Legal experts question whether Simpson is being singled out
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
LAS VEGAS -- News conferences, a slew of felony charges, a perp walk in handcuffs and detention in a holding cell without bail -- it's clear authorities aren't giving O.J. Simpson any celebrity breaks.
Police insist such treatment is prudent for a man whose name is synonymous with a slow-speed chase from officers in a white Ford Bronco. But legal experts are questioning whether Simpson is being singled out for extra-tough prosecution in his casino-hotel robbery case as payback for his murder acquittal more than a decade ago.
"It is regrettable that America has not gotten over the O.J. Simpson criminal case," said Carl Douglas, who was co-counsel with Johnnie L. Cochran in Simpson's 1995 criminal trial.
"The fact that he is being held without bail seems unfair and over the top," Douglas said. "O.J. has always been able to satisfy his obligations to the court. He cooperated with the authorities in this case. He is not a flight risk. And he certainly can't hide anywhere."
'No major show of force'
At least six plainclothes policemen, accompanied by a handful of hotel security guards, arrested Simpson on Sunday at The Palms casino-hotel. He was accused of leading an armed heist of sports memorabilia. Simpson said he was only reclaiming possessions that had been stolen.
"By our standard, there was no major show of force," Sgt. John Loretto said.
Simpson was handcuffed and taken in a police vehicle to the Clark County Detention Center to be booked on six felonies, including two counts of robbery with use of a deadly weapon. If convicted of the charges, he could get up to 30 years in state prison on each robbery count alone.
Justice of the Peace Douglas Smith, who made the decision to hold Simpson without bail, was "concerned about the flight factor" and because Simpson had no ties to the Las Vegas area, said Judge Nancy Oesterle, who addressed reporters Monday.
Arraignment was set for Wednesday. Yale Galanter, Simpson's attorney, said he was preparing a bond motion and will ask for Simpson's release on his own recognizance.
"If it was anyone other than O.J. Simpson, he would have been released by now," he said.
Police said they were giving Simpson no special treatment -- other than keeping him separated from the rest of the general prison population for his own protection.
In a clear misstatement, Capt. James Dillon said Friday at a news conference that, because Simpson was involved, police were being extra careful to conduct "a thorough, biased and competent investigation."
But some think it might have been more than a slip of the tongue.
Two others arrested
Jerry Reisman, a New York lawyer who represented O.J. Simpson in the early 1990s in business and real estate matters, said the public and law enforcement "are looking for some sort of conviction for those who want justice for Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman. Everyone wants to be the one that gets him."
Experts also raised questions about the decision to release a man who police said carried a gun in the alleged holdup of two collectors at a Palace Station casino hotel room.
Walter Alexander, 46, of Mesa, Ariz., was released without bail, despite facing charges almost identical to Simpson's. Legal experts said that may indicate his testimony could be key to convicting Simpson.
On Monday, another man suspected in the alleged heist surrendered, police said. Clarence Stewart, 35, of Las Vegas, lived at one of the residences that police searched early Sunday to recover some of the memorabilia. Stewart turned over some of the missing goods, including footballs bearing autographs, Lt. Clint Nichols said.
Stewart was held on six felony charges: two counts of robbery with a deadly weapon, two counts of assault with a deadly weapon, burglary with a deadly weapon and conspiracy. He was awaiting a bail decision.
An apparent audiotape of O.J. Simpson's standoff with men he accused of stealing his memorabilia begins with the former NFL star demanding, "Don't let nobody out of here."
"Think you can steal my s--- and sell it?" the voice identified as Simpson's said, in a recording released by celebrity news Web site TMZ.com.
A big hurdle for prosecutors will also be determining who owned the memorabilia -- everything from cleats worn by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Joe Montana, to autographed baseballs, and Simpson's Hall of Fame certificate.
Bruce Fromong, one of the sports memorabilia dealers who said he was robbed, told ABC's "Good Morning America" on Monday that the items did not belong to Simpson.
"If you're asking did they once belong to him, yes, they did," Fromong said. "But these were things that belonged to him a long time ago."
In 1997, a civil jury in Santa Monica returned $33.5 million in judgments against Simpson in a wrongful-death lawsuit by the families of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman.
David Cook, an attorney for Goldman's father, Fred Goldman, said he intended to file requests in Los Angeles Superior Court on Tuesday to obtain ownership of the seized sports memorabilia for sale to satisfy the judgment.
"We're going to presume that the bulk of the stuff is probably in police custody," Cook said Monday by telephone from San Francisco. He said other key items were a gold Rolex watch and the suit that he Simpson wore on the day he was acquitted.
"Assuming that this case is resolved one way or another, at the end of the case, the stuff will never go back to Mr. Simpson," Cook vowed. "He's going to walk out of Clark County empty-handed."
Thomas Mesereau Jr., the defense attorney who represented Michael Jackson in a high-profile trial two years ago, said of the Simpson arrest: "This is the kind of case that will test how fair and professional our legal system is. When you have such a groundswell of dislike for someone, you have to make sure they are treated like anyone else."