O.J. Simpson, the media throng and maybe even a guy in a chicken suit return today to the Regional Justice Center, where prosecutors for the first time will lay out their case against the former star running back and two others.
Simpson, Charles Erlich and Clarence Stewart each face 12 charges, including robbery with a deadly weapon, kidnapping and conspiracy, in the Sept. 13 holdup of two sports memorabilia dealers at Palace Station. The three other co-defendants, Michael McClinton, Walter Alexander and Charles Cashmore, have agreed to plead guilty to reduced charges in exchange for their testimony.
The preliminary hearing is expected to last through at least Friday, as is the crush of national media attention that comes with such a high-profile case. Bulky white satellite trucks from every major media outlet started rolling into the courthouse parking lot Tuesday, and more than 170 media credentials were issued to outlets large and small, including ESPN, People magazine, Entertainment Tonight and TMZ.com.
Court officials started preparing for this week's hearing almost as soon as Simpson and the media crowds left town after his initial arraignment in mid-September. The experience that week made officials painfully aware of just how much of a microscope they would be under, Court Administrator Chuck Short said.
"I knew that Sunday (when Simpson was arrested) that life was going to change for a lot of us at the Regional Justice Center," he said.
For example, during a news conference on the courthouse steps to explain the legal process for Simpson's case, Short got a text message telling him a bailiff's gum-popping was being picked up on the microphone.
At Simpson's arraignment two days later, courtroom cameras caught a clerk trying to snap a photo with a camera phone. Within 30 minutes Short had three calls and a fax pointing out the lack of courtroom decorum, he said.
Internally, the court created a security process to handle high-profile case files to prevent their accidental release. Such cases are now kept in a secure location that can be accessed by only two court employees, he said.
Much of the preparation, however, centered on accommodating the reporters who would cover the two-day hearing.
Court officials closed Clark Avenue on the south side of the courthouse and created an area for the nearly three dozen broadcast outlets to set up their cameras. The courthouse's south entrance will be closed to the public today and Friday, forcing all foot traffic in through the north doors.
Simpson will enter through the north doors and pass through the metal detectors like the rest of the public.
"Just because he's a football star, or whatever you want to call him now, he's not going to get any special treatment," Assistant Court Administrator Ed Friedland said.
Lewis Avenue, on the north side of the courthouse, will be closed in anticipation of the dozens of curiosity seekers, self promoters and others expected to gather outside the courthouse during Simpson's hearing.
Las Vegas police will have a "significant officer presence" outside the courthouse to deal with any crowd problems, said officer Bill Cassell, a spokesman for the department.
About 60 reporters will fill most of the courtroom. The rest of the 100 seats will be taken by relatives of the defendants and court or legal staff. A few seats might be open to the public, depending on media demand, court spokesman Michael Sommermeyer said.
An area just outside court is to be set up to accommodate the media spillover.
Longtime television producer Peter Shaplen was brought in to help coordinate with media outlets and the court. Shaplen served in the same role for the Scott Peterson and Michael Jackson trials, and those both went smoothly with no clashes between rival reporters.
"The last thing the court wants in front of the Regional Justice Center is to have a scrum, where everything is pell-mell," Shaplen said.
Despite the massive media presence in Las Vegas this week, the Simpson hearing pales in comparison to those two trials. The Peterson case had 780 media credentials, while the Jackson case had 2,300.
If Simpson's case gets to trial, however, it could get close.
"You're on a trajectory to be in the top echelon," Shaplen said.
Contact reporter Brian Haynes at email@example.com or (702) 383-0281.