4 in Simpson case are given probation

Powers is a Times staff writer.

The men who carried handguns into a hotel room accompanying O.J. Simpson in an attempt to retrieve sports memorabilia received sentences of probation Tuesday.

Simpson was sentenced last week to at least nine years in prison. But Michael McClinton and Walter Alexander -- who testified against the NFL Hall of Fame running back -- avoided prison time.

The pair, clad in suits, spoke in even tones and walked out of the courtroom afterward -- as opposed to Simpson, who wore jail garb, gave a tearful apology and was led away in shackles.


Bruce Fromong, the collectibles dealer whose items were taken from the hotel room at the Palace Station, cried out, “You’ve got to be joking me!” as the judge handed down McClinton’s sentence. He was subsequently removed from the hearing.

During Simpson’s trial, McClinton and Alexander testified that the Heisman Trophy winner from USC summoned them to his Palms hotel room on Sept. 13, 2007. He asked them to bring guns to a meeting with the memorabilia dealers, who were tricked into expecting a wealthy buyer.

Alexander told Simpson, who claimed he was merely trying to get back stolen heirlooms, the weapons might attract police.

“What are they going to do?” said Simpson, according to Alexander. “Take me to jail for trying to get my own [stuff]?”

In the room, McClinton pulled out a .45-caliber Ruger and barked orders at the dealers, as Simpson purportedly told him to do. Afterward, McClinton secretly taped Simpson asking whether he pulled out “the piece” in the hallway. The men, who were at a sushi restaurant, are heard on the tape laughing about the six-minute encounter.

Jurors, who convicted Simpson in October of kidnapping, armed robbery and other charges, said McClinton’s tape was among the prosecution’s strongest pieces of evidence.

“It is your own words, Mr. Simpson -- your own words that could be heard throughout those events that have brought you here to this seat in my courtroom,” Judge Jackie Glass said at Simpson’s sentencing on Friday. That day, she also sentenced Clarence Stewart, the only Simpson cohort who didn’t negotiate a plea deal, to at least 7 1/2 years in prison.

Stewart watched Tuesday’s proceedings from the jury box, next to other inmates.

The admitted gunmen, standing amid a throng of attorneys, appeared contrite. McClinton called the robbery a “foolish mistake.”

“I was a friend of O.J. Simpson for many years,” Alexander said. “I was just doing a friend a favor. . . . I didn’t think the guns were going to come out in that room.”

Glass, who said she considered Simpson the robbery ringleader, also granted probation to codefendants Charles Cashmore and Charles Ehrlich. They both testified at trial.

Cashmore met Simpson shortly before the robbery. Ehrlich was Simpson’s close friend in Florida, where Simpson lived after his 1995 acquittal in the slayings of his ex-wife and her friend and a 1997 civil trial in which he was found liable for their deaths.