Determined to convince a Las Vegas court that he deserves a new trial, O.J. Simpson took the stand Wednesday to describe for the first time in his own words exactly what happened in the 2007 confrontation with two memorabilia dealers that resulted in his incarceration for armed robbery and kidnapping. While he was famously acquitted in his 1995 murder case, Simpson is now throwing a legal “Hail Mary” pass in an attempt to gain his freedom.
Coming on the third day of his evidentiary hearing, Simpson, now 65, appeared in court with grayed hair and a receding hairline. Wearing a navy-blue prison jumpsuit and shuffling to the witness stand through the clanking of his shackles, he responded matter-of-factly to questions from his lawyers on what happened. In an assured though fatigued voice, the Juice broke down his version of the events of Sept. 13, 2007 for the first time ever, since he did not testify in his 2008 felony trial.
Simpson made several key points to persuade Judge Linda Marie Bell that his original attorney, Yale Galanter, was incompetent, and that he should get a shot at a new day in court. Those include:
He was trying to get back what already belonged to him. Simpson testified that at first he had been told by then-friend Tom Riccio that memorabilia dealers Bruce Fromong and Alfred Beardsley (whose identities Simpson was not completely sure of at the time) were in possession of several items that belonged to him. Initially, he said, he didn’t intend to pursue them, but when he learned that several heirlooms including rare family photos and game footballs commemorating NFL rushing records were among the collection, he felt he needed to act. “They belong to my family. They belong to my kids. They belong to us,” Simpson said. “These were all things that they should have, not some guy in a hotel in Vegas.”
He had no idea that any of the men who went with him to retrieve the items had firearms. Simpson took four men with him, including friend C.J. Smith, who was convicted with him, to get his belongings. He just “needed a couple of big guys” to help him get the several boxes in the room at the Palace Station Hotel. He said guns were never discussed. “For what? There was no need for that.” He insisted that he never audibly heard the word “gun” and in his discussions with the men who accompanied him in the SUV containing the items, no talk of a gun ever came up.
He did demand that nobody leave the room, but did not threaten anyone. Simpson claims that he did not realize everything that had gone missing until he entered the room. “Some of the stuff, I didn’t know what was gone, I didn’t know was missing.” Many of the items were valuables that he took for granted until they were gone. “These were things that you live with in your house for years and you forget about it. These were things I hadn’t seen in 10 years, so I was a little emotional about it.” So he turned to Charles Cashmore and Charles Ehrlich (who were later sentenced to probation after taking plea deals) and said, “don’t let anybody out of here. Because these guys are here with my stuff and if they don’t volunteer it to me, I want them arrested.”
Yale Galanter flip-flopped on what Simpson could legally do to get his belongings back. At first, Simpson’s attorney told him that he was within his rights to get the memorabilia back. He said that he had the right to confront Fromong and Beardsley as long as he did not trespass on their property and did not forcefully take the things. “I followed what I thought was the law,” Simpson told the court. “I didn’t beat up anybody, I didn’t try to muscle the guy. They guys acknowledged that it was my stuff.” But later, after he was arrested and awaiting trial, Simpson says that Galanter’s tune changed. Now he was telling Simpson that the particular state where the incident took place was one where he should have tried to avoid the confrontation. “He said you could do this in 48, 49 states, but Nevada has some quirky kind of laws…because I never thought I could go get my own stuff and be looking at jail time.”
Simpson’s hearing is expected to last through the week. Judge Bell will then rule on whether she will throw out the old conviction and order a new trial or let Simpson continue the nine-to-33-year sentence he is currently serving.