O.J. Simpson Hotel Robbery Hearing Nears End
LAS VEGAS – O.J., C.J., Spencer, Goldie and a couple of Charlies.
For three days, their nicknames have been heard in obscenity-laden audio tapes and sometimes dramatic testimony about how O.J. Simpson and armed men confronted two sports memorabilia dealers trying to sell items the aging football star claimed were his.
A preliminary hearing is expected to end Wednesday with Las Vegas Justice of the Peace Joe M. Bonaventure deciding whether to bind Simpson, Clarence "C.J." Stewart and Charles "Charlie" Ehrlich over for trial on 12 charges that could include kidnapping and armed robbery. A conviction on the kidnapping count could result in a sentence of life in prison with the possibility of parole. An armed robbery conviction could mean mandatory prison time.
"The question," said Chief Las Vegas Justice of the Peace Douglas Smith, who is not involved in the Simpson case, is "was a crime committed, and did this person probably commit the crime? That's all that needs to be proved."
Michael "Spencer" McClinton testified Tuesday that Simpson asked him to bring guns and told him to use them to intimidate Alfred Beardsley and Bruce Fromong when the group entered a cramped room Las Vegas casino hotel room.
"He said, 'Show them your weapon and look menacing,"' McClinton said, sitting in a trim silver suit with a white breast pocket handkerchief, white shirt and white striped tie. His diamond earrings sparkled as Clark County District Attorney David Roger asked if he was paraphrasing.
"He said that," McClinton replied. "There's no doubt in my mind. He said that."
Simpson lawyer Gabriel Grasso tried minutes later to show that McClinton, a 49-year-old self-described security and house maintenance businessman, changed his story after becoming the third co-defendant to take a plea deal and agree to testify against Simpson.
In 85 pages of transcript of a voluntary statement he gave police Oct. 15, Grasso asked, did McClinton ever tell investigators that Simpson told him to bring a gun?
"No," McClinton responded as prosecutors objected that Grasso was being argumentative. "I guess I didn't."
Al Lasso, a Las Vegas lawyer noticed shortcomings in the prosecution case, but saw little chance Simpson, Stewart and Ehrlich would go free given the low threshold of evidence needed to send the case to trial.
"The only individuals who ever testified about O.J. and guns are the people who had guns and were getting deals from the state," Lasso said. "And there's always that thread running through the entire preliminary hearing, 'Who's going to make money on this case?' That taints things."
Wednesday's testimony will come from Alfred Beardsley, 45, a Burbank, Calif., collectibles dealer who is in custody at the Clark County jail on a California parole violation. He is expected to tell how he and Bruce Fromong agreed to meet an unnamed buyer for memorabilia, which included items that Beardsley is said to have acknowledged were stolen from Simpson.
"I think the defense is going to have a field day," said Lasso, who has heard numerous references to Beardsley being infatuated with Simpson's celebrity. "I don't know how much credibility he's going to have coming in shackles."
Simpson's golfing buddy Walter "Goldie" Alexander, testified Tuesday that Simpson instructed McClinton to draw his weapon before the group entered the room at the Palace Station hotel-casino.
Alexander said he kept a weapon that McClinton gave him tucked into the waistband of his suit, but as soon as he saw McClinton waving his weapon around and shouting orders at the memorabilia dealers he realized he was taking part in an armed robbery.
During cross-examination by Simpson attorney Yale Galanter, Alexander acknowledged that before he agreed to testify against Simpson he contacted one of the former football player's friends, Tom Scotto, and indicated that if Scotto helped him he could help Simpson.
He said that had he agreed to testify for Simpson he would have also indicated he felt Simpson was being set up by a third memorabilia dealer, Thomas Riccio, who arranged the meeting.
Charles Cashmore, who also struck a deal with prosecutors, testified against Simpson last week.
Simpson has maintained that no guns were displayed during the confrontation, that he never asked anyone to bring guns and that he did not know anyone had guns. He has said he intended only to retrieve items that had been stolen from him by a former agent, including the suit he wore the day he was acquitted of murder in 1995 in the slayings of his wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ronald Goldman.
As the hearing drew to a close, the few who remained in the courtroom were mostly lawyers and journalists. Last week's crowd of about 100 people was down to fewer than 40 Tuesday. Outside the circus of costumed characters, self-promoters and T-shirt salesmen was gone.