attorney in the eventual trial, provided such shoddy legal advice that he deserved a second trial.

On the stand, Simpson said Galanter knew in advance of the plan to retrieve his belongings. He also said he had no idea that one of his associates that night was armed. He emphasized that he saw no weapons during the entire confrontation. Galanter is expected to testify Friday.

Simpson portrayed himself as bleary-eyed from lack of sleep and alcohol-sodden from a day of drinking Bloody Marys and Jack Daniels and Coke when he walked into Room 1203 to find two sports memorabilia dealers and numerous keepsakes he said he would never have sold, such as footballs and photo albums of his mother.

He explained his profanity-laced outburst during the incident, recorded by one of his associates and used as evidence in his trial.

"My voice is always loud," he said. "I had words. I wanted them to feel my pain. I read them the riot act."

Describing another tense moment, he leaned in toward Judge Linda Marie Bell and said, "Excuse my language, but I said, 'Get that bitch on the phone.'"

"Is that the way you talk to your friends?" Palm asked.

"You know, watching the game," he responded with a quick smile, "that's how guys talk."

The testimony offered a glimpse into Simpson's former public life and his attitudes toward drinking. He said that on previous Las Vegas trips he hired a 6-foot-8 bodyguard nicknamed Stretch and was often provided other security at restaurants and clubs.

Simpson also defended barnstorming a hotel room.

"It was my stuff," he said of the memorabilia. "I followed what my lawyer told me. I didn't break into the room. I didn't muscle anybody."

But the former running back acknowledged that the scene played out like a broken play on the field.

"It obviously didn't go as I'd hoped it would," he said.

john.glionna@latimes.com

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