LAS VEGAS — A weary-looking O.J. Simpson, weighed down by shackles and more than four years in prison, shuffled into a Las Vegas courtroom Monday hoping to eventually walk out a free man.
His arrival to ask for a new trial in the armed robbery-kidnapping case that sent him to prison could be heard before he was seen — as a loud rattling of the chains that bound his hands to his waist and restrained his feet.
After the 65-year-old Simpson was seated, a guard removed his handcuffs and clicked them onto the chair arms next to him.
The once glamorous football star and TV pitchman was subdued in his dingy blue prison uniform. Grayer and heavier, he briefly flashed a smile and mouthed a greeting to people he recognized before being stopped by a bailiff.
Simpson listened intently as his lawyers tried to make the case that he had poor legal representation in the trial involving the gunpoint robbery of two sports memorabilia dealers in 2007 in a Las Vegas hotel room. Of the 22 allegations of conflict-of-interest and ineffective counsel his lawyers raised, Clark County District Judge Linda Marie Bell has agreed to hear 19.
Simpson has said his former attorney, Yale Galanter, had rejected appropriate defense moves and even met with Simpson the night before the heist to bless the plan as long as no one trespassed and no force was used.
Galanter was paid nearly $700,000 for Simpson’s defense but had a personal interest in preventing himself from being identified as a witness to the crimes and misled Simpson so much that he deserves a new trial, lawyers for Simpson claim.
Simpson is expected to testify Wednesday and say Galanter advised him that he was within his rights to retrieve family pictures and footballs being peddled by memorabilia dealers.
Galanter has declined to comment before his scheduled court appearance Friday.
Meanwhile, two of the other lawyers involved in the trial portrayed Galanter as self-interested, money grabbing and unconcerned for Simpson’s welfare.
Galanter’s co-counsel and longtime friend, Gabriel Grasso, offered a searing critique, saying he took money for himself, didn’t pay Grasso and refused to pay for experts to analyze crucial audio recordings from the hotel room that helped send Simpson to prison in 2008 for up to 33 years.
Simpson attorney Patricia Palm played a videotape of a hearing at which Galanter told the judge he would not oppose the use of the recordings because “we looked at them. We had experts look at every word. We had maybe six or seven words we objected to.”
Asked what experts Galanter was referencing, Grasso said: “I don’t know who he was talking about. There were no experts.”
Grasso said he was the only one who listened to all of the tapes with a computer program set up by his 15-year-old son.
He said he learned that Galanter was getting money from Simpson’s business manager but none of it was going into the case.
“I don’t think it was in Mr. Simpson’s best interest,” he said. “In a case of this magnitude, we had no help. The state had a jury consultant. Did we? No.”
He said Galanter urged Simpson not to testify, which Grasso thought was disastrous.
“It would have been a chance,” Grasso said. “That’s what we would have had if O.J. testified — a chance at justice.”
Grasso said when prosecutors proposed a plea deal that might have given Simpson as little as probation, Galanter told him, “I’ll talk to O.J. about it” but never told Grasso why he rejected it. He said he didn’t know if Simpson was even told of the deal.
Grasso’s testimony was corroborated by the lawyer for Simpson co-defendant Clarence “C.J.” Stewart.
The lawyer, Brent Bryson, said prosecutors told him the offer called for a two- to five-year sentence for each defendant in return for guilty pleas. Prosecutors said they were presenting it to Simpson’s lawyers but later said there was no deal, Bryson said.
Simpson, who will be 70 before he is eligible for parole, says he was not told of the deal.
Under questioning by defense lawyers Palm and Ozzie Fumo, Bryson and Simpson friend James Barnett, a wealthy businessman, said Galanter’s biggest mistake was not challenging the admission of the audio recording.
“The tapes were untrustworthy,” Bryson said. “Files had been uploaded. Experts could not testify to their authenticity.”
Barnett said he asked Galanter why he wasn’t hiring an expert to analyze the recording.
“He said, ‘If you would give us $250,000, we would have it done. We don’t have the money to analyze the tapes,’” Barnett testified.
Galanter allegedly insisted the recordings, on which Simpson was heard telling people that nobody was to leave the hotel room, would help his case rather than harm it.
Bryson said it was mistake.
“The jury specifically stated they convicted on the tapes because they considered the witnesses to be less than credible,” he said. “They could have filed a motion to suppress the recordings, and they didn’t.”
Bryson ridiculed the idea that it would cost $250,000 for audio analysis, saying he could have had it done for $5,000 “and maybe a case of beer.”
Earlier in the day, from Dr. Norton Roitman, a psychiatrist, testified that Simpson’s perception of what happened in the hotel room could have been clouded by lack of sleep, alcoholic drinks and stress. Simpson’s daughter, Arnelle Simpson, testified that her dad seemed “tipsy” when she saw him.
Simpson’s expression was flat and he showed little reaction to the testimony Monday.
Simpson’s drab appearance contrasted with the fancy clothing he wore during his acquittal in his historic, high-profile 1995 murder trial in Los Angeles in which he was acquitted of slaying his wife and her friend.
Simpson was later found liable for damages in a civil wrongful death lawsuit and ordered to pay $33.5 million to the families of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman.
In contrast to the national swirl surrounding his “trial of the century” in Los Angeles and the circus-like atmosphere during his trial in Las Vegas, Monday’s proceedings attracted none of the fans, protesters or attention-seekers typically drawn to celebrity cases.
Except for an extra television truck or two, it was business as usual outside the courthouse.
When the hearing opened, the courtroom was partly empty and an overflow room with closed-circuit hookups wasn’t needed.
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