In a rare hearing before the Nevada Supreme Court on Monday, lawyers for O.J. Simpson and a co-defendant argued for their clients’ freedom while they appeal convictions on armed robbery and kidnapping charges.
The lawyers used the opportunity to try to convince three high court justices that Simpson and Clarence “C.J.” Stewart shouldn’t be imprisoned because their convictions came after a trial fraught with legal errors.
“There’s no greater injustice than to deprive someone of their liberty if they’ve been wrongly convicted, and that’s what happened in this case,” said Simpson’s lawyer, Yale Galanter.
Much of the discussion between justices Michael Cherry, Mark Gibbons and Nancy Saitta and the lawyers centered on whether the defendants were at risk of fleeing should they be released from prison.
Galanter said his client’s worldwide fame made it impossible for him to hide.
“He’s got nowhere to go,” Galanter said. “He can’t go anywhere without being seen, televised and photographed.”
If released, Simpson could live with a friend in Las Vegas and agree to be tracked with electronic monitoring, he said.
Stewart’s lawyer, Brent Bryson, said his client would not become a fugitive and give up his chance to fight the conviction.
“He wants to beat this and clear his name,” Bryson said.
Clark County District Attorney David Roger, who prosecuted the case, said neither man deserved bail and questioned whether they wouldn’t disappear if set free.
Simpson, who lived in Florida before his conviction, was a short boat ride to another country, and Stewart recently filed for bankruptcy, Roger said.
“If he has nothing to lose, why is he going to stick around pending appeal?” he asked.
Both Simpson, 62, and Stewart, 55, have been in prison since their sentencing in December. A jury convicted them in October on kidnapping and armed robbery charges in connection with a hotel room holdup of two sports memorabilia dealers.
District Judge Jackie Glass sentenced Simpson to nine to 33 years in prison. He has been at the Lovelock Correctional Center, a medium-security facility about 90 miles northeast of Reno.
Stewart, who received a slightly shorter sentence, is serving time at High Desert State Prison, 40 miles northwest of Las Vegas. The Supreme Court could take up to two years to rule on the appeals, which were filed in May.
At times Monday, the arguments delved into issues under appeal by both defendants, including Stewart’s argument that he should have had his own trial.
Bryson told the justices he repeatedly asked Glass to grant Stewart a separate trial because of Simpson’s reputation, but she denied him each time.
“In the history of jurisprudence, who would be more prejudicial to sit next to?” he asked. “Charles Manson, maybe? Dahmer? Hitler? Satan?”
The justices seemed to take an interest in the separate trial issue, known as severance.
“I was waiting to hear that word — severance,” Cherry said once Bryson brought it up during his 15-minute time limit. The justices and Bryson discussed that issue for several minutes.
“My guy was along for the ride,” Bryson said. “He should have been severed. Then he could have gotten a fair trial.”
For Simpson, the justices seemed most interested in his argument that the kidnapping conviction was invalid because any forced movement of the victims came during the armed robbery and was not a separate act.
Roger said both the judge and jury did nothing wrong in running the trial and convicting the defendants.
“They did their job. Justice was served,” he said.
Neither Bryson nor Galanter would predict when the high court might rule on the bail issue, but both realized the rare opportunity they had to argue before the court.
The last time such a hearing was granted might have been three decades ago, they said.
In 1978 the court heard the case of Lawrence Arvey, who was given life in prison after being convicted of molesting a 9-year-old girl. The former ice cream and candy store owner was known as “Candy Man.”
The five-member Supreme Court let him go free pending his appeal after posting $100,000 bail. He posted the bail and hasn’t been seen since.
“The guy took off,” Bryson said. “I hope the Supreme Court forgot about that.”
Contact reporter Brian Haynes at email@example.com or 702-383-0281.