Simpson Case Puts Former Lawyer on Spot, But Prosecution Has Surprise

The former NFL Hall of Fame player claims a former attorney mishandled his robbery-kidnapping trial stemming from a 2007 Las Vegas hotel room raid

By Jonathan Lloyd and Patrick Healy
|  Friday, May 17, 2013  |  Updated 12:33 AM CDT
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O.J. Simpson continued his bid for a new trial for his guilty verdict in connection with a 2008 Las Vegas hotel heist. His appeal lawyer outlined the actions of his former lawyer that he said could be considered a conflict of interest. Patrick Healy reports for the NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on May 16, 2013.

Patrick Healy

O.J. Simpson continued his bid for a new trial for his guilty verdict in connection with a 2008 Las Vegas hotel heist. His appeal lawyer outlined the actions of his former lawyer that he said could be considered a conflict of interest. Patrick Healy reports for the NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on May 16, 2013.

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O.J. Simpson Takes Witness Stand in Las Vegas

O.J. Simpson took the witness stand Wednesday at a hearing in Las Vegas to ask for a new trial. Simpson claims his defense in his 2008 armed robbery trial mishandled the case, which he says ultimately sent him to prison. Patrick Healy reports from Las Vegas for the NBC4 News at 5 and 6 p.m. on May 15, 2013.
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During the second-to-last day of testimony Thursday, prosecutors in Las Vegas revealed they want to call a surprise witness to rebut OJ Simpson's testimony in his bid to have his 2008 armed robbery conviction thrown out.

Simpson's attorneys Patricia Palm and Ozzie Fumo contend  it is too late to add a witness and said they had raised their objection during a sidebar conference. Judge Linda Bell is expected to make a ruling in the morning. 

Simpson and his attorneys are attempting to prove during the weeklong hearing that his trial attorney mishandled his defense in 2008, when the former actor and football star was found guilty in connection with a hotel room heist meant to retrieve Simpson's memorabilia.

Simpson wants a new trial because he says his longtime lawyer failed to disclose that he knew about the hotel room raid in advance, told Simpson it was legal and provided bad advice at trial.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Leon Simon told the Simpson attorneys a woman contacted the DA's office after Simpson testified Wednesday, according to Simpson's defense.  Outside the courtroom, Simon had no comment.

Simpson remains imprisoned on a term of nine to 33 years, after being convicted of robbery, kidnapping and assaul in connection with a 2007 incident at the Palace Station Hotel Casino.

Simpson did not take the witness stand during the original trial. Wednesday marked the first time he had testified about it, contending his intention was only to recover stolen mementos that he had learned sports memorabilia dealers had obtained and were intending to sell. 

Simpson testified he did not want anyone in his impromptu posse to bring guns. One of the dealers, Bruce Fromong, testified during the original trial that a gun was pointed at him and he was told he would be shot if he did not cooperate.

It's not clear what facets of Simpson's testimony the potential witness would contradict. Simon was to meet with her late Thursday.

Simpson's current legal team contends he is entitled to a new trial because the defense provided by his former legal team at trial was allegedly flawed by ethical violations.

Simpson testified that before he ever went to the Palace Station, he talked to attorney Yale Galanter about recovering stolen property, and used Galanter's advice in developing his plan.

Galanter went on to serve as Simpson's lead attorney at trial.

Before trial, Galanter signed a stipulation that he had no conflict of interest. But Simpson's current legal team contends he did have a conflict, and made decisions to protect his own interest in collecting more than a half-million dollars in legal fees from Simpson.

Thursday, Simpson's position was bolstered by Malcolm LaVergne, who joined Simpson's legal team after the conviction to work on the appeal.  

LaVergne suggested it might have been appropriate for Galanter to testify for Simspon, describing the advice he gave, rather than representing him. LaVergne was asked if, in his opinion, Galanter's decisions were affected by a conflict of interest. 

"From what I now know, absolutely," LaVergne testified.

Galanter is scheduled to testify Friday.  

Also at Thursday's hearing, a witness called by the prosecution testified that some of the items taken from the Palace Station hotel room during the incident did not belong to Simpson.

Attorney David Cook said his client, Fred Goldman, still has ownership rights to football mementos that were the subject of a 2009 civil judgment in connection with the wrongful death civil verdict against Simpson for the 1994 slayings of Goldman's son Ron and Simpson's former wife Nicole Brown.

"We have some right to the footballs if they appear on the market,'' Cook said.

Simpson testified that he wanted to recover personal belongings.

"It was my stuff. I followed what I thought was the law," Simpson said. "My lawyer told me I couldn't break into a guy's room. I didn't break into anybody's room. I didn't try to muscle the guys. The guys had my stuff, even though they claimed they didn't steal it.''

A judge eventually ruled that the items in the hotel room should be delivered to Simpson's civil case attorney. Cook conceded under cross-examination Thursday that footballs, neckties, awards and photos were returned to Simspon's civil attorneys.

Simpson re-stated that he was not aware two of the men in the group were carrying guns, adding that guns "were never a subject." He also said the "couple of big guys" with him at the hotel were there to help carry out the items, including signed footballs and photos.

"I don't need security," Simpson said he told others involved in a conversation at the Palms hotel on the morning of the raid.

Attorneys for the state also called a psychiatrist to the stand to challenge testimony from another psychiatrist who said Simpson's judgement was influenced by a lack of sleep and alcohol consumption.

Dr. Gregory Brown said he saw no obvious evidence that Simpson was impaired when he watched surveillance video of Simpson at the hotel.

Simpson, at times, appeared to relish the opportunity to be on the stand, using theatrical gestures and even asking a burly corrections officer to stand up to demonstrate the size of the men who accompanied him to the Palace Station. The men were there "not to start trouble but to make sure there wouldn't be any trouble," Simpson said.

Until Wednesday, crowds at the courthouse had been small, unlike the 1995 murder trial in Los Angeles and the 2008 robbery and kidnapping trials. A court marshal turned people away, sending more than 15 people to an overflow room where video of Simpson's testimony was streamed live.

The challenge follows the Nevada Supreme Court's denial of Simpson's 2010 appeal, also handled by Galanter. Simpson's new attorney filed the writ of habeas corpus in May 2012, seeking her client's release from prison and reversal of the conviction.

Simpson has already served four years in prison, but must serve nine of the maximum 33-year sentence before he is eligible for parole.

Four Simpson co-defendants pleaded guilty to felonies and testified for the prosecution.

A fifth defendant, Clarence "C.J.'' Stewart, was convicted and served more than two years in prison before the Nevada Supreme Court ruled that Simpson's fame tainted Stewart's conviction.

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