November 28, 2013
By KEN RITTER
LAS VEGAS (AP) — O.J. Simpson faces at least four more years in prison after a judge rejected his bid for a new trial in his Las Vegas armed robbery and kidnapping conviction.
“All grounds in the petition lack merit and, consequently, are denied,” Clark County District Judge Linda Marie Bell said in her ruling Tuesday.
Simpson’s lawyer Patricia Palm said she spoke briefly with the former football star from prison, and said he was disappointed but would appeal to the Nevada Supreme Court. Simpson’s new defense team argued that his original lawyers botched his case.
“We’re confident that when we get to the right court we’ll get relief because he deserves relief, because he didn’t get a fair trial,” Palm told The Associated Press.
Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson, whose wife was the judge who presided over the Simpson 2008 trial, called Bell’s ruling the right decision.
“I believe Mr. Simpson received a fair trial and had more than competent counsel,” Wolfson said.
If the 66-year-old Simpson loses his appeal to the state high court, he could take the case to federal courts to argue his constitutional right to effective counsel was violated.
Simpson was found guilty of kidnapping, armed robbery and other charges in what he said was an attempt to retrieve memorabilia and personal items from two sports collectibles dealers in a casino hotel room.
Simpson was sentenced to nine to 33 years in Nevada state prison but was granted parole on some convictions in July, meaning he must serve at least four more years locked up.
Simpson’s conviction came 13 years to the day after the former movie and TV star was acquitted in the Los Angeles “trial of the century” in the stabbing deaths of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ronald Goldman. Six years later, a jury in Miami acquitted him of all charges in a Florida road rage case.
Simpson’s legal defense in his Las Vegas trial was headed by Yale Galanter, the Miami-based attorney who represented him in the 2001 road rage case. Attorney Gabriel Grasso served with Galanter as co-counsel in Las Vegas.
Galanter, who testified during Simpson’s five-day habeas corpus hearing in May, said he felt vindicated.
“As O.J.’s lawyer and confidante, it was gut-wrenching for me to have to be in a position to defend my strategy and efforts on his behalf as his lawyer and testify against my client,” Galanter said by telephone. “If I did what their legal team says I did, the first thing O.J. should have said to me was, ‘Hey I’m in jail and it’s because of you. Go screw yourself.’”
Bell's 101-page ruling rejected arguments that Simpson received inadequate legal representation.
“Mr. Simpson’s convictions stem from serious offenses,” she wrote. The judge noted the involvement of six co-conspirators and weeks of advance planning.
“Mr. Simpson specifically asked two of his co-conspirators to bring weapons ... to show the sellers he meant business,” she said. And the two memorabilia dealers were “lured into a small hotel room” where they were surprised by Simpson’s group.
The judge considered a 94-page petition for a new trial.
Simpson’s new legal team — Palm, Ozzie Fumo and Tom Pitaro — said they believed they presented overwhelming evidence that Galanter knew of Simpson’s plan, had conflicted interests that shaped the way he handled the case, and that Simpson didn’t get a fair trial.
They said Galanter failed to hire an investigator or have experts examine crucial evidence, including audio tapes that jurors later said convinced them of Simpson’s guilt.
Simpson’s lawyers sought to show that Galanter advised Simpson it was OK to take back his items and should have stepped aside so he could be called as a witness for Simpson’s defense.
Instead, they said, Galanter advised Simpson not to testify and reached a pretrial agreement with prosecutors not to enter evidence into the trial record of phone calls that raised questions about whether he had knowledge of the heist.
Finally, Simpson’s legal team said that by handling the appeal, Galanter nearly precluded Simpson from ever arguing he had ineffective counsel.
A shackled Simpson spent an entire day in May testifying for the first time in the case. Simpson, noticeably grayer and heavier after five years in prison, said he believes Galanter misled him, including telling him it was OK to retrieve the family photos and memorabilia he thought had been stolen from him after his acquittal in Los Angeles in 1995.
Simpson said Galanter advised him that it was his legal right to retrieve personal items as long as no force was used and no one trespassed.
“It was my stuff,” Simpson said. “I followed what I thought was the law. 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.”
During his parole hearing in July, Simpson said he was sorry for his actions and said he had made amends with the two memorabilia dealers.
“I just wish I never went to that room,” Simpson said.
Galanter dramatically contradicted Simpson’s account. He testified he was surprised when Simpson told him that he and several other men were planning a “sting” the next morning.
The attorney denied giving Simpson the go-ahead to try to retrieve the items.
“I said, ‘O.J., you’ve got to call the police,’” Galanter testified.
Galanter disputed the claim that Simpson was never informed about plea bargain discussions with prosecutors that could have resulted in a prison sentence of just a few years.
Galanter also testified that Simpson later confided to him that he knew some of the five men with him the night of the robbery had guns.
Simpson maintains to this day that he never asked anyone to bring guns or saw weapons in the cramped hotel room.
“Mr. Simpson never told me he was going to go to the Palace (Station) hotel with a bunch of thugs, kidnap people and take property by force,” Galanter said. “To insinuate I, as his lawyer, would have blessed it is insane.”