Published September 24, 2008
LAS VEGAS – A witness who acknowledged saving himself from a potential life sentence by testifying against O.J. Simpson conceded Tuesday that his memory of the hotel room confrontation at the center of the case hasn't been the same since he suffered two heart attacks.
Charles Ehrlich, Simpson's longtime friend and former co-defendant, frequently answered "I don't recall" during a tough cross-examination by Simpson's lawyer Yale Galanter.
Ehrlich said he was such a close friend of Simpson that he spent holidays with the former football star and his family for the past six or seven years and made numerous trips with him. The last one was to Las Vegas in September 2007 when they and four other men were arrested after allegedly robbing two sports memorabilia dealers at gunpoint.
For nearly a year, Ehrlich stood by Simpson as a co-defendant, facing 12 charges that included kidnapping, armed robbery, assault with a deadly weapon and coercion.
In August he became the fourth co-defendant to plead guilty to reduced charges and agree to testify against Simpson. The only co-defendant remaining is Clarence "C.J." Stewart, who like Simpson has pleaded not guilty.
The trial stalled when the defense objected to a prosecution plan to call to the stand a lawyer representing Fred Goldman, father of Ronald Goldman, who was slain along with Simpson's ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, in 1994.
Galanter said the testimony of David Cook was being offered "for prejudicial effect" to remind jurors of Simpson's controversial murder acquittal. Jurors have sworn to put that case out of their minds.
District Attorney David Roger argued it was relevant to show that Simpson memorabilia could have been subject to seizure by the Goldman estate, which won a $33.5 million civil wrongful death judgment against Simpson in March 1997. He said it would reflect on Simpson's mental state when he went to reclaim his possessions.
The judge said the argument was "thin," but she spent more than two hours on the issue in court and in chambers and had not decided what to do when the trial recessed for the day.
Galanter and Robert Lucherini, attorney for Stewart, made motions for a mistrial, which were denied. Lucherini renewed a motion to have Stewart's case severed from Simpson's, saying the "spillover" would prejudice his case.
Ehrlich gave damaging testimony against Simpson on Monday, contradicting Simpson's claim that he never saw a gun in the hotel room.
Galanter attacked Ehrlich's credibility Tuesday, repeatedly asking for specifics. Who was standing where, he wanted to know, and who told him what was going to happen?
"I can't remember that," Ehrlich said. "I can't recall. I can't remember that particular conversation."
Ehrlich said he had posed questions to middleman Thomas Riccio about the planned meeting at a room in the Palace Station Hotel Casino. But when Galanter asked what the questions were, Ehrlich protested, "You're asking me about specifics."
"That's what this trial is about — specifics," Galanter said.
"I can't recall exactly the questions," said Ehrlich. "That was a year ago."
Since then, he said, he had two heart attacks and conceded some things have become "foggy" in his memory.
He said he remembers meeting Riccio and hearing about a plan to take back stolen Simpson possessions.
"You certainly didn't think your friend O.J. Simpson would have you do anything illegal?" asked Galanter.
"I would hope not," said Ehrlich.
"There was never an illegal action planned?" asked Galanter.
"Correct," said Ehrlich.
"This was all about recovering O.J. Simpson stolen property?" asked the lawyer.
"Correct," said Ehrlich.
A long recess was called when Galanter sought to show jurors a display of the original charges and possible penalties Ehrlich had faced. After doing legal research, the judge said the information was admissible. Ehrlich said the penalties were the same as those Simpson faces.
Jurors, who had been told sentencing was not their concern, were then informed of the maximum terms — including life with possibility of parole after five years on the kidnapping charge. Ehrlich said his plea bargain reduced his charges to two probation-eligible counts.
"And clearly, Mr. Ehrlich, even though you were charged with a gun count, you didn't have a gun at the Palace Station," Galanter said.
"I didn't know about a gun," said Ehrlich, who had testified earlier that he saw a gun in the room.