LAS VEGAS – The latest chapter of O.J. Simpson’s legal travails comes to a close today when he is sentenced for leading a ragtag band of hangers-on in the robbery of two sports memorabilia dealers in a cramped Las Vegas hotel room.
Simpson, 61, faces a possible sentence of life in prison after his conviction Oct. 3 of kidnapping and armed robbery, among other charges. The Heisman Trophy winner and NFL Hall of Fame running back is being held at the Clark County Detention Center. His only “contact visits” have been with defense attorneys Yale Galanter and Gabriel Grasso, who are planning to appeal.
“He’s a very resilient guy,” Galanter said Thursday. “He’s handling this fairly well. He’s hopeful. He believes in the criminal justice system. He believes he’ll be exonerated.”
Galanter has said that the jury of nine women and three men convicted Simpson because of his 1995 acquittal in the double-murder trial of ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman – not because of what unfolded in the Palace Station hotel.
The attorney said he hoped the controversial acquittal – which capped a lengthy trial that became a national obsession – wouldn’t sway Judge Jackie Glass.
“O.J. comes into court with a lot of baggage,” Galanter said. “Even though he was acquitted in the mid-’90s, the public perception is that he did it.” A civil jury found Simpson liable for the deaths in 1997.
Galanter said he didn’t know whether Simpson would speak at the sentencing hearing, at which victims Bruce Fromong and Alfred Beardsley are expected to testify. Beardsley has advocated that the charges against Simpson be dropped.
According to court papers filed this week, state parole authorities recommended that Glass, a feisty jurist who once chastised Simpson as “arrogant or ignorant or both,” sentence him to at least 18 years in prison. Thomas Pitaro, a local defense attorney who teaches at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, law school, said judges here tend to closely follow such advice “unless there’s a really compelling reason not to.”
Defense attorneys argued that although Simpson showed poor judgment on Sept. 13, 2007 – when he and five cohorts carried out $100,000 in footballs, baseballs and lithographs – he merely was trying to recover stolen belongings.
A middleman named Thomas Riccio tricked the memorabilia dealers into meeting a “wealthy buyer” at the hotel, where Riccio secretly recorded their six-minute encounter with an angry Simpson. Afterward, Simpson cohort Michael McClinton, who testified for the prosecution, taped the football great talking about “the piece” – the gun he purportedly asked McClinton to bring.
Still, defense attorneys said, Simpson’s actions were not those “of a hardened criminal mind.” They asked Glass for the minimum sentence of six years.
“Simpson was not an individual storming a bank and taking property that belonged to others,” the attorneys wrote. “Simpson was not a defendant that bound and gagged people while their personal possessions were being taken. … This was an individual who truly believed he was not committing a crime.”