O.J. Simpson Back In Court On Felony Charges

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The latest O.J. Simpson trial gets under way Monday in Las Vegas. The former NFL football star and his co-defendants are charged with a dozen felonies, including kidnapping and armed robbery.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

More than a decade ago, the trial of O.J. Simpson riveted the nation. He was ultimately acquitted on charges he killed his ex-wife Nicole and her friend Ron Goldman. Today, Simpson goes on trial again. This time, the former football star is charged with a dozen felonies, including kidnapping and armed robbery. NPR's Ted Robbins reports from Las Vegas, where the trial is being held.

TED ROBBINS: O.J. Simpson's latest legal troubles began a year ago this month, when he led a number of men to a room at the Palace Station Hotel and Casino. Inside the hotel room, sports memorabilia dealers Bruce Fromong and Alfred Beardsley had a load of stuff, including Simpson's Football Hall of Fame certificate. One of the men with Simpson, Thomas Riccio, had arranged the meeting. Riccio made an audio recording of what happened next.

(Soundbite of audio recording)

Mr. O.J. SIMSPON (Former NFL Football Star): Don't let nobody out of this room. You mother (bleep) You think you can steal my (bleep) and sell it? Don't let nobody out of here.

TED ROBBINS: In case you missed it, Simpson said, don't let nobody out of here. That statement is part of the reason for the kidnapping charge. One of the victims, Bruce Fromong, spoke with a local Las Vegas TV station.

Mr. BRUCE FRAMONG (Sports Memorabilia Dealer): They did bust in with the guys, and there were guns present and guns pointed.

ROBBINS: Simpson and his cohorts left with items stuffed into pillow cases - items, Fromong says, he and Beardsley legitimately owned.

Mr. ALFRED BEARDSLEY (Sports Memorabilia Dealer): It isn't his. I mean, it's - it never belonged to him. It was stuff that we paid him to sign.

ROBBINS: Simpson claims it was a set-up. He says he didn't know the other men had guns. One, though, testified that Simpson asked him to bring guns and told him to look menacing. After his release on bail, Simpson told a radio station in Fargo, North Dakota, where he was on vacation, that the victims are now on his side, but he's ready to stand trial.

Mr. SIMPSON: I believe in juries. I believe the fact that everybody involved in that case, including the two victims, including the two alleged victims, have made it clear. They don't think I should go to jail.

ROBBINS: The alleged victims may wish O.J. Simpson no harm. But four of the five men originally charged with breaking into the room alongside him have agreed to testify against him in exchange for lighter sentences. Only one, Clarence "C.J." Stewart, will stand trial with him. The trial is scheduled to begin this morning with jury selection. Weeks ago, the court sent 500 prospective jurors a 15-page questionnaire. Clark County District Judge Jackie Glass told prosecution and defense attorneys she hoped that would speed things up.

Judge JACKIE GLASS (District Judge, Clark County): You will have received their dissertation in this case. You will have plenty of time to review it.

ROBBINS: Last week, the jury pool was whittled to 250. So jury selection could easily still take up the rest of the week. Outside the courtroom, well, if the news conference after Simpson's arraignment last year is any indication, it will be the proverbial media circus. Listen as a helicopter flies overhead while defense attorney Yale Galanter is interrupted by a comic sent from the Jimmy Kimmel talk show.

Mr. YALE GALANTER (Attorney): My only focus up until this point in time has been securing Mr. Simpson's release from...

Unidentified Man: Nice work, dude. Up high.

ROBBINS: The trial may be fodder for jokes, but O.J. Simpson faces some serious charges. If he is convicted on all the counts he faces, he could spend the rest of his life in prison. Ted Robbins, NPR News, Las Vegas.

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