EXPERTS: PAST HAUNTED O.J.


O.J. Simpson walked away from the murder trial of his ex-wife and her friend a free man 13 years ago. But legal experts and others said that case followed Simpson into a Las Vegas courtroom and played a role in his conviction Friday night on kidnapping, armed robbery and other charges.

Simpson's notoriety also led to the downfall of his co-defendant, Clarence Stewart, 54, who was convicted on all counts in the sports memorabilia heist at Palace Station in September 2007, experts said.

Simpson's past trial, and his well-publicized legal troubles since then, were even more influential in the guilty verdict than the racial makeup of the jury, said John Momot, a well-known Las Vegas-based criminal defense attorney who represented Sandy Murphy in the high-profile Ted Binion murder trial.

He had no involvement in the Simpson trials.

"I don't care if you had 12 African-American jurors. He still would have had the same problems," he said. "They (jurors) feel he got away with murder. That's not just in California. That's universal."

The jury of three men and nine women had no black jurors but did include two Hispanics.

Dr. Philip K. Anthony, a trial consultant from Los Angeles, said even jurors who start out thinking they can be fair or impartial were likely swayed by the negative publicity surrounding Simpson since he was acquitted of murder.

"People cannot help but allow those factors to creep into their decision-making process," said Anthony, who advised the prosecution on jury selection during Simpson's murder trial and later for Ronald Goldman's family during the wrongful-death lawsuit. He has been involved in more than 1,000 civil cases but had no involvement in the latest Simpson case.

Jurors in Simpson's Las Vegas trial, however, take a different view. Juror Fred Jones, 66, told the Los Angeles Times that Simpson's acquittal on murder charges 13 years ago didn't influence his decision to convict Simpson, 61, in Las Vegas.

"We went out of our way not to mention that," Jones said. "That was never, never in our thoughts."

Rather, the jurors concentrated on the secret recordings made of Simpson and his associates that were played during the trial, he said.

The tapes contradicted Simpson's claim that he never asked two co-defendants to bring guns to the hotel room.

In jury questionnaires filled out before the trial and released Saturday, other jurors wrote that they would be able to set aside their feelings about Simpson's murder acquittal and could judge the former University of Southern California and National Football League star "based solely on the evidence presented in this trial."

Yet at the same time, some jurors said they believed Simpson was guilty of murdering his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman. Five of the 12 jurors wrote that they disagreed with the 1995 acquittal.

"I think he did it -- but I wasn't there to hear the case so I really can't say," wrote Sherian Sue Eckart, a juror who works as a teller handling money transactions.

"I don't believe the jury considered the facts," wrote juror Ruth Ann Horschmann, who works for a small adoption agency.

Anthony said he didn't believe jurors who wrote that they could set aside Simpson's earlier case.

"I don't suspect that's true," he said.

He said the jurors could even be influenced on a subconscious level. At the very least, Simpson's earlier trial made it easier for them to convict the Heisman Trophy winner this time around.

But, as veteran criminal defense attorney Dayvid Figler said, there are other factors that might have led to Simpson's conviction, including the fact that Simpson didn't testify.

"In not testifying, they were left with one very negative impression of O.J.," said Figler, who has provided commentary on the trial for TruTV and predicted Simpson would be sentenced to seven to 21 years. Simpson could face life in prison.

Momot also said he believed Simpson should have testified, if for no other reason than to show jurors that he didn't have criminal intent during the Palace Station incident.

Simpson maintained that he and several men went to the Palace Station to take back his personal possessions, including family heirlooms and sports collectibles, from two memorabilia dealers.

Prosecutors, however, said Simpson orchestrated the armed robbery to get back at his former agent and the man who he believed stole his property.

Although much of the focus is on Simpson, attorneys believe it was Stewart who got the short end of the stick. Momot said he didn't believe a jury would have convicted Stewart if he had been tried alone.

Stewart was the only co-defendant tried alongside Simpson.

Earlier, co-defendants Walter Alexander, Michael McClinton, Charles Ehrlich and Charles Cashmore pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against Simpson.

Stewart's attorneys repeatedly asked for a trial separate from Simpson and will appeal to the Nevada Supreme Court on that issue.

After the verdict was delivered, one of Stewart's attorneys, E. Brent Bryson, said Simpson's past spilled over to his client.

"There was a gentleman named O.J. Simpson sitting across the (defense) table. Mr. Simpson has a certain history," he said.

"Unfortunately, it engulfed Mr. Stewart also."

Review-Journal writer Lawrence Mower contributed to this report. Contact reporter David Kihara at dkihara@reviewjournal .com or 702-380-1039.

 

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