LAS VEGAS — A week after jurors were told to forget O.J. Simpson's past, the prosecutor in his robbery-kidnapping trial on Monday reminded them of the civil judgment against the former football star in the 1994 slayings of his ex-wife and her friend.
"That's a different case and different facts, but the effect of the judgment is something you may consider," Chief Deputy District Attorney Chris Owens said in his opening statement.
Simpson and a friend are accused of robbing sports memorabilia dealers in a Las Vegas hotel room last year.
In his statement to jurors, Owens spoke of Fred Goldman, whose son, Ron, was slain in 1994 along with Simpson's ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson. Simpson was acquitted of criminal charges but found liable in a civil case brought by Fred Goldman and ordered to pay more than $30 million.
Owens said he would show that Simpson came to Nevada to confront the two dealers because he felt that if he took back personal property in California, Goldman would seize and sell it.
Defense attorney Yale Galanter, angered by Owens' tactic, told jurors: "This case ... is not about what occurred in California. This case is not about Fred Goldman. It is about what happened in Las Vegas last year this time and whether crimes were committed."
Simpson and co-defendant Clarence "C.J." Stewart have pleaded not guilty to charges including robbery, coercion, assault with a deadly weapon and kidnapping.
But beyond the court clerk's reading of the charges, there was little mention of the legalities during opening statements. The prosecutor focused on Simpson's personal history, saying the trial would reveal his "true face, not necessarily the one he tries to put out to the world."
Video: Opening arguments begin in OJ trial The trial was interrupted after the first prosecution witness, Bruce Fromong, pointed to his chest and indicated he didn't feel well. Fromong, 54, an alleged victim in the case, had been on the stand for several hours and testified he has had four heart attacks.
After the judge called for a break, Fromong sat in a chair in a courthouse hallway with a cold compress on his neck, being attended by his wife and court officers. An ambulance was summoned.
Earlier, Simpson sat impassively as the prosecutor described an audio recording of the confrontation in a casino hotel room between the memorabilia dealers and Simpson, who arrived with a group of men.
"The audio will show threats, it will show force, it will show demands and it will show the taking of property from the victims in this case," Owens said.
The prosecutor played an excerpt from the incident in which a voice barked commands: "Don't let nobody outta here ... stand the (expletive) up before it gets ugly in here."
He said that was Simpson and he followed with many more taped excerpts, most of them noisy and unintelligible. Owens said most of the people involved, including the memorabilia dealers, had tape recorders operating before and during the confrontation at the Palace Station Hotel.
Follow the money
Owens also acknowledged that Tom Riccio, who set up the meeting, sold his recording to a gossip Web site. Galanter said the price was more than $100,000 and that those who accuse Simpson had a profit motive.
"They were in it for money. They are still in it for money," said Galanter. "They want to write books."
Owens quoted a taped conversation ahead of the incident in which Simpson said, "I'm gonna show up with a bunch of the boys and take the stuff back. They can't do nothing about it."
In another excerpt he quoted Simpson as saying, "I gotta be at my intimidating best in a few hours."
Galanter said the earlier tapes reflect only one thing about Simpson — he likes to talk, saying of his client: "He talks to everyone he meets."
While Owens referred to the items as memorabilia, Galanter disputed that.
"Memorabilia is commercially available," he said. "These were personal items ... pictures of his deceased mom and dad." Galanter said they included things stolen from Simpson's home in California.
Along for the ride?
The co-defendant, Stewart, was mentioned by Owens briefly. He claimed Stewart went along to provide a truck for transporting the materials. His lawyer, Robert Lucherini, told jurors that "he didn't know the property was stolen, and ... he didn't know there were guns going to be used in that room."
Galanter said Simpson knew nothing about guns either. And he said both men thought so much material was going to be recovered that Simpson hired a bellman.
"How many people commit a robbery and use a bellman?" he asked.
"You will conclude there was never any intent to commit crimes," he said. "This was a recovery. It wasn't a robbery."
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