Opening Statements Under Way in Simpson Trial

By: Ken Ritter AP
By: Ken Ritter AP

Associated Press Writer

LAS VEGAS (AP) - A prosecutor told jurors Monday they will find "the true face" of O.J. Simpson during the former football star's trial on charges of robbing sports memorabilia dealers a year ago.

Prosecutor Chris Owens began his opening statement in the case by playing an audio recording of the incident in a casino hotel room, and he spoke to the jury to highlight one voice barking commands: "Don't let nobody outta here ... stand the (expletive) up before it gets ugly in here."

Simpson, who flashed a thumbs-up sign when he arrived at court, sat impassively as the prosecutor described the rest of the recording.

"The audio will show threats, it will show force, it will show demands and it will show the taking of property from the victims in this case," Owens said.

"In our presentation of the evidence we are going to spend the next few days finding which may be the true face of ... Simpson, not necessarily the one he tries to put out to the world," Owens said.

Defense attorney Yale Galanter asserted in his opening statement that the evidence will not show that Simpson intended to commit a crime.

He said Simpson was only trying to recover stolen personal property - such as pictures of his deceased parents - and not sports memorabilia.

Galanter stood behind Simpson and placed his hands on his shoulders.

"You can think what you want about his past, and you all as jurors have agreed to ignore that ... what you're going to hear in this courtroom is not a case about hiding anything from anybody. It's a case about recovering personal items," Galanter said.

Prosecutors contend the confrontation was a dangerous plot that could send the 61-year-old former football star to prison, maybe for the rest of his life.

Clark County District Attorney David Roger has said the case against Simpson and one remaining co-defendant, Clarence "C.J." Stewart, will rely on testimony from some 25 witnesses, including four former co-defendants who have taken plea deals and agreed to testify for the prosecution.

Stewart's attorney, Robert Lucherini, characterized his client as a successful mortgage broker who used his relationship with Simpson for networking, and on the day of the incident had simply been asked by Simpson for help in picking up his property.

Lucherini told the jury that unlike former co-defendants in the case, Stewart was on trial because he was of no use to the prosecution.

"These witnesses have been offered plea agreements, bargains, given immunity, in order for the state to help prosecute and convict O.J. Simpson," Lucherini said. "That's something that Mr. Stewart couldn't help them with because, one - and his story has never changed - he didn't know the property was stolen, and two, he didn't know there were guns going to be used in that room.

"There is no value to his testimony and the evidence will show that and that is why he continues to sit where he sits today."

After opening statements, the prosecution is expected to call Bruce Fromong, a 54-year-old sports collectibles dealer from North Las Vegas to the stand, according to a witness list that Galanter said prosecutors shared with the defense.

Fromong testified at an evidentiary hearing last November that he expected to meet with an anonymous buyer when Simpson arrived
with others "in a military invasion fashion."

Fromong said one man wielded a gun while Simpson shouted that items in the room belonged to him and instructed those with him to gather them up.

Fromong suffered a heart attack after the alleged robbery. But Simpson's lawyers have cast him as less traumatized by the alleged
robbery than excited about the chance to cash in on the notoriety of the case.

The audio recordings cited by the prosecution were surreptitiously made by Thomas Riccio, a Los Angeles collectibles trader who arranged the Sept. 13, 2007, meeting between Simpson, Fromong and sports memorabilia dealer Alfred Beardsley.

Galanter has said the recordings could also help the defense, asserting that at one point Simpson says to not take anything that isn't his.

Galanter will have to overcome testimony from former Simpson buddy Michael McClinton, who testified at a hearing last November that Simpson directed him to bring guns and "look menacing."

Another former co-defendant, Walter Alexander, depicted Simpson as the mastermind of a "sting" operation to recover his possessions, and said Simpson asked him to bring some "heat."

Charles Cashmore, a union laborer, testified he was invited to tag along to help Simpson carry items away.

Charles Ehrlich, a Simpson pal from Miami, has yet to testify after pleading guilty several weeks ago to reduced charges that could get him probation.

Simpson denies guns were brought to the hotel room where nine men were so crowded around a queen-sized bed, armoire, desk and chair that one had to stand in the bathroom.

Simpson, of Miami, and Stewart, 54, a former golfing buddy from North Las Vegas, have pleaded not guilty to 12 charges including kidnapping, armed robbery and conspiracy. Each could face life in prison with the possibility of parole if convicted of kidnapping, and mandatory prison time if convicted of armed robbery.

Jury selection took four days before Judge Jackie Glass had 12 jurors and six alternates sworn in late Thursday. Trial is expected to take about five weeks.

Associated Press Special Correspondent Linda Deutsch contributed
to this report.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

AP-NY-09-15-08 1427EDT

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