O.J. Simpson's Hearing Quieter Than Normal

Thursday, November 29th 2007, 7:41 am
By: News On 6

LAS VEGAS (AP) - The ``Special Event'' signs placed around courthouse parking lots suggesting O.J. Simpson's court appearance might cause a frenzy of activity were hardly necessary.

The arraignment of the former football star and two co-defendants on armed robbery and kidnapping charges lasted barely a half hour on Wednesday. Simpson was gone almost as quickly as he could say ``not guilty.''

There were no surprises and no traffic, and the crowds that attended a preliminary hearing two weeks ago were missing from the subdued scene that saw only a half-full courtroom.

``It was expected that it was going to be a short hearing and the outcome was a foregone conclusion,'' said Peter Shaplen, a former TV news producer who is coordinating electronic media coverage of the case.

Simpson stood before Clark County District Judge Jackie Glass and firmly spoke a phrase he has uttered in other courtrooms in the past: ``Not guilty.''

His co-defendants, Charles ``Charlie'' Ehrlich, 53, and Clarence ``C.J.'' Stewart, 53, also entered not guilty pleas, and Clark County District Judge Jackie Glass set trial for all three men on April 7.

The charges stem from a Sept. 13 confrontation in a Las Vegas hotel room where Simpson has said he went to retrieve items that belonged to him from a group of memorabilia peddlers.

Simpson, Ehrlich and Stewart are not accused of wielding firearms. Simpson has said he was unaware that guns were present, though conflicting testimony suggested Simpson may have wanted his group armed.

Attorney Gabriel Grasso, who is co-counsel for Simpson, said all three defendants will likely file petitions known as writs of habeas corpus challenging the legality of the charges against them. Defense attorneys for the men have suggested the case is being overcharged because of Simpson's notoriety.

Each man faces 11 felony charges, including kidnapping, armed robbery, assault with a deadly weapon, burglary, conspiracy and coercion. Each also faces one gross misdemeanor, conspiracy to commit a crime.

A kidnapping conviction could bring a life sentence with the possibility of parole. A conviction for armed robbery carries a mandatory two- to 15-year prison sentence plus a possible one to 15 years for use of a weapon.

Among the questions hanging over the proceedings is where to find an impartial jury to judge a man who has become a lightning rod for divided public opinion. His 1995 acquittal in the murders of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ronald Goldman still rankles many. A civil court jury later found him liable.

Goldman's father, Fred, and his sister, Kim, who maintain that Simpson is guilty, were included as potential witnesses in the current case on a list filed by District Attorney David Roger.

Simpson's lawyers are likely to challenge their relevance to the case and seek to distance the new charges from the old.

``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 outside the courthouse.

Galanter, who won Simpson's acquittal in a 2001 road rage charge in Florida, said: ``The problem with representing O.J. Simpson is that everybody has an opinion. That's the unique jury selection issue with Simpson. When we did the road rage case a few years ago it was just difficult. I think jury selection is going to be much longer than the trial itself.''

Shaplen, who has shepherded media coverage on such cases as the Scott Peterson and Michael Jackson trials, said 300 media credentials were issued for Simpson's preliminary hearing and more are likely for the trial.

``It's going to be a big trial,'' he said.