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O.J. GOES TO PRISON

Gone were the expensive designer suits, golf clubs and devil-may-care smile.

Friday morning, the once-celebrated O.J. Simpson appeared for sentencing in a Las Vegas courtroom wearing a navy blue jail jumpsuit with shackles binding his hands and feet.

Speaking in a quavering voice, the former football star apologized for his involvement last year in the armed robbery of two sports memorabilia dealers at Palace Station.

"I thought I was confronting friends and retrieving my property," he said. "So I’m sorry. I’m sorry for all of it."

For 13 years, Simpson has been widely regarded as the man who got away with murder. But Friday, District Judge Jackie Glass sentenced him for his role in the heist, imposing a sentence that will keep him behind bars between nine and 33 years. The sentence, though less than what some legal experts had predicted, still signaled that the downward spiral would not end soon for the former hall of fame running back, TV commentator and actor.

"I’m not here to try and cause any retribution or any payback for anything else," Glass told the packed courtroom before announcing her decision. "I want that to be perfectly clear to everyone."

Simpson, 61, and co-defendant Clarence "C.J." Stewart, 54, were convicted in October of all counts for their roles in last year’s kidnapping and robbery. Immediately after the verdicts were read, Simpson and Stewart were handcuffed and taken into custody to await their sentencing hearing.

Moments before handing down Simpson’s penalty, Glass imposed a sentence that will keep Stewart in prison between 71/2 and 27 years.

Simpson, who plans to appeal his convictions, surprised the judge and other onlookers by making a statement at the hearing. He did not testify at trial.

He said he made the trip to Las Vegas last year to attend a wedding, not to reclaim property. But his plans changed when he learned the dealers possessed family heirlooms that he had tried unsuccessfully to recover in the past.

"This was the first time I had an opportunity to catch the guys red-handed who had been stealing from my family," he said.

Simpson said he did not know his actions amounted to crimes. He also said he asked Stewart to come along and help him.

Glass said evidence at trial assured her that Simpson knew what he was doing when he entered the small hotel room where the robbery occurred. The trial also showed her that Simpson is both arrogant and ignorant, she said.

"It was clear to the court that you believed you could do in Las Vegas what you couldn’t do elsewhere — you could get your stuff back," the judge said, adding that the ownership of the items remains in question.

Glass noted that the incident, which involved the use of at least one gun, was captured on audio tape.

"That was actually a very violent event," she said.

During the trial, jurors heard hours of secret audio recordings that were made before, during and after the Sept. 13, 2007, incident.

"Everything in this case was on tape," Glass said.

She said judges rarely have such "overwhelming" evidence before them when imposing a sentence.

The Nevada Division of Parole and Probation had recommended a minimum sentence of 18 years for Simpson, who was acquitted of murder in 1995 in the Los Angeles slayings of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ronald Goldman.

Simpson was found liable for the killings in a civil case and later wrote a book titled "If I Did It."

Members of the Goldman family sat in court Friday as Simpson received his prison sentence.

"It was satisfying seeing him in shackles like he belongs," said Fred Goldman, Ronald Goldman’s father.

On Oct. 3, exactly 13 years after the acquittal in California, a Las Vegas jury convicted Simpson and Stewart of robbing Alfred Beardsley and Bruce Fromong in a Palace Station hotel room.

Four co-defendants pleaded guilty before the trial and testified against Simpson. Glass is scheduled to sentence them Tuesday.

In court on Friday, defense attorney Yale Galanter said Simpson’s acts surrounding the Palace Station incident were "beyond stupid." But, he added, "Stupidity is not criminality."

The lawyer said Simpson’s behavior did not spring from an evil mind, and he had no intent to injure anyone.

Galanter said even Simpson’s strongest detractors would have to agree that the case presented some "highly unusual circumstances."

Most of the property taken during the incident had Simpson’s name on it, the lawyer said, and Simpson acted without stealth.

Galanter asked Glass to impose the minimum penalty, which would have given Simpson a chance at parole after six years.

"He didn’t go into a bank and rob somebody," the lawyer said.

Clark County District Attorney David Roger told Glass the robbery had the potential to turn deadly. He said two of the participants brought guns to the hotel room and, had one discharged, could have wounded an innocent bystander.

He said Stewart had less culpability in the case and deserved a shorter prison term, but Simpson planned the robbery.

"There was one person who was the ringleader, so to speak, in this case. And that was Mr. Simpson," Roger said. "He knew that this was wrong. He knew that this was a robbery."

Stewart read a prepared statement at the hearing. He apologized and asked for the judge’s mercy.

The defendant said he has successfully raised four children and has no prior criminal convictions.

His attorney, Charles Jones, described Stewart as a good man who merely intended to assist a friend.

"He is a person who likes to try to help people if he can," Jones said.

The lawyer also said Stewart was unarmed and had "minimal participation" in the incident.

Longtime Las Vegas attorney John Momot watched the hearing on a television in his office and said Simpson made a wise decision to address the judge. Momot said Simpson’s emotions seemed sincere, and he appeared to be speaking "from the heart," rather than from prepared text.

The attorney speculated that Simpson could have "done himself a real service by testifying at trial."

He said Simpson needed to explain to the jury why he did what he did and that he had no criminal intent. "Only he could testify to that," Momot added.

The lawyer praised Glass, describing her sentencing decisions as "extremely fair under these circumstances."

"This lady stepped right up," Momot said. "The world is watching the sentencing, and this judge can still be merciful and temperate, and that’s a real judge."

Simpson and Stewart each faced a maximum possible sentence of life in prison. Because the convictions in this case involved violent crimes and the use of a gun, Momot said, he does not expect the defendants to be granted parole the first time they become eligible.

Fromong watched the sentencing hearing on a news crew’s television outside the Regional Justice Center. He said both defendants received fair sentences.

"I wasn’t here to judge O.J.," he added. "I was here to tell the truth."

He said he chatted with Simpson for about 10 minutes after testifying at the trial. The pair then shook hands and parted ways.

During the 31/2-week trial, Simpson’s lawyers portrayed him as a man who simply sought to recover game-used footballs, plaques and other cherished family heirlooms that had been stolen from him a decade ago.

Prosecutors, on the other hand, painted a picture of a man who orchestrated the armed stickup to exact revenge against his estranged former agent and the man Simpson believed had stolen his property.

According to court testimony and audio recordings, part of Simpson’s motivation for the robbery was to prevent the Goldmans from seizing the property. At the sentencing hearing, Glass noted that Simpson was caught on tape referring to the Goldmans as "gold diggers."

At a press conference after the sentencing, Roger said Simpson’s earlier murder case had no role in his Las Vegas conviction.

"This case was based upon the facts of this case," he said.

Roger said Simpson and Stewart rejected plea bargains that prosecutors offered them during the trial. Although Roger would not provide details of those offers, he said both men would have served less prison time if they had accepted the deals.

Contact reporter Carri Geer Thevenot at cgeer@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-8135. Contact reporter David Kihara at dkihara@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-1039.

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