LAS VEGAS – O.J. Simpson's lawyer has told jurors the former football star's effort to get items back from two sports memorabilia dealers was a mistake but not a crime, saying that "being stupid, and being frustrated is not being a criminal."
In closing arguments Thursday, the prosecution said Simpson recruited a pack of burly men to pull off an armed robbery and kidnapping in a Las Vegas hotel room, but Simpson attorney Yale Galanter said his client was a victim of witnesses with ulterior motives and police who were out to get him.
In 1995, Simpson was acquitted in Los Angeles of criminal charges that he murdered his ex-wife and her friend the previous year. He was later found liable for the deaths in a civil case.
Galanter told the jury that the Sept. 13, 2007, incident got out of hand because of former co-defendant Michael McClinton, who has admitted displaying a gun during the confrontation.
Click here for photos.
"For whatever reason, Michael McClinton takes over," Galanter said, "and when McClinton takes over, he starts yelling and screaming and giving people orders and telling people to bag stuff up. And O.J.'s saying, 'Don't take anything that's not mine."'
Simpson claims the memorabilia dealers had property that had been stolen from him. Galanter, however, said that "doing this on your own, going into this room, trying to recover stolen property, is not right. It's just not. But being stupid, and being frustrated is not being a criminal."
Clark County District Attorney David Roger said in his closing argument that the fault lies with Simpson and his only remaining co-defendant, Clarence "C.J." Stewart.
None of the five men initially charged with Simpson cared about the memorabilia, Roger said.
"But there was one person, and that was defendant Simpson," Roger said, raising his voice. "He is the person who put these crimes together. He is the one who recruited these individuals to help him commit the crimes."
The prosecutor also argued that detaining individuals with the intent to commit robbery is kidnapping.
"When they went into that room and forced the victims to the far side of the room, pulling out guns and yelling, 'Don't let anybody out of here' — six very large people detaining these two victims in the room with the intent to take property through force or violence from them — that's kidnapping," Roger said.
Galanter said his client became a target for prosecutors because of who he is.
"This case has taken on a life of its own because of Mr. Simpson's involvement. You know that. I know that," Galanter told the jury.
"Every cooperator, every person who had a gun, every person who had an ulterior motive, every person who signed a book deal, every person who got paid money — the police, the district attorney's office, is only interested in one thing: Mr. Simpson. He has always been the target of this investigation, and nothing else mattered," Galanter added.
Galanter reminded the jury of a surreptitious recording of police investigators in the hotel room after the incident. "They're making jokes. They're saying things like, 'We're gonna get him,"' he said.
In the prosecution's rebuttal, attorney Chris Owens downplayed that recording.
"It's just amazing that it wasn't worse than what was said on there," Owens said. "Anytime you involve something with celebrity like this, it's typical for anybody to start talking about jokes and things of that nature, but you got to hear all of that."
Police and prosecutors were, in fact, careful and waited to get facts, Owens said.
"Mr. O.J. Simpson as a victim?" he scoffed. "He tends to think of himself as a victim."
Stewart's attorney, Brent Bryson, presented his client to the jurors as the trial's forgotten man. He asserted that they heard more about Stewart in the prosecution's opening statement than in the entire trial.
Bryson attacked the state's case as based largely on untrustworthy sources.
"If you can't trust the messengers, you can't trust the message," he said.
Earlier, Judge Jackie Glass gave jurors legal instructions before allowing lawyers to argue their interpretation of evidence given by a cast of 22 often colorful witnesses, including four former co-defendants who took plea deals in exchange for their testimony against Simpson.
Final arguments by the prosecutor and lawyers for Simpson and Stewart were expected to consume several hours before the case was placed in the hands of the jury. Both defendants have pleaded not guilty to 12 counts.
Prosecutors have sought to prove that Simpson conspired with others to conduct an armed robbery at the Palace Station Casino Hotel.
Noting that Simpson was in Las Vegas for his best friend's wedding, Galanter challenged the idea that his client walked into the hotel room with the intent to commit robbery.
"He is not guilty," he concluded. "We may quibble with how it was done, what was done. You may all say he didn't use common sense. But the real issue is whether he had criminal intent to commit a crime."
Witnesses told of Simpson's repeated declaration that he did not see any guns and did not know guns were to be present. McClinton and another witness who said he brought a gun testified.
Roger, in his one-hour speech, virtually absolved the former co-defendants, saying the men who brought the guns thought they were "going to a party" and that another of them was an "old guy," a friend of Simpson dragged unwittingly into a plot.
"The fault in this case lies with two people, Clarence Stewart and O.J. Simpson," Roger said.
Simpson and Stewart face five years to life in prison if convicted of kidnapping, or mandatory prison time if convicted of armed robbery. Both men have pleaded not guilty. Neither man testified, and jurors were instructed not to consider that fact when judging the case.