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UPDATE: O.J. Simpson on the stand in bid for retrial
LAS VEGAS – O.J. Simpson, a former star athlete who once lived for the spotlight, was back on stage telling the grim story of the Las Vegas afternoon in 2007 that sent him to prison.
No longer the glamorous celebrity in an expensive suit, Simpson wore a drab prison uniform during Wednesday’s court appearance. But he ignored the impediments of leg shackles and handcuffs, settled back in the witness chair and talked his heart out for five hours trying to convince a judge he had been wrongly convicted.
When he left the stand, he sighed and appeared relieved. His lawyer, Patricia Palm, said, “He was happy he got to tell what happened.”
Simpson seemed to describe every minute of a weekend that was seared in his memory. It began with plans for a friend’s wedding and ended with him under arrest.
Palm said she would have but one more witness to call on Thursday. Malcom LaVergne, a lawyer who handled part of Simpson’s earlier appeal, was expected to discuss the relationship between the football Hall of Fame star and his Florida lawyer, Yale Galanter.
“I really felt that Malcolm understood it. It was his specialty,” Simpson said. “He seemed somewhat worried about what was going on.” He said he wanted LaVergne to argue his appeal but was unable to overrule Galanter.
In retrospect, he said, he should have questioned Galanter about many things including his fees that exceeded $500,000. Simpson recalled an early bail hearing at which Galanter advised him “O.J., you have to throw yourself on the mercy of the court. You can’t make excuses. You just have to throw yourself on the mercy of the court.”
Under questioning by Palm, he addressed the main points of his writ of habeas corpus petition seeking a new trial on grounds of ineffective assistance of counsel. His points were succinct:
– His lawyer advised him he could not be convicted and urged him not to testify in his own defense. He said had he known he could be convicted, he would have testified.
– He was never told that Galanter was having preliminary discussions with prosecutors about a potential plea deal that could have limited his prison term to two to five years and perhaps resulted in probation. Prosecutors said Galanter broke off negotiations and they assumed Simpson had turned it down. If he had taken the deal, he would have been out by now.
– He met with his lawyer the night before the hotel room confrontation and informed him that he planned to reclaim his possessions from memorabilia dealers. The lawyer said he was within his rights as long as there was no trespass or violence.
“It was my stuff. I followed what I thought was the law,” the 65-year-old former NFL star and actor said. “My lawyer told me I couldn’t break into a guy’s room. I didn’t break into anybody’s room. I didn’t try to muscle the guys. The guys had my stuff, even though they claimed they didn’t steal it.”
– He had been drinking all day before the incident but his lawyer never suggested arguing that he was impaired.
– Simpson said he neither discussed nor saw any guns during the entire episode.
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