Witness: Riccio set Simpson up

Alfred Beardsley took the stand Thursday in the O.J. Simpson trial as a witness for the prosecution.

By the end of his testimony, he walked away a star witness for the defense.

And it was all sealed with a wink.

Beardsley, one of two sports memorabilia dealers held up at gunpoint last September at the Palace Station, made it clear to the jury that he did not want to testify against Simpson, who along with co-defendant Clarence "C.J." Stewart faces armed robbery, kidnapping and other charges.

"I found he had been misinformed, lied to, completely. I believe he was targeted by this con man so he could make quite a bit of money," Beardsley said, referring to middleman Thomas Riccio, who set up the confrontation under the guise of a Simpson memorabilia sale.

Beardsley's bombshell came after District Attorney David Roger played a secret audio recording that Riccio made of the hotel room confrontation.

"Considering the source, I can't authenticate it. ... He's had that tape too long," Beardsley said, suggesting Riccio could have doctored the recording. "We consider the tape to be a work of art."

Riccio gave Las Vegas police his digital recorder and the original recording eight days after the incident and only after he had sold a segment to celebrity news Web site TMZ.com for $150,000. An FBI expert testified earlier at trial that he could not determine whether the recordings had been tampered with.

Beardsley's revelation blindsided prosecutors.

The normally soft-spoken Roger charged to the podium and, with his voice filling the courtroom, confronted Beardsley about why he never told prosecutors about his issues with the recording.

Beardsley said he did tell people in the district attorney's office that "whole chunks" were missing from the recording.

Roger suggested Beardsley had changed his testimony to avoid trouble at a California prison where he is serving time for a parole violation.

"Do you know what a snitch is?" Roger asked.

"Objection!" Simpson lawyer Yale Galanter shouted.

"Yeah. Thomas Riccio," Beardsley said, drawing laughs in the courtroom.

"Withdrawn," Galanter said with a chuckle.

District Judge Jackie Glass immediately sent the jury out of the room and, despite Roger's argument, refused to allow additional questions on the snitching topic, citing Beardsley's pending release in a few weeks.

During questioning from Galanter, Beardsley denied tilting his testimony to help Simpson and said neither Simpson nor his lawyers ever asked him to.

A few minutes later, the lawyers in the case walked to a back hallway with Glass to discuss questions submitted by jurors. As the line of attorneys filed past the witness box, Beardsley looked up at Simpson lawyer Gabriel Grasso and winked.

Earlier in the day, prosecutors suffered another blow when Glass limited the questioning of Mike Gilbert, Simpson's former agent and the man who Simpson believed stole his game-used footballs and other one-of-a-kind mementos.

On the recording of the confrontation, both Beardsley and former Gilbert business partner Bruce Fromong tell Simpson, "Mike took it," as Simpson berates them for trying to sell his memorabilia.

Prosecutors hoped Gilbert would testify about helping Simpson hide his valuables from authorities, who were trying to seize them to help satisfy a $33.5 million civil judgment against Simpson. That judgment was levied after Simpson was found civilly liable in the deaths of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ronald Goldman. Simpson was acquitted of the slayings in 1995.

Gilbert and Simpson had a falling out but not before Simpson gave Gilbert the memorabilia so the Goldman family wouldn't get it, Roger said.

Fromong has said he bought the memorabilia from Gilbert.

Prosecutors argued that Gilbert's testimony would show how the Palace Station confrontation was motivated by Simpson's desire for payback against Gilbert, who Simpson believed was selling the memorabilia that was wrongfully taken from him.

Simpson's lawyers called Gilbert a prosecution attempt to prejudice the jury.

Glass agreed and did not allow Gilbert to testify about how he received the memorabilia, fearing it would bring up the 1994 slayings. Gilbert simply testified that Simpson had given him the items.

Outside court, Gilbert said he should have been allowed to talk about the history of the memorabilia.

"People ask me all the time if O.J.'s going to get a fair trial," he said. "I'm more concerned about the state of Nevada getting a fair trial."

Contact reporter Brian Haynes at bhaynes@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0281.