O.J. Simpson declares innocence in odd Vegas case
AP Special Correspondent
LAS VEGAS – O.J. Simpson stood before a judge Wednesday and firmly spoke a phrase he has uttered in other courtrooms in the past: “Not guilty.”
This time the former football star was being arraigned along with two other men for the alleged kidnapping and armed robbery of sports memorabilia dealers in a strange case that has ballooned to 12 charges with the potential to send Simpson and the others to prison for life.
Simpson’s notoriety gained from past trials for murder and road rage looms in the background of the Las Vegas episode. His lawyer said jury selection would be an “onerous” task that would probably last longer than the trial itself.
“I am very concerned that we get 12 people on the jury that can listen to the evidence that occurs in the courtroom,” attorney Yale Galanter said on the courthouse steps. “People are going to have opinions.”
Simpson’s co-defendants, Charles “Charlie” Ehrlich, 53, and Clarence “C.J.” Stewart, 53, also entered not guilty pleas, and Clark County District Court Judge Jackie Glass set trial for all three men on April 7.
Ehrlich’s lawyer, John Moran Jr., said he would challenge the most recent charging document as vague and a list of potential witnesses as violating his client’s Fifth Amendment rights.
District Attorney David Roger listed 78 potential witnesses, including Ehrlich and Stewart, an odd choice since prosecutors may not compel defendants to testify.
Moran said it would be impermissible for the prosecutor to call them “if this tortured process does proceed to trial.”
Glass appeared impatient with Moran’s argument and said she would consider written motions when they are filed. She moved quickly through the arraignments, requiring Simpson and the others to state their ages, education and that they could understand English.
Simpson appeared relaxed and cheerful before court convened, chatting with his lawyers and a few friends in the courtroom. He did not comment about the case and confined his remarks to small talk.
“Mr. Simpson is glad that the arraignment is over with. He’s glad that he doesn’t have to come back to Vegas until April,” Galanter said.
While the lawyer said he would be pleased to have the case resolved without a trial, he said that seemed unlikely unless prosecutors dismiss all charges. A plea bargain, he suggested, was not on the table.
“I don’t know what my client did wrong,” Galanter said. “And that’s why it would be difficult for us to enter into any kind of a plea agreement. It wasn’t a trespass because he was invited into the room. It wasn’t a robbery because it wasn’t the unlawful taking of someone else’s property.”
The prosecutor declined comment outside court.
Simpson landed in court after leading an odd raiding party in a Sept. 13 hotel room confrontation with two sports memorabilia dealers to take collectibles and family heirlooms he claimed were his.
Simpson, 60, of Miami, has maintained that he intended only to retrieve items that had been stolen from him by a former agent, including photographs, football awards and the suit he wore the day he was acquitted of murdering his wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ronald Goldman.
Prosecutors allege the heist netted tens of thousands of dollars of sports collectibles that didn’t belong to Simpson.
At a colorful preliminary hearing two weeks ago, there were accounts of an angry scene inside the Palace Station casino hotel room during which a cursing Simpson loudly demanded his possessions.
Threats were made and guns allegedly were drawn by two men originally charged in the case. Those men and another cohort were given plea bargains with the possibility of probation in return for their testimony against Simpson, Ehrlich and Stewart.
Simpson maintains he never saw any guns at the scene and had not asked anyone to bring guns.
The preliminary hearing offered the first view of a cast of witnesses described by Galanter as “a defense attorney’s dream” because of their credibility problems. One of them admitted he would have changed his testimony to favor Simpson if he had been paid enough.