A major piece of O.J. Simpson's defense against armed robbery charges took a hit Monday when a longtime friend said the Hall of Fame running back mentioned guns during the hotel room incident involving two sports memorabilia dealers.
"I heard O.J. say, 'Put the guns away,' " Charles Ehrlich told the jury.
Simpson's legal team has contended that he never saw any guns during the Sept. 13, 2007, Palace Station confrontation that landed him and co-defendant Clarence "C.J." Stewart on trial for armed robbery, kidnapping and other charges.
Ehrlich, 54, described himself as a close friend of Simpson's who has shared his love of the racetrack and football during an eight-year relationship. Ehrlich was in Las Vegas for the wedding of Simpson's best friend, Tom Scotto, when he was recruited to pose as a memorabilia buyer for a sting to recover some of Simpson's one-of-a-kind mementos.
"I thought it was harmless," said Ehrlich, who pleaded guilty to reduced charges in exchange for his testimony.
Ehrlich joined Simpson and four other men at Palace Station and followed Riccio to his hotel room, where memorabilia dealers Bruce Fromong and Alfred Beardsley were expecting to meet a buyer in the bogus business deal arranged by Riccio.
Ehrlich walked in and greeted the men with a "Hello."
"From that point on, everyone barged in from behind," he said.
One of those men, Michael McClinton, pulled out a handgun, began waving it around the room and shouted orders as Simpson yelled at Beardsley and Fromong, he said.
"I know when the gun came out, they were very scared," he said. "I was scared."
When someone yelled to start packing up memorabilia, Ehrlich grabbed a box of glossy photos and headed for the door.
"If they told me to pick up a toilet I would have picked it up to get out of the room," he said.
Later, after the six men rendezvoused at the Palms, Ehrlich joined Simpson in his hotel room, where he talked to his girlfriend, Christine Prody.
"He said, 'I (expletive) up. I'm going to need a bail bondsman,' " Ehrlich testified.
When Ehrlich mentioned guns to Simpson, he denied seeing them before mumbling to himself, "Why did I tell those guys to come along?" Ehrlich said.
McClinton and a second man with a gun, Walter Alexander, testified during November's preliminary hearing that Simpson told them to bring guns. Both men pleaded guilty to reduced charges in exchange for their testimony.
Fromong, a sports memorabilia dealer and former Simpson business partner, testified last week that he heard someone in the room saying, "Put the gun down," and saw Simpson waving an arm downward.
During his third day of testimony Monday, Riccio said he never heard anyone mention guns during the six-minute confrontation. The phrase can't be heard on his secret recording, either.
In the days after the heist, Riccio had a series of phone conversations with Simpson in which he consistently denied seeing any firearms, Riccio told the jury.
"He says he didn't see it. I know he didn't see it," he said.
He later said there was a chance Simpson might have seen a gun, "but I wouldn't bet my life either way." He also admitted during questioning from prosecutor Christopher Owens that Simpson, in a voice mail left minutes after the incident, seemed to be dissuading him from telling police about the guns.
Also during Riccio's testimony Monday, Simpson lawyer Yale Galanter explored another leg of their defense -- that Simpson only intended to recover game-used footballs and other memorabilia that had been stolen from him years ago.
Simpson's only contact during the planning of the operation was Riccio, who had been contacted by Beardsley about a large collection of Simpson personal property, including the sports memorabilia and thousands of family photos.
Riccio said Beardsley told him that the sports items were taken from Simpson.
"He came right out, crystal clear, and said these were stolen right out of his trophy room," he said.
The family photos belonged to a different seller and weren't brought to Palace Station, but Riccio didn't find out until meeting Fromong in the parking lot about 90 minutes before the incident.
Riccio also publicly revealed for the first time the amount of money he received for selling the recording of the confrontation, which was released on the celebrity news Web site TMZ.com four days after the incident.
Under order from District Judge Jackie Glass, Riccio said the site bought the clip for $150,000.
That payment made up the bulk of the $210,000 Riccio said he made in connection with the incident.
He said Entertainment Tonight paid him $25,000, the Howard Stern radio show paid him $20,000 through a sponsor, and ABC paid him $15,000 for an interview under the guise of paying for a Simpson photo, he said.
He also said he's made $20,000 from his book, "Busted!: The Inside Story of the World of Sports Memorabilia, O.J. Simpson, and the Vegas Arrests," which was published in April.
Contact reporter Brian Haynes at email@example.com or 702-383-0281.