Friday, November 9, 2007

Witnesses say O.J. Simpson had no gun at Vegas hotel

Witnesses say O.J. Simpson had no gun at Vegas hotel

LAS VEGAS (Reuters) - O.J. Simpson never drew a gun during what prosecutors say was an armed robbery of his own sports memorabilia and may not even have seen one brandished during the incident in a Las Vegas hotel room, a key witness in the case testified on FridayThomas Riccio, an auction house owner who helped Simpson carry out what he called a bid to recover the ex-football star's stolen property, was testifying for a second day in a hearing to determine if Simpson and two others should face trial on a dozen charges.

Riccio, testifying under cross-examination by Simpson's lawyer, said he and the one-time "trial of the century" defendant spent weeks planning the September 13 confrontation with two sports collectors at the Palace Station Hotel and Casino.

Asked by Simpson attorney Yale Galanter if guns were ever mentioned during the planning, Riccio said: "No, never at any time in the whole six weeks did he ever mention a gun."

Riccio said Simpson, 60, never had a gun during the incident and when it was over repeatedly said he hadn't seen any firearms in the hotel room.

"He said over and over again that he didn't see a gun and there was a good chance he didn't see it," Riccio said. "He was three or four feet in front of the guy with the gun. There was a good chance he didn't (see it)."

Simpson has attended both days of the hearing so far but has not addressed the court and at times on Friday closed his eyes at the defense table, seeming to struggle to stay awake.


Riccio also said one of the two men whom Simpson and his co-defendants are charged with stealing from, Alfred Beardsley, made it plain the memorabilia was Simpson's stolen property and even told that to police.

"He (Beardsley) came right out and said (the memorabilia) was stolen from O.J.'s trophy room. Those were his exact words," Riccio said.

Simpson is charged along with Clarence Stewart and Charles Erlich with conspiracy, kidnapping, armed robbery and burglary and could face life in prison if convicted.

Two others, Charles Cashmore and Walter Alexander, have pleaded guilty to lesser charges in exchange for their cooperation. Michael McClinton, who is accused of brandishing a weapon in the hotel room, has agreed to enter a guilty plea.

Cashmore followed Riccio on the witness stand, testifying that he was introduced to Simpson only hours before the September 13 incident by Stewart, who asked him to help move some of the former star athlete's belongings.

The union laborer told the court he did not expect to take part in a robbery, saying he was frightened and confused when McClinton brandished the gun.

Cashmore said he was later "bewildered" by the events in the hotel room, but echoed Riccio's testimony that Simpson had never held a firearm or directed anyone else to carry one.

Leaving the hotel, Cashmore said, he overheard Simpson denying to an unidentified person over the phone that weapons had been drawn or that anything had been stolen.

Defense attorneys asked Judge Joe Bonaventure to strike Cashmore's testimony because he had discussed the case the night before on a cable TV news program.

Bonaventure rejected that request, saying he was "disturbed" to learn that Cashmore had granted a TV interview but found no direct violation of his orders that witnesses avoid watching live coverage on the case.

Simpson, who parlayed his fame as an athlete into a career in Hollywood, was acquitted of the June 12, 1994, murders of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend, Ron Goldman after the sensational trial that transfixed much of the world.

A civil court jury later found Simpson liable for the deaths and ordered him to pay $33.5 million in damages to the victims' families, a judgment that remains largely unpaid.


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