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O.J. Simpson to be sentenced today in robbery

Powers is a Times staff writer.

The latest chapter of O.J. Simpson’s legal travails comes to a close today when he is sentenced for leading a ragtag band of hangers-on in the robbery of two sports memorabilia dealers in a cramped Las Vegas hotel room.

Simpson, 61, faces life in prison after his conviction Oct. 3 for kidnapping and armed robbery, among other charges. The Heisman Trophy winner and NFL Hall of Fame running back is being held at the Clark County Detention Center as inmate No. 02648927. His only “contact visits” have been with defense attorneys Yale Galanter and Gabriel Grasso, who are planning to appeal.

“He’s a very resilient guy,” Galanter said Thursday. “He’s handling this fairly well. He’s hopeful. He believes in the criminal justice system. He believes he’ll be exonerated.”

Galanter has said that the jury of nine women and three men convicted Simpson 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.

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

“O.J. comes into court with a lot of baggage,” Galanter said. “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.

Galanter said he didn’t know whether Simpson would speak at the sentencing hearing, where victims Bruce Fromong and Alfred Beardsley are expected to testify. Beardsley has said he thinks the charges against Simpson should be dropped.

State parole authorities have recommended that Glass sentence Simpson to at least 18 years in prison, according to court papers filed this week. Thomas Pitaro, a local defense attorney who teaches at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, law school, said judges here tend to closely follow such advice “unless there’s a really compelling reason not to.”

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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.

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“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. David Roger and prosecutor Chris Owens have declined to speak to the media about the case.

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.”

Early this year, at a custody hearing before the trial, Glass chastised Simpson as “arrogant or ignorant or both.”

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But during sentencing, he 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 codefendant, Clarence Stewart, 54, also will be sentenced today. He is expected to appeal. His lawyers have said he couldn’t get a fair trial paired with a celebrity known for a murder acquittal.

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ashley.powers@latimes.com


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