LAS VEGAS – O.J. Simpson, who went from American sports idol to celebrity-in-exile after he was acquitted of murder in 1995, was found guilty Friday of robbing two sports-memorabilia dealers at gunpoint in a Las Vegas hotel room.
Simpson, 61, could spend the rest of his life in prison. Sentencing was set for Dec. 5.
A weary and somber Simpson released a heavy sigh as the charges were read by the clerk in Clark County District Court. He was immediately taken into custody.
The Hall of Fame football star was convicted of kidnapping, armed robbery and 10 other charges for gathering up five men a year ago and storming into a room at a hotel-casino, where the group seized several game balls, plaques and photos. Prosecutors said two of the men with him were armed; one of them said Simpson asked him to bring a gun.
The verdict came 13 years to the day after Simpson was cleared of murdering his ex-wife and a friend of hers in Los Angeles in one of the most sensational trials of the 20th century.
Simpson’s co-defendant, Clarence “C.J.” Stewart, 54, also was found guilty on all charges and taken into custody.
Simpson showed little emotion as officers handcuffed him and walked him out of the courtroom. His sister, Carmelita Durio, sobbed behind him. As spectators left the courtroom, Durio collapsed and paramedics were called, court spokesman Michael Sommermeyer said.
From the beginning, Simpson and lawyers argued the incident was not a robbery, but an attempt to reclaim mementos that had been stolen from him. He said he did not ask anyone to bring a weapon and did not see any guns.
The defense portrayed Simpson as a victim of shady characters who wanted to make a buck off his famous name, and police officers who saw his arrest as an opportunity to “get” him and avenge his acquittal.
Prosecutors said Simpson’s ownership of the memorabilia was irrelevant; it was still a crime to try to take things by force.
“When they went into that room and forced the victims to the far side of the room, pulling out guns and yelling, ‘Don’t let anybody out of here!’ – six very large people detaining these two victims in the room with the intent to take property through force or violence from them – that’s kidnapping,” prosecutor David Roger said.
Kidnapping is punishable by five years to life in prison. Armed robbery carries a mandatory sentence of at least two years behind bars, and could bring as much as 30.
Simpson, who now lives in Miami, did not testify but was heard on a recording of the confrontation screaming that the dealers had stolen his property. “Don’t let nobody out of this room,” he declared and told the other men to scoop up his items, which included a photo of Simpson with former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover.
Four other men charged in the case struck plea bargains that saved them from potential prison sentences in return for their testimony. Some of them had criminal records or were otherwise compromised in some way. One, for example, was an alleged pimp who testified he had a revelation from God telling him to take a plea bargain.
Memorabilia dealer Thomas Riccio, who arranged and secretly recorded the hotel-room confrontation, said he netted $210,000 from the media for the tapes.
Similarly, minutes after the Sept. 13, 2007, incident, one of the alleged victims, sports-memorabilia dealer Alfred Beardsley, was calling news outlets, and the other, Bruce Fromong, spoke of getting “big money” from the case.
Simpson’s past haunted the case. Las Vegas police officers were heard in the recordings chuckling over Simpson’s misfortune and crowing that if Los Angeles couldn’t “get” him, they would.
During jury selection, Simpson’s lawyers expressed fears that people who believed he got away with murder might see this case as a chance to right a wrong.
As a result, an usually large pool of 500 potential jurors was called, and they were given a 26-page questionnaire. Half were almost instantly eliminated after expressing strong feelings that Simpson should have been convicted of murder.
The judge instructed the jurors to put aside Simpson’s earlier case.