LAS VEGAS – Nearly a year after O.J. Simpson walked into a casino hotel room intent on reclaiming some sports memorabilia, he and his lawyers walked into a courthouse Monday to pick jurors for his robbery-kidnapping trial.
After a morning hearing on remaining pretrial matters, prospective jurors were led into the courtroom and given an overview of the case, including the charges against Simpson and co-defendant Clarence “C.J.” Stewart and the names of potential witnesses.
Judge Jackie Glass rejected a request by the defense to be allowed to ask potential jurors if they consider the fallen NFL star, actor and advertising pitchman a murderer.
“My determination is no, we are not going there,” Glass said, noting that questionnaires filled out by prospects had asked whether they were familiar with Simpson’s other trials and the verdicts in them.
Simpson attorney Yale Galanter reminded the potential jurors that his client had pleaded not guilty.
“At no time has he committed anything wrong, and that’s what this is all about,” Galanter said.
Simpson and Stewart, his 54-year-old golfing buddy, have both pleaded not guilty to 12 charges stemming from a heated encounter last September with two sports collectibles dealers peddling Simpson memorabilia at a Las Vegas hotel-casino.
Simpson’s arrival at the Clark County Regional Justice Center on Monday morning was much more subdued than previous appearances at the courthouse, with no protesters and few people to greet him.
He declined to answer questions, but smiled and waved when one person called out “Good Luck!”
Simpson has said he put his faith in the jury system and was confident of an acquittal — a conviction could put him away for life.
During the weekend, Simpson was stopped by Nevada Highway Patrol troopers on Interstate 15 south of Las Vegas after someone he spoke with at a gas station reported he appeared to be intoxicated, NHP Trooper Kevin Honea said.
“No signs of alcohol were detected, and he was on his way,” Honea said Monday. “It looks like the only thing he did was be nice to somebody at a gas station.”
Lawyer Robert Lucherini lost several last-ditch bids to get the Nevada Supreme Court to postpone or sever Stewart’s trial from Simpson’s.
He argued Stewart can’t get a fair trial before a jury sure to know about Simpson’s acquittal in Los Angeles in the 1994 slayings of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman. After the “Trial of the Century,” Simpson was found civilly liable for the deaths and ordered to pay a $33.5 million judgment to Goldman’s family.
Prosecutors, defense lawyers and Clark County District Judge Jackie Glass have used 26-page questionnaires to identify prospective jurors with biases and cut a jury pool of 500 to fewer than 250.
Jury selection still could take a week or longer, court officials said.
When the 12-member panel and six alternates are seated, the prosecution will tell them that Simpson and Stewart walked into the casino hotel room on Sept. 13, 2007, with four other men and robbed the sports collectibles peddlers at gunpoint of items that Simpson said had been stolen from him.
Simpson, 61, who has been living in Miami, maintains he didn’t ask anyone to bring guns and that he didn’t know anyone in the room was armed.
Among the charges Simpson and Stewart face are burglary, coercion and assault with a deadly weapon. A robbery conviction would mean mandatory prison time. A kidnapping conviction carries the possibility of life in prison with the possibility of parole.
Four of the men who accompanied Simpson — Charles Cashmore, Walter “Goldie” Alexander, Michael “Spencer” McClinton and Charles Ehrlich — pleaded to lesser felony charges and agreed to testify for the prosecution.
But Galanter got Alexander to admit that he would have slanted his testimony in Simpson’s favor if the price was right.
“Alexander offered to sell his testimony to the highest bidder,” Galanter said as he prepared for trial. He promised to expose troubled backgrounds of the witnesses lined up against Simpson.
“This is a cast of very nefarious characters,” Galanter said. “And the truth is, these items were not memorabilia. The law has always provided a right, dating back to our founding fathers, to recover personal property.”