A jury convicted O.J. Simpson of armed robbery and kidnapping late Friday night, 13 years to the day after he was acquitted of killing his ex-wife and her friend in Los Angeles.
Simpson and his codefendant, Clarence Stewart, were both convicted on all 12 counts. As the court clerk read “guilty” 24 times shortly before 11 p.m., Simpson grimaced and then nodded slightly, quickly regaining his composure.
From the gallery, his sister, Carmelita Durio, wept on a friend’s shoulder.
Both defendants were handcuffed and taken into custody. Durio’s weeping became wailing as marshals escorted Simpson from the courtroom.
The verdicts mean that Simpson, 61, faces a possible life sentence for a six-minute confrontation with two sports memorabilia dealers last year at a down-market casino hotel. Sentencing will be Dec. 5.
The Las Vegas courtroom scene stood in marked contrast to the conclusion of Simpson’s 1995 trial, when he smiled broadly and mouthed his thanks to the Los Angeles jury as the stunned families of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman wept.
Neither of the victims in the Las Vegas case was on hand for the reading of the verdict.
The panel of nine women and three men -- none of them black -- deliberated more than 13 hours after listening to nearly three weeks of testimony. Their discussions had begun Friday morning.
The state court case here was marked by hours of secret audio recordings, alleged victims who professed to like Simpson and witnesses who tried to cash in on their ties to the former NFL star.
Prosecutors painted Simpson, 61, as masterminding the alleged robbery of two sports collectibles dealers in a hotel room last year. The Hall of Fame running back, the prosecution contended, rounded up five cohorts, told two of them to bring guns and ordered one of the armed men to brandish his weapon and “look menacing.”
Simpson and Stewart, 54, were charged with a dozen crimes, including armed robbery and kidnapping, which carries a potential life sentence. Four of their former codefendants agreed to plead guilty to lesser charges and testified for the prosecution.
Despite detailing an intriguing plot with colorful characters, the proceedings paled next to Simpson’s months-long, televised “trial of the century” in the slayings of his ex-wife and Goldman. The 1995 case became a cultural flash point that drew huge courthouse crowds and polarized black and white Americans.
A civil jury in 1997 found the Heisman Trophy winner liable for the deaths. The onetime actor, pitchman and sports commentator has paid little of the $33.5-million judgment.
In Las Vegas, the anticipated circus never showed up. Media coverage dwindled as the economy faltered and the presidential election ramped up. On most days, Clark County District Judge Jackie Glass’ courtroom was only half-filled.
Simpson, who did not take the stand, was here in September 2007 to take part in a friend’s wedding. Simpson has said he and his associates were trying to retrieve stolen mementos from collectibles dealers Bruce Fromong and Alfred Beardsley in the Palace Station hotel room.
“We may quibble with how it was done, what was done,” said Simpson attorney Yale Galanter in his closing argument. “You may all say he didn’t use common sense. But the real issue is whether he had criminal intent to commit a crime.”
Prosecutors, however, say the group stole up to $100,000 in footballs, plaques and baseballs at gunpoint from the dealers, who had been tricked into thinking they were meeting a wealthy buyer.
Simpson and his associates “thought they could spin it that, ‘It’s all OK; it was my stuff,’ ” said prosecutor Chris Owens in the state’s final rebuttal. That mind-set, he said, showed the football icon’s “arrogance.”
Simpson maintains he never saw guns during the alleged robbery or asked anyone to bring one, although nearly everyone in Room 1203 testified to seeing at least one pistol. Two men -- Michael McClinton and Walter Alexander -- told jurors they carried a .45-caliber Ruger and a .22-caliber Beretta, respectively, at Simpson’s behest.
Thomas Riccio, the auctioneer who set up the meeting with the dealers, surreptitiously taped the six-minute encounter on a digital recorder hidden atop an armoire. He later sold the clip to celebrity gossip site TMZ.com for $150,000. Riccio, who was granted immunity for cooperating with prosecutors, also taped the hours surrounding the confrontation -- including Simpson denying in phone calls afterward that he saw weapons.
Jurors also heard phone calls that Simpson made from jail, a voicemail in which Alexander appeared willing to slant his testimony for money, and a secret exchange between investigators at the crime scene in which they mocked the double-murder acquittal.
“You’re just picking on him because you are mad about the verdict,” says one investigator.
“Yep,” replies another.
The prosecution’s strongest audio evidence was probably a 26-minute conversation that McClinton secretly taped shortly after the incident. At the restaurant Little Buddha, a man identified as Simpson asks whether McClinton pulled out “the piece” in the hotel hallway.
McClinton repeatedly says no. “I kept that thing in my pocket till we got inside that room,” he says at one point.
Simpson sounds relieved and says he assumes security cameras were monitoring the hotel hallway.
“There ain’t nothing on that video . . . ain’t nothing he can see,” he says. “They gonna see us going in the place. They gonna see us leaving with just the boxes.”
The recordings appeared to shore up a case rife with unsympathetic victims and potentially suspect witnesses. Fromong, for example, got choked up while describing his frayed friendship with Simpson. Beardsley blamed Riccio for the altercation, suggested his recordings had been tampered with and told jurors the charges against Simpson should be dropped.
Many of Simpson’s cohorts sought media interviews and book deals after the altercation -- even defense witness Tom Scotto, who testified that the self-proclaimed gunmen threatened him and tried to extort $50,000 from him or Simpson. Riccio has published a book called “Busted.”
Prosecutors, said Galanter, also “gave out so many get-out-of-jail-free cards and so many probation cards in this case that they could get the witnesses to say anything.”
But Dist. Atty. David Roger encouraged jurors to focus on the secret recordings and the volume of corresponding witness testimony.
At the end of his closing argument, the prosecutor displayed Simpson and Stewart’s mugshots on a screen overlaid with -- in red capital letters -- the word “guilty.”