LAS VEGAS — O.J. Simpson won a small victory today when he returned to court for Day 2 of his attempt to win a new trial in his robbery case, when a judge said he could have one hand unshackled to drink water and take notes.
Simpson managed a smile and a waist-high wave with his shackled hand as he entered the courtroom and found friends and family members in the audience.
Simpson’s lawyers then convinced Clark County District Court Judge Linda Marie Bell to let the former football star and TV pitchman have his right hand free. Simpson’s left hand was still cuffed to the arm of his chair.
Lawyers for Simpson are claiming that his trial lawyer, Yale Galanter, gave such bad trial advice and had such conflicted interests that Simpson deserves a new trial.
The 65-year-old Simpson is serving nine to 33 years in prison for leading five men in the armed robbery of two sports memorabilia dealers in a Las Vegas hotel room in 2007.
“He looks like a beaten man,” said Thomas Scotto, 51, a close Simpson friend in the audience whose wedding was the reason for Simpson’s fateful trip to Las Vegas.
Since then, Scotto’s marriage has collapsed and he underwent three emergency surgeries for life-threatening intestinal ailments.
“You don’t think about it, but this has taken a toll on a lot of people,” Scotto said.
Galanter’s former friend and co-counsel, Gabriel Grasso, returned to the stand today to provide more withering criticism about Galanter’s promises and performance during the 2008 trial and conviction and later appeal.
Galanter has declined to comment before his expected testimony on Friday.
Grasso testified that he and Galanter decided to focus their defense on Simpson’s insistence that he didn’t know any of the men with him the night of the confrontation had guns; that Simpson never saw a gun; and that Simpson only wanted to retrieve property that he believed had been stolen from him after his acquittal in 1995 in the slayings of his ex-wife and her friend in Los Angeles.
Grasso said he and Galanter considered other strategies, including that Simpson was drunk during the incident. But Grasso said he didn’t think jurors would be convinced due to all the “baggage” Simpson brought to the trial.
He also said he thought Simpson sounded “very focused and direct” in an audio recording of words shouted during the confrontation.
“He didn’t sound like a drunk person,” Grasso testified.
The anticipated week-long hearing was taking place absent the fanfare that surrounded Simpson’s “trial of the century” in Los Angeles and his 2008 trial in Las Vegas.
Seats went unfilled in the 45-seat courtroom gallery, and an overflow courtroom set up with closed circuit video screens to accommodate an anticipated media throng sat empty.
Grasso testified Monday that Galanter took money for himself, didn’t pay him and refused to pay for experts to analyze crucial audio recordings that helped convict Simpson.
“Hey Gabe. Wanna be famous?” Grasso recalled Galanter asking as the two embarked on a relationship that later deteriorated into lawsuits over a handshake agreement to represent Simpson and split an expected $750,000 in legal fees — a third for Grasso and two-thirds for Galanter.
Grasso said he was only paid $15,000, even though the weight of pretrial work fell to him.
He said Galanter kept telling him that he didn’t have money to hire investigators or an expert to analyze the crucial audio recordings that were later played for the Simpson jury.
Grasso said he reviewed the recordings himself while watching his son’s soccer games.
Attorneys for the state, H. Leon Simon and Leah Beverly, were expected to cross-examine Grasso later in the day.
Grasso also said Galanter blocked Simpson from testifying, even though Grasso thought Simpson’s best chance at acquittal was to tell his own story to the jury.
Simpson was scheduled to testify for the first time in the case on Wednesday.
Galanter said he would talk with Simpson about a proposed plea deal, but the lawyer never told Grasso why he rejected it, Grasso testified. He didn’t know if Simpson was even told about a possible deal.
Simpson, who will be 70 before he is eligible for parole, maintains that he wasn’t.
After his acquittal on the murder charges, Simpson was 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.