O.J. Simpson Sentenced to 16 Years in Prison

Despite a tearful plea for leniency from O.J. Simpson, a Las Vegas judge today sentenced him to 16 years in prison for the kidnapping and robbery of two sports memorabilia dealers.

Simpson would be eligible for parole in nine years under the sentence handed down by Clark County District Court Judge Jackie Glass.

Before he was sentenced, Simpson apologized to Glass for his conduct.

"In no way did I mean to hurt anybody, to steal anything from anybody," the former NFL star said. "I just wanted my personal things."

Earlier, Glass rejected a request by his lawyers to free him pending appeals. Glass also sentenced co-defendant Clarence Stewart to 15 years in prison; he is eligible for parole after 7 1/2 years.

Simpson, 61, was convicted Oct. 3 for kidnapping and armed robbery, among other charges. Defense attorneys Yale Galanter and Gabriel Grasso are planning to appeal.

A prosecutor described Simpson as a "ringleader" who deserved a stiffer sentence than Stewart. It was the Hall of Famer, he said, who secured the two handguns and rounded up accomplices.

"He chose to use force and violence to take this property," said Clark County Dist. Atty. David Roger.

Simpson's defense had asked for the most lenient sentence possible -- six to 17 1/2 years in prison. State parole authorities had recommended at least 18 years in prison.

Grasso noted in court today that neither victim was there asking that Simpson be sent to prison.

"I think that says a lot," Grasso said.

Galanter told the judge that while the gridiron great's actions "reeked of stupidity," they were not meant to cause harm.

"In Mr. Simpson's mind ... what he was doing truly was a retrieval of his own property," Galanter said. "What it was was a highly emotional stupid act that violated the law."

Among those in the courtroom to hear the sentencing was Fred Goldman, whose son was slain alongside Simpson's ex-wife in 1994. Simpson was tried for the murders, but acquitted in 1995.

Given a chance to address the judge, Simpson, dressed in a blue jail-issued uniform and shackled at the waist, spoke in a low voice, wobbling with emotion. He said that before the confrontation with the dealers, he had contacted his ex-wife's family and told them "I had a chance to get some of our property back."

Items stolen from him over the years, he said, included precious family heirlooms, his former wife's wedding ring and a photo of him with President Gerald Ford. He said he hoped to give these to his children.

"This was the first time I had an opportunity to catch the guys red-handed who had been stealing from my family," he said.

In the spectator's gallery, his daughter, Arnelle, stared down into her lap.

In the aftermath of Simpson's conviction, Galanter had said that the jury of nine women and three men reached the verdict because of his 1995 acquittal in the double-murder trial of ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman -- not because of what unfolded in room 1203 of the Palace Station hotel.

The attorney had said he hoped the 1995 acquittal -- which capped a lengthy trial that became a national obsession -- wouldn't sway Judge Glass.

"O.J. comes into court with a lot of baggage," Galanter said Thursday. "Even though he was acquitted in the mid-'90s, the public perception is that he did it." A civil jury in 1997 found Simpson liable for the deaths.

Defense attorneys argued that though Simpson showed poor judgment when he and five cohorts carried out $100,000 in footballs, baseballs and lithographs on Sept. 13, 2007, he was merely trying to recover stolen belongings.

A middleman named Thomas Riccio tricked the memorabilia dealers into meeting a "wealthy buyer" at the hotel, where Riccio secretly recorded their six-minute encounter with an angry Simpson.

Afterward, Simpson cohort Michael McClinton, who testified for the prosecution, taped the football great talking about "the piece" -- the gun Simpson purportedly asked McClinton to bring.

Simpson's actions, defense attorneys said, were not those "of a hardened criminal mind." They asked Glass for the minimum sentence: six years.

"Simpson was not an individual storming a bank and taking property that belonged to others," the attorneys wrote. "Simpson was not a defendant that bound and gagged people while their personal possessions were being taken. . . . This was an individual who truly believed he was not committing a crime."

Dist. Atty. Roger and prosecutor Chris Owens had declined to speak to the media about the case before the sentencing.

Howard Brooks, a county public defender who runs the appellate unit, said Glass had been criticized for "cutting off the defense and not allowing them to present witnesses."

But during sentencing, Brooks said, she's known to be fair and willing to listen to both sides.

"Any case involving violence, you'd typically see a harsh sentence," he said. "This is not an ordinary robbery case. The facts of this case cry out for a less harsh sentence. This is a case that's normally plea-bargained."

Simpson's co-defendant, Stewart, 54, is also expected to appeal. His lawyers have said he couldn't get a fair trial paired with a celebrity known for a murder acquittal.

Powers and Ryan are Times staff writers.

ashley.powers@latimes.com

harriet.ryan@latimes.com

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