Two co-defendants who were to stand beside O.J. Simpson at his preliminary hearing next month are now set to testify against him.
Charles Howard Cashmore and Walter Alexander were in Justice Court alongside their attorneys Monday to announce they have accepted plea deals from the district attorney in exchange for testimony against Simpson and his remaining co-defendants.
Simpson, Cashmore, Alexander and three other men face several felony charges, including robbery with use of a deadly weapon. They are accused of storming a Palace Station hotel room Sept. 13 and taking thousands of dollars in sports memorabilia at gunpoint from two collectors.
Cashmore's lawyer, Edward Miley, said his client can help prosecutors prove two of Simpson's co-defendants brought guns in the room, which contradicts Simpson's initial defense that no guns were used.
Cashmore, a 40-year-old journeyman laborer, bartender and disc jockey, waived his right to a preliminary hearing and is scheduled to plead guilty to a single low-level felony, accessory to robbery, on Oct. 23.
About four hours later, a second, surprise hearing occurred in Justice of the Peace Joe Bonaventure's courtroom, where Walter Alexander, 46, also waived his right to a preliminary hearing. His attorney, Robert Dennis Rentzer, and District Attorney David Roger announced he will plead guilty to conspiracy to commit robbery also on Oct. 23.
The preliminary hearing for Simpson and his remaining three co-defendants is slated for Nov. 8 before Bonaventure.
Bucky Buchanan, a Las Vegas attorney for more than four decades who specializes in criminal defense, said the two plea agreements bode ill for Simpson.
"Both of those people are going to put guns in the hands of some of the people that were there. The question then is does that convey a gun to O.J., and the answer is yes," Buchanan said.
Miley said Cashmore does not believe Simpson carried a weapon. Because Simpson is alleged to be part of a crime with co-defendants who did, Simpson could be considered a principle player, Buchanan said.
Initially, he believed prosecutors had a weak case against the football star because prosecutors agreed to Simpson's $125,000 bail, a low amount for such serious offenses as first-degree kidnapping, which carries a life sentence. But with two co-defendants testifying against him, "O.J. is really hurting now," Buchanan said.
Simpson's local attorney, Gabriel Grasso, said the former football star's defense team expected and was prepared for the plea deals. Simpson's lawyers believe Roger's primary purpose is to seal a conviction of Simpson.
"He doesn't care about these other guys," Grasso said.
"It's always a prosecutor's strategy to go after the little fish to get to the big fish," Miley told the Associated Press. "In this, it seems to be that O.J. Simpson is the big fish."
By accepting the plea deal, Cashmore and Alexander's chances at receiving prison time for their part in the alleged robbery are significantly diminished.
Roger, who has declined to comment publicly on the case, said in court he will not argue for any particular sentence for Cashmore, who could serve one to five years behind bars. But Miley said he believes Cashmore has a "good shot" at receiving probation for his cooperation with prosecutors.
The district attorney has agreed to recommend a suspended sentence and probation for Alexander, who could otherwise receive a prison sentence of up to six years. Both Cashmore and Alexander have been assigned to District Judge Jackie Glass and if she does not honor Alexander's agreement, Alexander can revoke his plea and go to trial.
After his court appearance, Cashmore told the Review-Journal he believed he did the right thing and read a brief statement before a throng of local and national media, apologizing to his friends and family for his actions.
"Coming here today was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do," he said.
Miley said Cashmore met Simpson about 30 minutes before the incident. Simpson had asked Cashmore to help him move some boxes, Miley said.
Simpson claims at least some of the items taken from collectors Alfred Beardsley and Bruce Fromong belonged to him.
After entering the hotel room with Simpson, Alexander, Michael McClinton, Clarence Stewart and Charles Ehrlich, Cashmore was surprised when tensions immediately heightened, Miley said. It was only then that Cashmore discovered two of Simpson's buddies, McClinton and Alexander, had guns, Miley said.
Alexander kept his gun in a holster and did not brandish it, but McClinton drew his weapon and even pointed the gun at Cashmore to motion him to collect memorabilia items off the hotel bed, Miley said. Cashmore had been trying to stay back by the bathroom, Miley said.
Video surveillance from the hotel shows Cashmore leaving with his arms full of unidentified items. He later surrendered to police and gave the memorabilia items, including some Joe Montana lithographs, to authorities.
"He's nervous," Miley said of Cashmore, after his departure from the courthouse. "I think he's wishing he never met O.J."
Cashmore should have immediately gone to the police and turned over the items he carried out of the room, Miley said.
"He should have done something, but he didn't," Miley said.
In 1996, Cashmore plea bargained a felony theft charge down to a misdemeanor and received probation in an embezzlement case in Utah.
Alexander, a real estate agent and one-time golfing buddy of Simpson's from Mesa Ariz., also appeared nervous Monday as he urged his lawyer to not speak to reporters and leave the courthouse immediately after his hearing.
Rentzer, who practices in California, said he and his client were in Las Vegas to speak with Roger about a possible plea deal. When they came to an agreement, they requested the impromptu hearing before Bonaventure so the two could return home.
If Alexander successfully completes his end of the deal, prosecutors have agreed to provide a letter to real estate associations explaining that he provided assistance and cooperated with authorities in the Simpson case.
Contact reporter K.C. Howard at firstname.lastname@example.org or (702) 380-1039.