O.J. Simpson is not a criminal, just a man who wanted his treasured heirlooms back, one of his lawyers said Monday.
The family photos and sports mementos the hall of fame running back believed were in the Palace Station hotel room with two sports memorabilia dealers had been stolen from him years ago, and he hoped to recover what was taken from him, Yale Galanter told a jury during opening statements in Simpson's armed robbery and kidnapping trial.
"This was a recovery, not a robbery," he said.
Prosecutors disagree, saying Simpson planned to storm the room with armed men to retake property he had no legal right to, and he later laughed at the reaction of the memorabilia dealers he's now charged with robbing.
"In this case, you, ladies and gentlemen, will be the ones who write the last chapter," Chief Deputy District Attorney Christopher Owens told the jury in his opening statement. "A chapter of arrogance and hypocrisy."
Simpson, 61, and Clarence "C.J." Stewart, 54, are charged with robbing memorabilia dealers Bruce Fromong and Alfred Beardsley last September at Palace Station. The two men had gone to the hotel expecting to meet a buyer interested in Fromong's collection of sports memorabilia, but that "buyer" was Simpson, who had arranged the meeting through auction house owner Thomas Riccio.
Many of the people involved in the incident are only out to make a buck for themselves, Galanter said, noting how Riccio sold a secret audiotape to a celebrity news Web site and how Beardsley spoke of how much money he could make just minutes after Simpson and the others had left the hotel room.
"They're hustlers," he said. "From the minute this deal was conceived by Thomas Riccio, to today, to tomorrow, to the next day and until the end of this trial, it's been about making money on the back of Mr. Simpson."
Owens said it was Simpson who had two faces, the one he shows the world and the one captured on secret audio recordings made in the days surrounding the incident. One of the clips was captured by Riccio at the Palms pool hours before the incident.
"So they're going to meet tonight. I'm going to show up with a bunch of boys and take the (expletive) back. They can't do nothing about it," Simpson said, according to a prosecution transcript.
Stewart, a golfing partner of Simpson's, recruited two men with guns to join the group, Owens said.
Those men and two others have pleaded guilty to reduced charges in exchange for their testimony.
Fromong, a longtime friend and business partner of Simpson's, was the first witness, telling jurors how he went to Palace Station looking to sell some of his sports memorabilia, which included about a dozen Simpson items and hundreds of items from other sports stars.
Fromong met Simpson in the early 1990s through Mike Gilbert, Simpson's then-manager. The three men worked together through the years to sell Simpson memorabilia through Gilbert's company, Locker 32, Fromong testified.
"O.J. and I were good friends. He was a good man to me. We were good friends, and it wasn't just a business relationship," he said.
He broke down when talking about Simpson, including how the football star had called Fromong's mother and sang happy birthday to her.
When he drove to Palace Station from his North Las Vegas home, Fromong had about a dozen items that once belonged to Simpson, including game footballs and some photos, including one signed by former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, he said.
He also had hundreds of photos, baseballs and other memorabilia signed by other sports stars, including legendary quarterback Joe Montana and disgraced baseball hit king Pete Rose. He said he bought or traded for Simpson's items from Gilbert.
He never expected to see Simpson burst through the hotel room door.
"O.J. was saying, 'This is all my (expletive). Gather it up. This is all my (expletive),'" Fromong testified. "O.J. was giving most of the directions."
In the middle of cross-examination Monday, Fromong touched his chest, looked ill and left the witness stand. His lawyer, Louis Schneider, said Fromong was feeling light-headed, dizzy and overheated.
Paramedics checked him over outside the courtroom, but he did not require hospitalization, Schneider said.
Schneider said Fromong is medically fragile and has suffered four heart attacks since the Palace Station incident. His heart continues to function at about 50 percent capacity.
Fromong will resume testifying when he's medically able, which could be as early as this morning, Schneider said.
"Today's been a long day for him," he said.
Review-Journal reporter David Kihara contributed to this report. Contact reporter Brian Haynes at email@example.com or 702-383-0281.