LAS VEGAS -- Appearing confident but sometimes emotional, O.J. Simpson testified Wednesday that he did not know guns were involved in a confrontation with sports memorabilia dealers that led to his conviction for armed robbery and kidnapping, and a sentence that could keep him behind bars for life.
Simpson, in shackles that rattled when he shifted in his seat, took the stand in a hearing on his bid for a new trial on grounds he wasn't properly represented by his trial attorney.
The 65-year-old former football star and actor, dressed in a drab prison uniform and now with short graying hair and a receding hairline, spoke clearly as he recounted events leading up to the 2007 incident in a Las Vegas hotel room where the dealers had Simpson footballs and family photos.
“There was no talk of guns at all,” he said under questioning by Patricia Palm, one of his attorneys.
During the trial, two co-defendants, who took plea deals and testified for the prosecution, said they had guns.
Simpson's voice cracked a bit as he recounted recognizing items on the hotel room bed, including framed photos that used to hang on the wall of his Los Angeles home.
“Look at this stuff. Some of the stuff I didn't really realize was gone. These were things I hadn't seen in 10 years,” he said. “You know, you get a little emotional about it.”
Simpson told his attorney that he believed he was allowed to take the items.
During the 2008 trial, Simpson was near tears as he told a judge: “I didn't mean to steal anything from anybody. ... I'm sorry. I'm sorry for all of it.”
There is no jury this time, and his fate will be determined by Clark County District Judge Linda Marie Bell.
In the hearing, Simpson was also asked about his background with his main trial attorney, Yale Galanter.
“Yale had a good relationship with the media,” Simpson said.
“I was in the media a lot. He was able to refute many of the tabloid stories,” Simpson said with a laugh. “He sort of liked doing it; he told me he did.”
Unlike previous days of the hearing, the courtroom was full, with Tracy Baker, daughter of Simpson sister Shirley Baker, and Charles Durio, husband of Simpson's deceased sister, Carmelita, in attendance. Also on hand was Tom Scotto, a Simpson friend from Miami whose wedding brought Simpson to Las Vegas.
A bailiff turned a number of people away, sending more than 15 to an overflow room where video was streamed live.
When he went to trial in 2008, Simpson did not testify -- a decision that one of his lawyers said was pushed on him by Galanter.
With 19 points raised to support his requested reversal in the writ of habeas corpus, Simpson was expected to answer many questions from his lawyers and then undergo cross-examination by an attorney for the state who is arguing the case to keep him in prison.
Simpson is serving nine to 33 years in prison for his conviction on armed robbery, kidnapping and other charges.
Earlier in the hearing, attorney Gabriel Grasso was Simpson's star witness. The Las Vegas lawyer said joined the original case when his old friend, Galanter, called and said, “Hey, Gabe, want to be famous?”
He said he soon realized he would be doing most of the behind-the-scenes work while Galanter made the decisions.
“I could advise O.J. all day long, and he was very respectful of me,” Grasso told the court. “But if I advised him of something different from what Yale said, he would do what Yale said.”
It was Galanter's decision not to have Simpson testify, Grasso said.
Under questioning from H. Leon Simon, attorney for the state, Grasso acknowledged that the trial judge, Jackie Glass, specifically asked Simpson if he wanted to testify and he said no.
“Mr. Galanter told him, 'This is the way it's going to be,'" Grasso said, adding he would have put Simpson on the stand.
He said Simpson's confidence in Galanter was born of an acquittal the lawyer gained for the former Buffalo Bills star in a road-rage case in Florida five years after Simpson's 1995 acquittal on murder charges in the stabbing deaths of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ronald Goldman.
Galanter is now the focus of Simpson's motion claiming ineffective assistance of counsel and conflict of interest. He has declined to comment until he takes the stand, an appearance scheduled for Friday.
There are questions of money too. Grasso accused Galanter of lining his own pockets while telling him they were “operating on a shoestring” and couldn't afford to hire expert witnesses.
Simpson's business attorney, Leroy “Skip” Taft, testified by phone Tuesday that he kept getting big bills from Galanter but no explanation of what costs were eating up hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Witness after witness has spoken of a proposed plea bargain that Galanter turned down on Simpson's behalf, but none of them said they were sure the defendant knew about it.
There also have been rumors that Galanter gave his blessing to Simpson's plan to show up at the hotel room and reclaim his memorabilia, which two dealers were trying to peddle.
Retired Clark County Dist.t Atty. David Roger, who prosecuted Simpson, was asked whether investigators determined if Galanter helped Simpson plan the hotel room confrontation.
“He said he did not advise Mr. Simpson to commit armed robbery,” Roger said.
“And he said he wasn't there?” asked Simpson attorney Ozzie Fumo.
“Yes,” Roger replied.
Others have testified that Galanter was in Las Vegas and had dinner with Simpson the night before.
The other prosecutor, Chris Owens, testified about discovering phone calls between the two but hiding that fact from the judge. He identified at least 10 calls in the days preceding and on Sept. 13, 2007, the day of the hotel room incident.
Both prosecutors described an agreement with the Simpson defense that was read to the jury, saying there were no calls.
“So you stipulated to events that weren't true?” Fumo asked Owens.
“It was in the form of a legal construct,” Owens replied and said the judge encouraged it because she didn't want to confuse the jury with another issue.
This is Simpson's last chance under state law to win a new trial, though a federal court appeal is possible.