MIAMI – O.J. Simpson was cleared of road-rage charges Wednesday after he and another motorist offered vastly different versions of a hot-tempered exchange on a side street.
Simpson put his hand to his chest and mouthed 'Thank you' and nodded his head to the jury when the verdict was read. He then hugged his attorneys.
Simpson had faced up to 16 years in prison if convicted of auto burglary and battery in the driving spat with Jeffrey Pattinson last year in their suburban Miami neighborhood.
During closing arguments, prosecutor Abbe Rifkin did everything but call Simpson a liar, saying the actor came out in him when he tried to charm the jury as the sole defense witness. The jury deliberated for an hour and a half.
"He is a figment of his own imagination. He's a legend in his own mind. He has a sense of entitlement," she said. "Mr. Simpson's story changes and evolves with time."
To defense attorney Yale Galanter, Pattinson chased down Simpson to provoke a confrontation after Simpson turned in front of him at a stop sign.
"Pattinson became a vigilante. That's what he does. He doesn't seek out help," Galanter said. "He wants to play cop instead of calling a cop."
Rifkin accused Simpson of trying "to muddy up the waters" in a simple case caused by a "notorious," enraged celebrity who offered different versions of his story to fit the developing evidence.
"The question is, 'Was Mr. Pattinson inside of his car? Did Mr. Simpson reach in and grab his glasses off his face?' " she said. Simpson was accused of scratching Pattinson's temple while yanking off his eyeglasses.
The drivers offered vastly different accounts. Pattinson testified Simpson, 54, ran a stop sign, then stopped after Pattinson honked his horn and flashed his high beams.
Simpson denied reaching into the car and said the men confronted each other outside their SUVs after Pattinson left his brights on and was "sitting on his horn."
He said Pattinson lied about staying in his car, which led Rifkin to ask Tuesday whether Simpson would ever lie, "especially if your life depended on it."
Simpson responded, "I've never been put in that position to have to lie with my life on the line."
Pattinson testified that he stayed in his locked vehicle, that a shouting Simpson stormed at him and that he asked Simpson if he was "a madman or something."
In two days on the stand, Simpson said Pattinson "puffed up like a bullfrog, got animated and just went off" after recognizing his celebrity neighbor.
Simpson offered no explanation for the scratch but explained his thumbprint on the glasses by saying it must have happened when he brushed them away as he broke off their 30-second, profanity-laced confrontation.
Circuit Judge Dennis Murphy denied a fourth mistrial motion based on Rifkin's comment that Simpson "didn't stick around to have his fingernails swabbed."
Simpson was cleared of criminal charges in the 1994 slayings of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman, but a civil jury later ordered him to pay $33.5 million for their deaths. He moved to Florida last year.