By Ken Ritter and Linda Deutsch
---- — LAS VEGAS (AP) — A weary-looking O.J. Simpson weighed down by shackles and four years in prison shuffled into a Las Vegas courtroom yesterday hoping to eventually walk out a free man.
His arrival in court to ask for a new trial in the armed robbery case that sent him to prison in 2008 could be heard before he was seen — as a loud rattling of the chains that bound his hands to his waist and kept his feet together.
His lawyers had argued to forego the restraints but were overruled. After the 65-year-old Simpson was seated, a guard removed his handcuffs and clicked them onto the chair arms next to him.
The once glamorous sports hero, who is more than four years into a minimum nine-year prison sentence, was subdued as the hearing began. Grayer and heavier, he flashed a smile and tried to mouth a greeting to people he recognized before being stopped by a bailiff who had cautioned against any communications.
Wearing a dingy blue prison uniform, Simpson listened intently to testimony presented as his lawyers contend he had poor legal representation in the trial involving the gunpoint robbery of two sports memorabilia dealers in 2007 in a Las Vegas hotel room.
The attorney, Yale Galanter, had rejected appropriate defense moves and even met with Simpson the night before the disastrous heist to bless the plan as long as no one trespassed and no force was used, Simpson has said.
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 he deserves a new trial, lawyers for Simpson claim.
Simpson is scheduled to testify on tomorrow and say Galanter advised him he was within his rights to retrieve the items.
Galanter is scheduled to testify on Friday and has declined comment before his court appearance.
A lawyer for Simpson co-defendant Clarence “C.J” Stewart testified yesterday that a plea deal was offered to Simpson and Stewart in the midst of trial.
Witness Brent Bryson said prosecutors told him the offer called for a two- to five-year sentence for each defendant in return for guilty pleas. Prosecutors said they were presenting it to Simpson’s lawyer and later came back to tell him there was no deal, Bryson said.
Bryson didn’t know if Simpson had ever been told about the deal by his lawyer. Simpson claims he was not.
Simpson, with eyeglasses perched on his nose, took notes and listened intently. His expression was flat and he showed no reactions.
When it came time to leave the courtroom for lunch, bailiffs hooked up his handcuffs to the heavy shackles again and he had trouble lifting himself from the chair.
Still, a close friend saw a flash of the old, magnetic Simpson personality.
“Not much muscle tone,” observed Sherman White, a former NFL defensive lineman, teammate and friend of Simpson since they both played for the Buffalo Bills. “But you saw a little of the O.J. pizazz when he came in.”
White joined a family row in the courtroom that included two Simpson cousins who had flown in to give him support.
Simpson’s drab appearance contrasted with the fancy clothing he wore during his acquittal in his historic, high-profile 1995 murder trial in Los Angeles in which he was acquittal of slaying of his wife and her friend.
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 and Ronald Goldman.
In contrast to the national swirl surrounding his “trial of the century” in Los Angeles and the circus-like atmosphere during his trial in Las Vegas, yesterday’s proceedings attracted none of the fans, protesters or attention-seekers typically drawn to celebrity cases.
Except for an extra television truck or two, it was business as usual outside the courthouse.
When the hearing opened the courtroom was partly empty and an overflow room with closed-circuit hookups wasn’t needed.
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.
Simpson is expected to testify that to this day, he doesn’t know there were guns in the room.
Simpson has testified just once in open court before — during the wrongful death lawsuit.