LAS VEGAS – O.J. Simpson went on trial for kidnapping and robbery Monday with a judge determined to find a jury unaffected by his long-ago “Trial of the Century.”
“What happened then, happened then,” Judge Jackie Glass told prospective jurors.
“If you are here and think you are going to punish Mr. Simpson for what happened in 1995, this is not the case for you,” she said, urging them to confess if they had such a motive. All stayed silent.
While asking many questions about the past, the judge stopped short of asking the big question that Simpson’s lawyer wanted: Do they consider Simpson a murderer?
“My determination is no, we are not going there,” Glass told lawyers outside the prospects’ presence. “We are not here to re-litigate that case. The jury reached a verdict in that case and people have strong feelings about it. This case is about what happened here in Las Vegas last year.”
The new case debuted as a pale postscript to the murder trial that riveted America in the 1990s when Simpson, a former pro football star, was charged with murdering his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ronald Goldman, and ultimately acquitted.
Missing were the crowds that surrounded the courthouse when Simpson was arrested last year for allegedly robbing two sports collectibles dealers in a hotel room, and the media throng that has followed him over the years was dramatically diminished.
Simpson has a co-defendant this time, Clarence “C.J.” Stewart, an old friend who went along on an ill-fated mission which Simpson claims was intended to reclaim personal property. But Stewart was barely mentioned Monday as the judge focused on how much prospective jurors knew about Simpson and how they feel about him.
When she asked how many of them knew of Simpson, hands shot in the air from most of the 87 panelists initially brought to the courtroom. They were not asked if they knew Stewart, who has repeatedly tried to have his case severed from Simpson’s on grounds he would be tainted sitting next to the celebrity defendant.
Simpson and Stewart have each pleaded not guilty to 12 charges, including felony kidnapping, armed robbery, conspiracy, burglary, coercion and assault with a deadly weapon.
Simpson maintains he didn’t ask anyone to bring guns to the hotel room and that he didn’t know anyone in the room was armed.
The stakes are high – a robbery conviction would mean mandatory prison time, and a kidnapping conviction carries the possibility of life in prison with the possibility of parole.