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O.J. Simpson faces new charges

O.J. Simpson faces armed robbery charges and lingering questions that have not gone away in more than a decade.

In the former NFL football star's mind, according to a close friend, the Las Vegas charges have roots in Simpson's acquittal in the slayings of his wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ronald Goldman.

"He believes he's being tried for that now," said Tom Scotto, 45, a North Miami Beach, Florida, auto body shop owner whose Las Vegas wedding brought together the men arrested for the alleged Sept. 13 armed robbery of two sports memorabilia dealers in September.

Simpson and two co-defendants face 12 charges, including kidnapping, armed robbery, assault with a deadly weapon, conspiracy and coercion. A kidnapping conviction could result in a sentence of life in prison with the possibility parole. An armed robbery conviction could mean mandatory prison time.

"He's taking this serious," Scotto said. "It is serious."

Before a jury gets a chance to decide Simpson's fate, a Las Vegas justice of the peace will be asked to determine after a two-day hearing if there is enough evidence to bind Simpson and co-defendants Clarence "C.J." Stewart and Charles Ehrlich over for trial in state court.

No one disputes that Stewart, Ehrlich and former co-defendants Michael McClinton, Walter Alexander and Charles Cashmore went with Simpson and California collectibles broker Tom Riccio to meet memorabilia dealers Alfred Beardsley and Bruce Fromong in a Las Vegas casino hotel room.

Simpson has maintained that he wanted to retrieve items that he claimed had been stolen from him by a former agent, including the suit he wore the day he was acquitted in Los Angeles.

Simpson, 60, of Miami, has maintained in interviews and through his lawyers that no guns were displayed, he never asked anyone to bring guns and he did not know anyone had guns.

But Cashmore, 40, a journeyman laborer said McClinton displayed a gun.

Alexander, 46, of Mesa, Arizona, told police after his Sept. 15 arrest that he and McClinton carried guns, but that he kept one in his waistband while McClinton displayed his as Beardsley and Fromong were frisked.

"O.J. said 'hey, just bring some firearms,"' Alexander said, according to a transcript of his tape-recorded statement to detectives.

McClinton, 49, of Las Vegas, who later turned the two handguns over to police and surrendered his concealed weapons permit, is expected to bolster that account.

"This reminds me of the old Mad magazine cartoon, 'Spy vs. Spy,"' said Michael Shapiro, a New York defense lawyer who provided commentary during Simpson's 1995 murder acquittal in Los Angeles. "This Las Vegas case seems like almost a comedy of errors, if it weren't for the presence of a gun or guns."

"That ups the ante," Shapiro added. "When guns come into play, bad things can happen."

Riccio, 45, of Los Angeles, has said he told the FBI there three weeks ahead of time that Simpson wanted to take back from Beardsley a collection of items that Simpson also thought included his Hall of Fame certificate and a photo of himself with former FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover.

Authorities have said many more items were taken from the room, including football game balls signed by Simpson, Joe Montana lithographs, baseballs autographed by Pete Rose and Duke Snider, photos of Simpson with the Heisman Trophy, and framed awards and plaques. Police estimated the combined value at up to $100,000 (EUR68,000).

Simpson and the others are likely to be bound over for trial "because the burden of proof is such that all they have to show is that some evidence suggests a crime occurred," said Tom Pitaro, a veteran Las Vegas defense lawyer who teaches trial advocacy at the Boyd School of Law at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Clark County District Attorney David Roger and prosecutor Chris Owens declined comment on their plans for the hearing.

"The benefit of the preliminary hearing is that both sides get to see the witnesses, both sides get to test the witnesses, and both sides see the strengths and weaknesses of the witnesses," Pitaro said.

The prosecution's case is not without weaknesses, including witnesses with checkered backgrounds and defense contentions that the men who turned against Simpson lied to win generous plea bargains for themselves.

"Look at the deals these guys got to testify against him," said Joseph Abood, a longtime public defense lawyer in Las Vegas. "That's a serious problem for the prosecution."

"These guys worked together," Abood added, "so they are equally culpable in the eyes of the law. But the way it sounds, the witnesses they're going to put on against O.J. are not only getting great deals in exchange for their testimony, but also lack credibility because of their backgrounds."

Of the eight men who were in the room with Simpson, six have run afoul of the law before, with convictions for domestic violence, theft, trafficking cocaine, stalking, assault with a deadly weapon, grand larceny and arson among them.

Jody Armour, a law professor at the University of Southern California, called it unlikely that the defense will tip its hand much, and said no one will be able to avoid an undercurrent of deja vu with Simpson sitting in court.

"The subtext, from the defense standpoint, is going to be prosecutors trying for another bite at the O.J. apple," Armour said, "and attempts by prosecutors to correct a miscarriage of justice that occurred in the O.J. Simpson murder acquittal."