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Folksy Simpson tried to change the subject in bid for new trial

A notorious former football star brings a liquored-up posse, two members of which are armed, to a Palace Station hotel room to forcibly retrieve a few boxes of sports memorabilia.

What could possibly go wrong?

We know the answer to that, but O.J. Simpson and his trio of attorneys spent the past week trying their best to change the subject as they fought to win a new trial on the grounds he received grossly ineffective counsel from lawyer Yale Galanter. Simpson caught a nine- to 33-year sentence for a 2008 robbery conviction for his leading role as instigator-in-chief in what has to be considered one of the most karma-rich crimes on record.

The almost comical memorabilia caper made national news largely as a result of Simpson’s infamy in association with a gruesome double-murder case. Although he was acquitted of murder charges in the June 12, 1994, deaths of ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman, a civil jury later ruled him liable and ordered him to pay $33.5 million to the families of the deceased.

The NFL Hall of Fame running back spent the next few years in Florida, bobbing and weaving and trying to avoid paying the judgment. Give or take a trip to court for an alleged road rage incident, he appeared to be successfully running for daylight and away from his past.

In a move so boneheaded as to seem almost scripted, the runner who once had the best footwork in football tripped over his own shoelaces in the memorabilia caper, and today he’s just past the halfway mark on a minimum nine-year prison sentence.

Those who watched Simpson’s testimony last week saw a friendly, even folksy witness who regretted a few decisions he made but essentially declined to accept full responsibility for the debacle that led to his incarceration. Although he wasn’t pressed by the docile prosecutors from the District Attorney’s office, his version of events was riddled with logical disconnects most grownups would find hard to believe.

For instance: Casual acquaintance Michael McClinton offered to provide “security” for Simpson and flashed him a concealed weapons license. At trial, McClinton testified Simpson had asked him to bring a gun. But last week, Simpson wanted the court to believe he had no reasonable expectation the guy would be carrying a gun on the night in question.

Simpson’s problem at trial wasn’t that Galanter let him down — although Ozzie Fumo, Patricia Palm and especially the vastly experienced Tom Pitaro raised many compelling questions of competence. It was the fact that his circle of friends included mopes who were more than happy to secretly record him. The criminal conspiracy and the caper itself were wired for sound.

Pitaro picked apart Galanter like a piece of Sunday fried chicken, raising questions of conflict, knowledge of criminal procedure, a failure to fight to suppress incriminating audio tape, and even proximity to the caper itself as he attempted to frame areas of ineffective assistance for District Judge Linda Bell. The judge said she’ll take up to four weeks to make her ruling.

Although he freely admits his friendship with Simpson’s defense team, veteran attorney John Momot was a courtroom observer during the weeklong hearing.

“I think they have raised excellent issues,” Momot said, alluding to the conflict of interest and trial preparation arguments. “I think this is something that really has to be looked at, in all fairness to this guy. Everyone hates him. It’s easy to say he couldn’t get a fair shot, but our system requires it.”

When it comes to Simpson, everyone has an opinion. But Judge Bell is tasked with culling the facts and evidence culled from those opinions, and that’s no mean feat. Since it’s a safe bet most of the public believes Simpson is a guy who got away with murder, following the legal path of least resistance would be the easiest thing for the judge to do. But that would sell short Bell, who is known as a studious judge.

No matter her decision, Nevada hasn’t yet heard the last of O.J. Simpson.

John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail him at jsmith@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0295.

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