Would you believe O.J. Simpson?
The notorious former pro football star’s testimony will be the crux of a post-conviction hearing beginning today, where Simpson will ask for a new trial due to gross misrepresentation by lawyer Yale Galanter in his 2008 robbery conviction.
Simpson, now 65, and serving a nine- to 33-year prison term, is expected to take the witness stand Wednesday. He will try to convince District Court Judge Linda Bell that Galanter was not only incompetent but also that Simpson might not have been at Palace Station with gun-wielding buddies in 2007 if not for the Miami-based lawyer.
Simpson’s new legal dream team, veteran Las Vegas defense attorneys Ozzie Fumo and Patricia Palm, are prepared to make nearly 20 separate arguments that he deserves a new trial, mostly based on allegations of Galanter’s incompetence as a lawyer.
“I’m very optimistic,” Fumo told the Review-Journal, but declined to comment further.
The strongest argument might be Simpson’s claim that Galanter never told him of a plea deal offer made by prosecutors, one his lawyers say he would have taken.
Galanter is expected to testify Friday, which could pit him against his onetime client.
Along with Simpson and Galanter, a host of witnesses will be called to testify, including Simpson’s other trial lawyer, Gabe Grasso, and the prosecutors in the case, former District Attorney David Roger and Assistant District Attorney Chris Owens.
Grasso and Galanter have been at odds since the trial ended. Grasso is suing Galanter for not paying him for his work during the trial; Galanter has filed a defamation lawsuit against Grasso.
Court documents show that Grasso was aware of the deal offered by prosecutors, but had no firsthand knowledge that Galanter discussed it with Simpson.
For his part, Roger told the Review-Journal he had “vague” discussions with Galanter about negotiating the case before the trial, but wouldn’t say a plea deal offer was on the table.
“I was cautious about my conversations with him. I was concerned about him running to the media,” Roger said.
He feared Galanter would use his media connections to paint the idea that prosecutors were caving.
“From a legal standpoint it wasn’t an official offer,” Roger said. “It was only a discussion to see if they were open to a negotiation.”
The discussion, Roger recalled, went like this: Galanter suggested that Simpson might be willing to serve 24 months in prison. Roger sought 30 months. The following day, Galanter said Simpson wanted a 12-month deal. The discussion ended there.
Roger said he believed Galanter had spoken to Simpson.
Veteran defense attorney Chris Rasmussen, who’s followed the case since the trial, said failing to convey the offer is the strongest part of Simpson’s petition.
“If the defense can show that Galanter failed to properly relay an offer, it could get the case sent back for a new trial,” Rasmussen said.
The key will be if Galanter corroborates Simpson’s story, Rasmussen said.
If it is Galanter’s word versus Simpson’s word, that’s another story.
“The word of a convicted criminal doesn’t carry the same weight,” he explained.
It’s not unknown for a defense attorney to “fall on the sword” for a client during a post-conviction hearing.
However, if Galanter testifies he never discussed an offer with Simpson, the judge will have to decide if prosecutors had made an official offer.
How Galanter will testify remains unknown. He did not return a call requesting comment.
In the nearly 100-page petition, Simpson’s defense also argues that Galanter misadvised his client at several turns before and during the trial and while the case was on appeal.
In an affidavit filed with his petition, Simpson revealed that he and Galanter discussed his plan to retrieve sports memorabilia from a dealer before the confrontation, which led to his robbery conviction.
Galanter advised Simpson that he was within his legal rights to get his property back, “so long as I did not make any uninvited entry into property of another and did not use physical force to take the property.”
Galanter was also ineffective by advising Simpson not to take the stand at trial, which denied Simpson the chance to show he had no criminal intent at the time of the robbery, according to the petition.
The Clark County district attorney’s office has vigoursly opposed Simpson’s bid for a new trial.
Chief Deputy District Attorney Leon Simon and Deputy District Attorney Leah Beverly will argue on behalf of the state.
Current District Attorney Steve Wolfson, whose wife Jackie Glass was the judge for Simpson’s robbery trial, declined comment.
However, a review of Simpson’s other arguments by veteran defense lawyer Rasmussen didn’t prove as strong as the alleged botched plea deal offer.
“The defense wasn’t the problem in the case,” Rasmussen said. “The problem was that he was found guilty.”
Roger, who also looked at the petition, came to a similar conclusion.
“The only way O.J. Simpson was walking out of that courtroom a free man was if the jury ignored the evidence and disregarded the judge’s instructions,” Roger said.
The evidence in the case was overwhelming.
An audio recording of the hotel room confrontation was played for the jury.
And four of his co-defendants, Michael McClinton, Walter Alexander, Charles Cashmore and Charles Ehrlich, testified for the prosecution in exchange for reduced charges and probation.
On the day of the robbery, Bruce Fromong brought his collection of sports memorabilia to Palace Station for what he thought was a legitimate sales meeting. But the “buyer” turned out to be Simpson and five other men, who robbed Fromong and Alfred Beardsley at gunpoint.
Simpson was convicted of kidnapping, armed robbery and other charges for what Simpson maintained was an attempt to recover family heirlooms on Sept. 13, 2007.
He argued that he was simply recovering what he thought was his own property when he went to the hotel room.
Since the trial, the collection of Simpson’s game footballs, signed photos and other items seized as evidence have been transferred to a California court to satisfy a $33.5 million civil judgment against Simpson, who was found liable in the 1995 deaths of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and Ronald Goldman, although he was acquitted of criminal charges in the so-called “trial of the century.”
Simpson is serving his prison term at Lovelock Correctional Center, a medium-security facility near Reno.
Don’t expect him to wear a dapper suit or stay in a Strip hotel during his return to Las Vegas on Monday.
Prison inmate #1027820 will be dressed in navy blue jail scrubs and have a bunk at the Clark County Detention Center during the hearing.
Contact reporter Francis McCabe at email@example.com or 702-380-1039.