On Bail, Simpson Is Freed From Jail
Thursday, September 20, 2007
LAS VEGAS, Sept. 19 -- Wearing metal shackles and a midnight-blue smock issued by the jail, O.J. Simpson hobbled back into a courtroom packed with celebrity-justice pundits on Wednesday, answered "Yes, sir" three times to a judge sporting a ponytail, and was relieved to hear that he would be released on $125,000 bail over charges including armed robbery of autographed footballs and other sports memorabilia. Outside the courthouse, a man in a chicken suit waved a sign that said "See OJ Run."
About three hours later, Simpson left the Clark County Detention Center wearing a blazer and loafers, as jeering hecklers shouted "Justice for Nicole! Justice for Ron!" -- referring to his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Lyle Goldman, who were stabbed to death in Los Angeles 13 years ago. Simpson got into a rental sedan and was driven by his attorney through the streets of Las Vegas back to his hotel, the Palms. The trip was covered by circling news helicopters, a repeat performance of his infamous slow-motion chase in a white Ford Bronco, but one that seemed faded, jaded and sad.
Any legal proceeding involving a celebrity these days quickly becomes a tabloid spectacle, and the return of Simpson is especially fertile fodder. Americans hold strong opinions about Simpson and his murder trial, which exposed deep racial fault lines. During its daytime broadcast Wednesday, CNN promised an evening look at why people "hate" Simpson.
Before the hearing, former Los Angeles prosecutor Marcia Clark, who most famously lost the double-murder case against Simpson in 1995, marched into the courtroom surrounded by cameras. Clark, now a blonde, is a commentator for "Entertainment Tonight." Asked whether the scene was bizarre, Clark answered, "Can you believe it?"
Nothing much happened at the 10-minute-long Simpson bail hearing, which did not stop every major media outlet in the country from covering it, even as some correspondents acted as though the whole affair were beneath them. Both the prosecutor, Las Vegas District Attorney David Rogers, and Simpson's attorney (and a sometime TV pundit himself), Yale Galanter, agreed beforehand on the reasonableness of the bail amount and the stipulation that Simpson turn over his passport, travel only within the continental United States and have no contact with his three co-defendants, any witnesses in the case or its alleged victims.
"There isn't a place on the planet where Mr. Simpson could go without someone recognizing him," Galanter said outside the courthouse. "Despite his past and people's opinion of him," the lawyer said, Simpson "is not a flight risk."
Simpson, 60, was not required to enter a plea during the hearing, although Galanter said that his client is innocent and would not accept a plea bargain for lesser charges, if any deal were offered. "That's what lawyers do," Galanter said. "We plead not guilty." A status hearing is scheduled for late October, and a court officer said that any trial would probably not begin for at least a year.
As news helicopters whirled above, Galanter spoke on the courthouse steps as gadflies held aloft bottles of orange juice and others waved placards advertising their Web sites. One fellow, missing his front teeth and wearing a ball cap with the words "I [Heart] Famous People," kept interrupting with his own running commentary. Afterward, he was interviewed by TV news crews.
Inside the courtroom, the proceedings were televised, and court officers helpfully offered audio feeds to correspondents, who included media veterans of the trials of Simpson (criminal and civil), Scott Peterson, Robert Blake, Michael Jackson and Phil Spector. In the second row sat Simpson's daughter Arnell and his longtime girlfriend, Christie Prody, who was dressed in a sleeveless black-and-white dress and kept adjusting her hair.
Outside the courthouse, Galanter said that "there's nothing unusual about this case" apart from his client's notoriety. The conflicting accounts, however, suggest otherwise.
Simpson -- who lives in a Miami suburb, spends most of his days golfing and takes his meals at Hooters and other chain restaurants -- was in Las Vegas to attend a celebration of the renewal of a friend's wedding vows. According to police reports and the criminal complaint filed against him, which includes 10 felony counts of armed robbery, kidnapping and assault, Simpson and several accomplices went into Room 1203 of the Palace Station hotel-casino last Thursday night to demand the return of Simpson sports memorabilia from two dealers, Alfred Beardsley and Bruce Fromong. If convicted of the most serious counts, Simpson would face a possible life sentence.
The Palace Station is now reportedly planning to rename Room 1203 the O.J. Simpson Suite. Fromong later suffered a heart attack and is now hospitalized in critical condition in Los Angeles. Beardsley previously told the Associated Press that he thought the whole episode was overblown and that he did not want to pursue charges against Simpson. "I have no desire to fly back and forth to Las Vegas to testify," he said last week.
But in police reports, Beardsley said one of Simpson's companions brandished a handgun and impersonated a police officer, while another man pointed a gun at Fromong. "One of the thugs -- that's the best thing I can call them -- somebody blurted out 'Police!' and they came in military style," Beardsley said Wednesday on NBC's "Today" show. "I thought it might have been law enforcement or the FBI or something because I was ordered to stand up, and I was frisked for weapons." He added: "At no time did Mr. Simpson hold any type of firearm at all."
Then, in keeping with the strange course of the case, Beardsley was arrested Wednesday for allegedly violating his California parole and was brought to the same Clark County jail from which Simpson had just been released. Beardsley was on parole after a 2005 stalking conviction that required him not to leave California.
Simpson was reportedly brought to the hotel room by Thomas Riccio, an ex-convict whose convictions included arson and grand larceny, and who made an audiotape of Simpson and his posse allegedly strong-arming Beardsley and Fromong. Heard on the tape, which was reportedly sold by Riccio to the tabloid Web site TMZ.com, is Simpson shouting: "Don't let nobody out of this room. Mother [expletive]. Think you can steal my [expletive] and sell it?"
On Larry King's CNN show, Riccio said that the memorabilia dealers were going to give Simpson "his stuff before the guns came out," and that Simpson and his companions were going to give the dealers the option of handing over the signed footballs, photographs and awards, or the police would be called.