The first day of O.J. Simpson’s criminal evidentiary hearing was marked by dramatic audio recordings and a collectibles broker who testified he set up the meeting that ultimately led to armed robbery charges against the former football star.
The second day of the hearing to decide if Simpson and two other men should stand trial on 12 criminal charges was set for Friday. Defense lawyers were expected to try to undercut the testimony of Tom Riccio, who captured the events on a digital recorder.
Riccio testified Thursday he hid a recorder in the hotel room where Simpson is accused of leading the armed robbery.
Simpson, 60, gritted his teeth and laid his gold-framed reading glasses on the defense table as the echoes of a voicemail he left for Riccio hung in the air of the courtroom.
“Hey Tom. It’s O.J. What are they talking about a gun? All I wanted was my stuff back again,” Simpson says on the 35-second recording.
On the recording, Simpson refers to hundreds of items taken from memorabilia dealers Bruce Fromong and Alfred Beardsley on Sept. 13 as his “stolen stuff.”
“Nobody had a gun, you know?” he says. “Ain’t nobody had any guns. They’re feeling guilty so they’re trying to make up something.”
Those calm words contrasted to the chaotic bellows, barked orders and curses heard during a six-minute recording of the confrontation in a room at the Palace Station Hotel Casino that ends with a single voice.
“We were just robbed at gunpoint man,” a man says. “We were just robbed at gunpoint by O.J. Simpson.”
Defense lawyers for Simpson, Clarence “C.J.” Stewart and Charles Ehrlich lost a last-minute bid to get a judge to exclude the audio. They were to open the second day of testimony cross-examining Riccio, whose account of the confrontation painted the event as an almost comical caper gone wrong.
Riccio said he later sold a copy of the recording to a tabloid Web site before handing it over to police.
Prosecutors allege Simpson, Stewart, Ehrlich and three other men who have taken plea deals conspired to rob Beardsley and Fromong and then say no guns were used.
Former co-defendants Michael McClinton, Walter Alexander and Charles Cashmore are expected to testify that Simpson asked for guns to be brought along to show they were serious about retrieving items that he claimed were his.
Simpson has maintained in interviews and through his lawyers that no guns were displayed, that he never asked anyone to bring guns and that he did not know anyone had guns.
Simpson, 60, and Stewart and Ehrlich, both 53, face armed robbery, kidnapping and other charges. 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.
Fromong testified Thursday he had expected to meet with an anonymous buyer on Sept. 13, when Simpson arrived with others “in a military invasion fashion.”
Fromong and Riccio were the first two of eight witnesses prosecutors said they expect to call during the hearing.
Asked during a break what he thought of the proceedings, Simpson smiled, shrugged and said, “It is what it is.” He has been instructed by his lawyers not to talk to the media.
During cross-examination by Simpson attorney Gabriel Grasso, Fromong acknowledged that at the same time the dealers were calling police to report they had been robbed, he and Beardsley also were calling a syndicated TV show to try to make money from the experience.
Fromong also acknowledged that he has gone to the online auction site eBay to peddle memorabilia items he has dubbed, “Identical to the items O.J. stole from me!”
He waffled about whether he has been shopping a book deal about the experience, but confirmed he has discussed the idea. At one point, he joked that he’d like Jack Nicholson to play him if a movie is made.