O.J. Simpson Arrives In Court In Armed Robbery Case; Faces 12 Charges

Thursday, November 8th 2007, 7:10 am
By: News On 6

LAS VEGAS (AP) O.J. Simpson arrived at a courthouse Thursday for a hearing to determine whether he will face trial on charges he and others robbed two sports memorabilia dealers in a Las Vegas hotel room.

The former football star wore a tan suit, white shirt and dark sunglasses as he made his way into the court surrounded by a contingent of lawyers and about a dozen uniformed officers.

Simpson also will be facing years of doubts and questions about his 1995 acquittal on murder charges during the two-day hearing. In Simpson's mind, according to a close friend, the latest charges are rooted in Simpson being found not guilty in the 1994 slayings of his wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ronald Goldman.

``He believes he's being tried for that now,'' said Tom Scotto, 45, a North Miami Beach, Fla., auto body shop owner.

The men arrested in the Sept. 13 incident were brought together by Scotto's wedding. Simpson and co-defendants Clarence ``C.J.'' Stewart and Charles Ehrlich face 12 charges, including kidnapping, armed robbery, assault with a deadly weapon, conspiracy and coercion.

A kidnapping conviction could result in a sentence of life in prison with the possibility of parole. An armed robbery conviction could mean mandatory prison time.

``He's taking this serious,'' Tom Scotto said. ``It is serious.''

No one disputes that Stewart, Ehrlich and former co-defendants Michael McClinton, Walter Alexander and Charles Cashmore went with Simpson and California collectibles broker Tom Riccio to meet memorabilia dealers Alfred Beardsley and Bruce Fromong in a casino hotel room.

Simpson, 60, has maintained that he wanted to retrieve items he claimed had been stolen from him by a former agent, including the suit he wore the day he was acquitted in Los Angeles.

The case is likely to pivot on Simpson's contention that he didn't ask anyone to bring guns, that he didn't know anyone had guns and that no guns were displayed.

Three of Simpson's co-defendants have pleaded guilty or agreed to do so and are expected to testify against him.

Cashmore, 40, a journeyman laborer, said McClinton displayed a gun.

Alexander, 46, of Mesa, Ariz., told police after his Sept. 15 arrest that he and McClinton carried guns, but that he kept one in his waistband while McClinton displayed his as Beardsley and Fromong were frisked.

``O.J. said `hey, just bring some firearms,''' Alexander said, according to a transcript of his tape-recorded statement to detectives.

McClinton, 49, of Las Vegas, who later turned two handguns over to police and surrendered his concealed weapons permit, is expected to bolster that account.

Nevertheless, the prosecution's case has certain weaknesses, including some unsavory witnesses.

Of the eight men who were in the room with Simpson, six have run afoul of the law before, with convictions for arson, theft, cocaine trafficking and assault among them.

Moreover, Simpson's lawyers have argued that the men who turned against him lied to win generous plea bargains for themselves.

``He's got a bunch of people making up anything they can make up, just to get out of trouble,'' Scotto said.

Simpson and the others are likely to be bound over for trial ``because the burden of proof is such that all they have to show is that some evidence suggests a crime occurred,'' said Tom Pitaro, a veteran Las Vegas defense lawyer who teaches trial advocacy at the Boyd School of Law at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Clark County District Attorney David Roger and prosecutor Chris Owens declined comment on their plans for the hearing.

Jody Armour, a law professor at the University of Southern California, said it was unlikely that the defense will tip its hand much, and said no one will be able to avoid an undercurrent of deja vu with Simpson sitting in court.

``The subtext, from the defense standpoint, is going to be prosecutors trying for another bite at the O.J. apple,'' Armour said.