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OJ Simpson returns to courtroom in bid for new trial

Published On: May 13 2013 12:25:48 PM CDT
OJ Simpson

In Session/CNN

LAS VEGAS -

O.J. Simpson was back in a Las Vegas courtroom on Monday to ask for a new trial in the armed robbery-kidnapping case that sent him to prison in 2008.

The former football hero and a new set of lawyers hope to convince a judge during the hearing that trial lawyer Yale Galanter had conflicted interests and shouldn't have handled Simpson's case.

Simpson appeared in court wearing a blue jail uniform. His hair was short and grayer than it was during a previous court appearance in 2008.

He entered the courtroom in handcuffs, flanked by guards and nodded and raised his eyebrows to acknowledge people he recognized in the second row.

A marshal had warned people in the audience not to try to communicate with Simpson. No words were exchanged.

Simpson is serving nine to 33 years in a Nevada prison. He's due to testify Wednesday.

Galanter is scheduled to testify Friday. He is declining comment before then.

Simpson says that Galanter knew ahead of time about his plan to retrieve what he thought were personal mementoes from two sports memorabilia dealers at a casino hotel room in September 2007.

Simpson also said his lawyer never told him a plea deal was on the table.

Galanter was paid nearly $700,000 for Simpson's defense but had a personal interest in preventing himself from being identified as a witness to the crimes and misled Simpson so much that the former football star deserves a new trial, lawyers for Simpson claim.

"To me, the claims are solid. I don't know how the court can't grant relief," said Patricia Palm, the Simpson appeals lawyer who produced a 94-page petition dissecting Galanter's promises, payments and performance in the trial that ended with a jury finding Simpson and a co-defendant guilty of 12 felonies.

Of the 22 allegations of conflict-of-interest and ineffective counsel that Palm raised, Clark County District Court Judge Linda Marie Bell has agreed to hear 19.

The five-day proceedings are technically neither a trial nor appeal. There won't be any opening statements. The judge will listen to testimony before deciding whether Simpson deserves a new trial. It's not clear whether Bell will rule immediately.

Simpson maintains the plan was to take back what he expected would be family photos and personal belongings stolen from him after his 1995 "trial of the century" acquittal in the slayings of his wife and her friend in Los Angeles.

Simpson was later found liable for damages in a civil wrongful death lawsuit and ordered to pay $33.5 million to the families of Nicole Brown Simpson on Ronald Goldman.

Galanter blessed the plan involving family photos and personal belongings as within the law, as long as no one trespassed and no force was used, Simpson said.

The first witness on Monday was expected to be Dr. Norman Roitman, a Las Vegas psychiatrist who is expected to say that Simpson's perception of what took place in the Palace Station hotel room might have been hampered by football brain injuries and the effects of several vodka and cranberry juice cocktails he consumed before the confrontation.

H. Leon Simon and Leah Beverly, the Clark County deputy district attorneys representing the state, are scheduled to call another psychiatrist later in the week for another opinion.

Simpson trial co-counsel Gabriel Grasso is also scheduled to testify.

Grasso and Galanter split in months after the trial, and Grasso later sued Galanter in federal court alleging breach of contract and nonpayment of legal fees. Grasso alleges that Galanter promised him $250,000 but paid just $15,000. Galanter responded with a defamation and slander lawsuit, filed in Miami.

In a sworn statement outlining what he will say, Grasso said he doesn't know if Galanter advised Simpson about recovering property before the incident, and doesn't know if Galanter told Simpson about a prosecution offer of a plea deal.

But Grasso said he thought Simpson should testify before the jury.

During trial, Simpson contends, Galanter "vigorously discouraged" him not to testify, and never told him that prosecutors were willing to let him plead guilty to charges that would have gotten him a minimum of two years in prison.

"He consistently told me the state could not prove its case because I acted within my rights in retaking my own property," Simpson said in a sworn statement outlining what he plans to say when he testifies this week.

Some who've watched the Simpson saga say he might have a chance.

"I think there's a lot to this," said John Momot, a lawyer nearing 40 years of criminal defense in Las Vegas who played himself in the 1995 movie "Casino" and provided expert cable TV commentary during Simpson's monthlong trial in September 2008.

"I don't think O.J. Simpson could ever get a fair trial, period, based on his reputation from California," Momot said. "But based on these allegations, if you took Joe Jones from the street and put him in the same situation, I think it would be possible he'd get a new trial."

Simpson's lawyers also say that while continuing to represent Simpson through oral arguments in a failed 2010 appeal to the Nevada Supreme Court, Galanter kept a lid on his own behind-the-scenes involvement. That nearly extinguished any chance Simpson had to claim ineffective representation in state or federal courts.

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