x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Simpson's fall ends with a guilty verdict

The former US football star is found guilty of robbing two sports-memorabilia dealers at gunpoint in Las Vegas.

OJ Simpson was found guilty on all 12 charges, including kidnapping, armed robbery and conspiracy at the Clark County Regional Justice Center in Las Vegas on Oct 3 2008.
OJ Simpson was found guilty on all 12 charges, including kidnapping, armed robbery and conspiracy at the Clark County Regional Justice Center in Las Vegas on Oct 3 2008.

Orenthal James Simpson's long and frequently bizarre run in the national spotlight began in 1969 when, as a 21-year-old scholarship football player from the University of Southern California, he was awarded the prestigious Heisman Trophy as the most outstanding college player in the United States. It finally ended on Friday night, when a jury at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas found the former running back guilty of 12 charges, including kidnapping and armed robbery, leaving Simpson, 61, facing the prospect of spending the rest of his life in prison. A co-defendant, Clarence Stewart, was found guilty of the same charges. The Heisman was the first of the many glittering prizes that would punctuate Simpson's playing days. Fittingly, given the tragicomic nature of his life since his football career ended in 1979, it was Simpson's apparent determination to reclaim such mementoes of the happier days of his life that led to his final, fateful act. Simpson's long fall from grace began in June 1994, when his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman were found murdered outside her Los Angeles home. In October the following year Simpson was acquitted of both murders, but in a 1997 civil case brought by Goldman's family he was found liable for both deaths and ordered to pay damages of US$33.5 million (Dh123m). Among the assets he was forced to hand over to the Goldmans was his prized Heisman Trophy. At an auction in 1999, it and other memorabilia from Simpson's career raised almost $500,000 for the family. In Nov 2006, it was announced that the publisher HarperCollins was about to publish If I Did It, Simpson's "hypothetical" ghostwritten account of how he would have carried out the killings. After widespread protests, the book was cancelled but in July 2007 a federal bankruptcy court granted the rights to the Goldman family, which decided to publish it to raise some of the money they had been awarded. The Goldmans kept the title, but added the straplike "Confessions of the killer" and the book was published in Sept 2007. That same month, Simpson and five other men stormed into Room 1203 at the Palace Station Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas and robbed Bruce Fromong and Alfred Beardsley, two dealers in sports memorabilia. They took several signed game balls, plaques and photographs, including one of Simpson with J Edgar Hoover, the first director of the FBI. Two of the men were armed, prosecutors said, and one of them said Simpson had asked him to bring a gun. Simpson denied this and said he had seen no weapons during the incident. Throughout the 12 days of testimony, his lawyers argued the confrontation had not been a robbery, but an attempt to reclaim mementoes that had been stolen from Simpson. He did not testify at the trial, but on a recording made during the confrontation was heard screaming that the dealers had stolen his property. "Don't let nobody out of this room," he had shouted, ordering the men with him to grab the items, which they stuffed into pillow cases. According to the prosecution, in an attempt to keep the mementoes of his career out of the hands of the Goldmans, Simpson had given some of them to a friend, only to find out he had then sold them to Fromong and Beardsley. Simpson, his defence team said, was a victim of shady characters who wanted to make money from his famous name, and police officers who saw his arrest as an opportunity to "get" him and avenge his acquittal in 1995. In recordings played during the trial, Las Vegas police officers were heard laughing about Simpson's misfortune and boasting that if Los Angeles couldn't "get" him, then they would. Prosecutors, on the other hand, maintained that Simpson's ownership of the memorabilia was irrelevant; it was still a crime to take it by force. During jury selection, Simpson's lawyers expressed concerns that people who believed he had got away with murder might see this case as a chance to right a wrong. As a result, an unusually large pool of 500 potential jurors was called and given a 26-page questionnaire. Half were rejected after expressing a strong belief that Simpson should have been convicted of murder. Simpson's lawyer, Yale Galanter, said the case had "taken on a life of its own because of Mr Simpson's involvement. Every co-operator, every person who had a gun, every person who had an ulterior motive, every person who signed a book deal, every person who got paid money, the police, the district attorney's office, is only interested in one thing: Mr Simpson." The fact that Friday's convictions came exactly 13 years after Simpson's acquittal on murder charges was an irony lost on nobody. Simpson, who for his last day in court wore a dark suit, white shirt and grey tie, sighed but betrayed little emotion as the verdicts were read out by the clerk. With bail refused, he appeared to wince with pain as he was handcuffed before being arrested. His sister, Carmelita Durio, collapsed as two deputies led Simpson from the courtroom. The kidnapping charge is punishable by five years to life in prison. Armed robbery carries a mandatory sentence of at least two years behind bars, and as much as 30. He will be sentenced on Dec 5. He may have lost his trophies, his reputation and, finally, his freedom, but the sporting achievements of "the Juice", the man who played in six Pro Bowls and was named player of the year in 1972, 1973 and 1975 as a member of the Buffalo Bills, remain enshrined in the NFL's Pro Football Hall of Fame, alongside those of the other gridiron greats. "OJ may be best remembered," says his tribute in the Hall of Fame, "for his sensational 1973 season when he became the first back in history to rush for over 2,000 yards". For most people, however, the once star running back will be remembered for something less glorious: a 14-year run from the law that finally ended in a Nevada jail cell. jgornall@thenational.ae * With additional reporting by the Associated Press