Saturday, October 04, 2008

O. J. Simpson Found Guilty in Robbery Trial, By Steve Friess - The New York Times - 4th October 2008

LAS VEGAS — A jury here Friday night found O. J. Simpson guilty on all counts in his robbery and kidnapping trial, a verdict that came 13 years to the day after Mr. Simpson was acquitted in the highly publicized murders of his ex-wife and her friend.

The 12 charges that Mr. Simpson faced stemmed from a September 2007 confrontation in a casino hotel room in which he and five cohorts departed with hundreds of items of sports memorabilia.

In the courtroom as the verdict was read, Mr. Simpson showed no emotions. He was led away in handcuffs and taken into custody. His sister, Carmelita, who was sitting in the front row, broke down in tears.

The items were in the possession of two memorabilia dealers, Bruce L. Fromong and Alfred Beardsley, who were led to believe a prospective buyer was coming to browse the goods. Instead, Mr. Simpson and his group burst into the room and, according to several witnesses, at least one gun was brandished.

The jury of nine women and three men, who deliberated for 13 hours, mulled weeks of testimony as well as hours of surreptitious audio recordings of the planning and execution of the event by Thomas Riccio, a memorabilia auctioneer who arranged the confrontation.

Mr. Simpson, 61, and a co-defendant, Clarence Stewart, 54, are facing 15 years to life on the kidnapping charge.

Sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 5.

Mr. Simpson has said he was seeking to retrieve only personal keepsakes like ceremonial footballs from his Hall of Fame N.F.L. career and photos of his family that years ago were taken from his home; the prosecutors said he should have filed a civil lawsuit to regain the items if they were, in fact, stolen from him.

“We don’t want people going into rooms to take property,” said David Roger, the Clark County district attorney who led the prosecution. “That is robbery. You don’t go in and get a gun and demand property from people.”

Four of the 24 witnesses who testified were the other men who accompanied with Mr. Simpson and Mr. Stewart, all of whom have accepted plea deals from prosecutors in exchange for testimony. Two of those men, Walter Alexander and Michael McClinton, carried guns in the incident and one, Mr. McClinton, testified that he did so at Mr. Simpson’s request.

Mr. Simpson said he did not know the two would carry weapons and never saw any guns displayed during the incident.

The proceedings failed to capture the intense public interest that turned Mr. Simpson’s 1995 trial into the so-called Trial of the Century. That spectacle became a racial touchstone and turned a list of legal analysts including Greta Van Sustern, Jeffrey Toobin and Star Jones into television stars. Few of the news media stars involved in that case flocked to this one, although Dominick Dunne of Vanity Fair was a notable exception. Marcia Clark, the former prosecutor who failed to convict Mr. Simpson in 1995 did not appear despite securing media credentials to report for Entertainment Tonight.

The case played out against the backdrop of a nation more interested in the presidential election campaign and the nation’s economic crisis. It also featured victims who were far less sympathetic: two middle-aged memorabilia dealers who tried to profit from their roles in this case by trying to sell their stories to the tabloid media.

The defense focused much of its efforts on discrediting Mr. Fromong, Mr. Beardsley and the four men who assisted Mr. Simpson and Mr. Stewart in the alleged robbery. On several occasions, Simpson attorneys Yale Galanter and Gabriel Grasso caught those witnesses in apparent contradictions, as when Mr. Fromong insisted he did not try to sell his story despite audio recordings immediately after the incident in which Mr. Fromong is heard saying: “I’ll have ‘Inside Edition’ down here tomorrow. I told them I want big money.”

A measure of the limited public interest in the case may be that Frederic Goldman, the father of Ronald Goldman, admitted he followed the proceedings “only generally” from his home in Phoenix. Still, with a verdict coming he sharpened his focus.

“At the absolute least, I’d like to see him in jail,” Mr. Goldman said Friday of Mr. Simpson. “He’s not going to get the punishment for Ron’s murder that he deserved, but at least he should be in jail for as long as they can put him there.”

While Mr. Simpson’s acquittal in the 1994 murders of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ronald Goldman, was never discussed during the trial, it hung over the proceedings. Jurors were quizzed extensively before their selection about their views of that trial, and references were made in some of the audio recordings to the fact that Mr. Simpson owes the estate of Ms. Simpson and Mr. Goldman $33.5 million because in 1997 he was held liable in a civil lawsuit for the deaths.

Mr. Galanter attacked that issue in his closing, noting that Mr. Riccio’s recorder picked up police officers at the crime scene seeming to exult in their chance to prosecute Mr. Simpson. He also noted that Mr. Riccio testified he had made more than $200,000 in fees from the news media in exchange for interviews and rights to his recordings.

“This case has never been about a search for the true facts,” Mr. Galanter said. “This case has taken on a life of its own because Mr. Simpson’s involved. You know that, I know that, every cooperator, every person with a gun, every person who signed a book deal, every person who got paid money, the police, the district attorney’s office, was only interested in one thing: Mr. Simpson.”

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