LAS VEGAS — A weary-looking O.J. Simpson weighed down by shackles and more than four years in prison shuffled into a Las Vegas courtroom on Monday hoping to eventually walk out a free man.
His arrival in court to ask for a new trial in the armed robbery-kidnapping case that sent him to prison in 2008 for up to 33 years could be heard before he was seen — as a loud rattling of the chains that bound his hands to his waist and restrained his feet.
His lawyers had unsuccessfully argued to forego the shackles. After the 65-year-old Simpson was seated, a guard removed his handcuffs and clicked them onto the chair arms next to him.
The once-glamorous football star and TV pitchman was subdued in his dingy blue prison uniform. Grayer and heavier, he briefly flashed a smile and mouthed a greeting to people he recognized before being stopped by a bailiff.
Simpson listened intently as his lawyers tried to make the case that he had poor legal representation in the trial involving the gunpoint robbery of two sports memorabilia dealers in 2007 in a Las Vegas hotel room. Of the 22 allegations of conflict-of-interest and ineffective counsel his lawyers raised, Clark County District Court Judge Linda Marie Bell has agreed to hear 19.
Simpson has said his former attorney, Yale Galanter, had rejected appropriate defense moves and even met with Simpson the night before the disastrous heist to bless the plan as long as no one trespassed and no force was used.
Galanter was paid nearly $700,000 for Simpson’s defense but had a personal interest in preventing himself from being identified as a witness to the crimes and misled Simpson so much that he deserves a new trial, lawyers for Simpson claim.
Simpson is expected to testify Wednesday and say Galanter advised him that he was within his rights to retrieve family pictures and footballs being peddled by memorabilia dealers.
Galanter has declined comment before his scheduled court appearance Friday.
A lawyer for Simpson co-defendant Clarence “C.J.” Stewart testified Monday that a plea deal was offered to Simpson and Stewart in the midst of trial.
Brent Bryson said prosecutors told him the offer called for a two- to five-year sentence for each defendant in return for guilty pleas. Prosecutors said they were presenting it to Simpson’s lawyers but later said there was no deal, Bryson said.
Bryson didn’t know if Simpson had ever been told about the deal by his lawyer. Simpson, who will be 70 before he is eligible for parole, claims he was not.
Under questioning by defense lawyers Patricia Palm and Ozzie Fumo, Bryson and Simpson friend James Barnett, a wealthy businessman, said Galanter’s biggest mistake was not challenging the admission of an audio recording of the hotel room incident.
“The tapes were untrustworthy,” Bryson said. “Files had been uploaded. Experts could not testify to their authenticity.”
Barnett said he asked Galanter why he wasn’t hiring an expert to analyze the recording.
“He said, ‘If you would give us $250,000, we would have it done. We don’t have the money to analyze the tapes,” Barnett testified.
Barnett said he was told by Galanter’s co-counsel, Gabriel Grasso, that Grasso had his 15-year-old son help him analyze the recordings.
Galanter allegedly insisted the recordings on which Simpson was heard telling people that nobody was to leave the hotel room would help his case rather than harm it.
Bryson said it was mistake.
“The jury specifically stated they convicted on the tapes because they considered the witnesses to be less than credible,” he said. “They could have filed a motion to suppress the recordings and they didn’t.”
Bryson ridiculed the idea that it would cost $250,000 for audio analysis, saying he could have had it done for $5,000 “and maybe a case of beer.”
Simpson has said Galanter also discouraged him from testifying.
“He consistently told me the state could not prove its case because I acted within my rights in retaking my own property,” Simpson said in a sworn statement.
Simpson’s expression was flat and he showed little reaction to the testimony on Monday.
At a break, bailiffs hooked up his handcuffs to the heavy shackles again and he had trouble lifting himself from the chair.
Still, a close friend saw a flash of the old, magnetic Simpson personality.
“Not much muscle tone,” observed Sherman White, a former NFL defensive lineman, teammate and friend of Simpson since they both played for the Buffalo Bills. “But you saw a little of the O.J. pizazz when he came in.”
White was joined in the courtroom by two Simpson cousins who had flown in for support.
Simpson’s drab appearance contrasted with the fancy clothing he wore during his acquittal in his historic, high-profile 1995 murder trial in Los Angeles in which he was acquitted of slaying his wife and her friend.
Simpson was later found liable for damages in a civil wrongful death lawsuit and ordered to pay $33.5 million to the families of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman.
In contrast to the national swirl surrounding his “trial of the century” in Los Angeles and the circus-like atmosphere during his trial in Las Vegas, Monday’s proceedings attracted none of the fans, protesters or attention-seekers typically drawn to celebrity cases.
Except for an extra television truck or two, it was business as usual outside the courthouse.
When the hearing opened the courtroom was partly empty and an overflow room with closed-circuit hookups wasn’t needed.