Appearing confident but sometimes emotional, O.J. Simpson testified Wednesday he did not know guns were involved in a confrontation with sports memorabilia dealers that led to his conviction for armed robbery and kidnapping, and a sentence that could keep him behind bars for life.
Simpson, in shackles that rattled when he shifted in his seat, took the stand in a hearing on his bid for a new trial on grounds he wasn’t properly represented by his trial attorney.
The 65-year-old former football star and actor, now with short graying hair, receding hairline and dressed in drab prison uniform, spoke clearly as he recounted events leading up to the incident in a hotel room where the dealers had Simpson footballs and family photos.
“There was no talk of guns at all,” he said under questioning by Patricia Palm, one of his attorneys.
During the trial, two co-defendants, who took plea deals and testified for the prosecution, said they had guns.
Simpson’s voice cracked a bit as he recounted recognizing items on the hotel room bed, including framed photos that used to hang on the wall of his Los Angeles home.
“Look at this stuff. Some of the stuff I didn’t really realize was gone. These were things I hadn’t seen in 10 years,” he said. “You know, you get a little emotional about it.”
Simpson told his attorney he believed he was allowed to take the items.
In 2008, Simpson was near tears as he told a judge: “I didn’t mean to steal anything from anybody. … I’m sorry. I’m sorry for all of it.”
There is no jury in the hearing and his fate will be determined by Clark County District Judge Linda Marie Bell.
Simpson was also asked about his background with his main trial attorney, Yale Galanter.
“Yale had a good relationship with the media,” Simpson said.
“I was in the media a lot. He was able to refute many of the tabloid stories,” Simpson said with a laugh. “He sort of liked doing it; he told me he did.”
When he went to trial in 2008, Simpson did not testify — a decision that one of his lawyers said was pushed upon him by Galanter.
With 19 points raised to support reversal in the writ of habeas corpus, Simpson was expected to answer many questions from his lawyers and then undergo cross-examination by an attorney for the state who wants to keep him in prison.
Simpson is serving nine to 33 years in prison for his conviction on armed robbery, kidnapping and other charges.
Earlier in the hearing, attorney Gabriel Grasso was Simpson’s star witness, the Las Vegas lawyer who joined the case when his old friend, Galanter, called and said, “Hey, Gabe, want to be famous?”
He said he soon realized he would be doing most of the behind-the-scenes work while Galanter made the decisions.
“I could advise O.J. all day long, and he was very respectful of me,” Grasso told the court. “But if I advised him of something different from what Yale said, he would do what Yale said.”
It was Galanter’s decision not to have Simpson testify, Grasso said.
Under questioning from H. Leon Simon, attorney for the state, Grasso acknowledged the trial judge, Jackie Glass, specifically asked Simpson if he wanted to testify and he said no.
“Mr. Galanter told him, ‘This is the way it’s going to be,’ ” Grasso said, adding he would have put him on the stand.
He said Simpson’s confidence in Galanter was born of the acquittal he gained for Simpson in a road rage case in Florida five years after his 1995 acquittal on murder charges in the stabbing deaths of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ronald Goldman.
Galanter, who will take the stand Friday, is now the focus of Simpson’s motion claiming ineffective assistance of counsel and conflict of interest.
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