LAS VEGAS — A weary-looking O.J. Simpson weighed down by shackles and four years in prison shuffled into a Las Vegas courtroom Monday hoping to eventually walk out a free man.
His arrival in court to ask for a new trial in the armed robbery case that sent him to prison in 2008 could be heard before he was seen — as a loud rattling of the chains that bound his hands to his waist and kept his feet together.
His lawyers had argued to forego the restraints but were overruled. 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 sports hero, who is more than four years into a minimum nine-year prison sentence, was subdued as the hearing began. Grayer and heavier, he flashed a smile and tried to mouth a greeting to people he recognized before being stopped by a bailiff who had cautioned against any communications.
Wearing a dingy blue prison uniform, Simpson listened intently to testimony presented as his lawyers contend 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.
The 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, Simpson has said.
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 scheduled to testify on Wednesday and say Galanter advised him he was within his rights to retrieve the items.
Galanter is scheduled to testify on Friday and has declined comment before his court appearance.
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.
Witness 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 lawyer and later came back to tell him there was no deal, Bryson said.
Bryson didn’t know if Simpson had ever been told about the deal by his lawyer. Simpson 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 a tape recording of the hotel room incident.
Barnett said he asked Galanter why he wasn’t hiring an expert to analyze the recording for alterations.
“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.
“Did you give it to him?” Palm asked.
“No. I had no confidence that he had any interest in the tapes at all,” Barnett said.
Barnett said he was later told by Galanter’s co-counsel, Gabriel Grasso, that Grasso had his 15-year-old son help him analyze the tapes.
Bryson said there was a chain of custody issue because the tapes had been sold to a tabloid news outlet that had them for eight days before they were turned over to the court.
“The tapes were untrustworthy,” Bryson said. “Files had been uploaded. Experts could not testify to their authenticity.”
Galanter allegedly insisted the tapes 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 jurors later saw the tapes as evidence of a conspiracy.
“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 to analyze tapes, 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.
Barnett and Simpson’s 43-year-old daughter, Arnelle, testified about the ill-fated weekend that began with plans for a wedding at which Simpson was to be best man.
Arnelle Simpson said her father was drinking all weekend and seemed “tipsy” when she saw him at the Palms Hotel pool talking with men who would later accompany him on his mission to retrieve family pictures and footballs being peddled by memorabilia dealers.
Simpson, with eyeglasses perched on his nose, took notes and listened intently. His expression was flat and he showed no reactions.
When it came time to leave the courtroom for lunch, 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 joined a family row in the courtroom that included two Simpson cousins who had flown in to give him 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 acquittal of slaying of 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.
Of the 22 allegations of conflict-of-interest and ineffective counsel that Palm raised, Clark County District Court Judge Linda Marie Bell has agreed to hear 19.
Simpson is expected to testify that to this day, he doesn’t know there were guns in the room.
Simpson has testified just once in open court before — during the wrongful death lawsuit.
Find Ken Ritter on Twitter: http://twitter.com/krttr