O.J. Simpson, center, talks with defense attorneys Ozzie Fumo, left, and Josh Barry during an evidentiary hearing in Clark County District Court, Thursday in Las Vegas.
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LAS VEGAS — The lawyer who defended O.J. Simpson on armed robbery charges delivered a potentially heavy blow to the former football star’s bid for a new trial Friday, testifying that Simpson knew his buddies had guns on them when he went to a hotel room to reclaim some sports memorabilia.
Miami attorney Yale Galanter took the stand in a frequently combative hearing over Simpson’s claim that he was so badly represented by Galanter that his conviction should be thrown out. Point by point, Galanter contradicted much of own former client’s testimony and defended his handling of the case.
Galanter said Simpson confided to him that he had asked two men to bring guns to the hotel room confrontation with two memorabilia dealers in 2007 and “he knew he screwed up.”
The attorney denied giving Simpson the go-ahead to try to retrieve the items, which included photos and signed footballs that Simpson believed had been stolen from him. He said he advised Simpson not to take matters into his own hands.
And Galanter disputed Simpson’s claim that Galanter never told him about plea bargain discussions with prosecutors that could have resulted in a prison sentence of just a few years.
Simpson, 65, was convicted in 2008 of kidnapping and armed robbery over the hotel room episode and was sentenced to nine to 33 years in prison. He and his new lawyers, Patricia Palm and Ozzie Fumo, allege Galanter botched the trial. District Judge Linda Marie Bell has not indicated when she will rule on the request for a new trial.
On the stand, Galanter hesitated and spoke only after he paused, breathed deeply and was reminded that Simpson had waived attorney-client privilege.
“I’m very uncomfortable doing this,” Galanter said.
Testifying about events leading up to the hotel room incident, Galanter said he was surprised when Simpson told him over dinner at a Las Vegas hotel that he and several other men were planning a “sting” the next morning to take back items he believed had been stolen from him in Los Angeles.
Galanter said he advised against it.
“When he first mentioned it, it just went over my head,” Galanter said of Simpson’s plan. “About a minute or two later, I leaned over and said, ‘What are you talking about? What are you doing?’
“He told me he finally had a lead on some personal pictures and memorabilia that was stolen from him years earlier,” Galanter testified. “I said, ‘O.J., you’ve got to call the police.’”
According to Simpson, Galanter advised the former NFL running back that it was his legal right to retrieve the items; told Simpson not to testify at the trial; and failed to tell Simpson that prosecutors had offered plea bargains. Earlier in the week, Simpson testified that he didn’t know anyone in the hotel room had guns.
Another Simpson lawyer, Tom Pitaro, insistently cross-examined Galanter closely about financial aspects of the case. During one objection, the judge asked Pitaro where he was going with his questions.
“What Mr. Galanter has done is, this man has received over a half-million dollars and has put his interest, his financial interest, above the interest of his client,” Pitaro said.
Galanter insisted he told Simpson at least three times that prosecutors discussed plea bargains with him. But he said Simpson rejected them.
Simpson said, “No deal. No way” to an offer from the district attorney of five to seven years in prison, Galanter said. Later, during the trial, Simpson turned down an even better offer, Galanter said.
“I went out in the hall and said to O.J, ‘There is an offer of two to five.’ He said, ‘See if they will take a year,’” Galanter testified. “I discussed a year with them, and they said no and the trial went on.”
Galanter was also grilled on his trial decisions, such as not objecting to a recording of a discussion that mentioned Simpson’s sensational 1995 murder trial, which ended with his acquittal in the slayings of his ex-wife and a friend of her. Galanter noted that the judge at the armed robbery trial had instructed the jury it couldn’t consider the murder case.
If Simpson succeeds in getting his armed robbery conviction thrown out, prosecutors will have to either retry him or offer a plea bargain. It is also possible Simpson could be freed with credit for time served. If he loses, he will be sent back to prison and will probably appeal to a higher court. He will be 70 before he is eligible for parole.