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O.J. Simpson sentencing in Las Vegas

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For more than 13 years, he has been widely regarded as the man who got away with murder.

But this morning, O.J. Simpson was punished for other crimes: last year’s kidnapping and armed robbery of two sports memorabilia dealers at Palace Station.

After hearing a statement of remorse from Simpson, whose voice quavered as he spoke, District Judge Jackie Glass imposed a sentence that will keep the former football star behind bars between nine and 33 years.

“I’m not here to try and cause any retribution or any payback for anything else,” the judge 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 in the robbery case. Immediately after the verdicts were read, Simpson and Stewart were handcuffed and taken into custody to await today’s hearing.

Glass sentenced Stewart this morning to between 7 1/2 and 27 years.

Simpson, who plans to appeal his convictions, surprised the judge and other onlookers by making a statement at his sentencing hearing.

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 unsuccessfully tried 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 apologized, saying he did not know his actions amounted to crimes. He also said he asked Stewart to come along and help him.

Glass said overwhelming evidence at the 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 were present in Glass’ courtroom this morning.

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

In court this morning, defense attorney Yale Galanter said Simpson’s acts “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 injury 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.

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 help 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.

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

“I hope people don’t consider this retribution for 1995,” he said, echoing the judge’s words. “This had to do with what happened in 2007.”

Fromong said he had no opinion about what penalty Simpson deserved.

“I wasn’t here to judge O.J.,” he said. “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.

“I have no bad feelings toward O.J.,” Fromong said.

During the 3 1/2-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 ringleader who orchestrated the armed stickup to exact revenge against his estranged former agent and the man Simpson believed had stolen his property.

 

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

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