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September 1, 2014

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Defense rests in O.J. Simpson trial

Closing arguments to be heard Thursday afternoon

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AP Photo/John Gurzinski, Pool

O.J. Simpson appears during his trial as co-defendant Clarence “C.J.” Stewart confers with his attorneys in the background at the Clark County Regional Justice Center, Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2008 in Las Vegas. Simpson faces 12 charges, including felony kidnapping, armed robbery and conspiracy.

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O.J. Simpson, left, and his sister Carmelita Durio appear during Simpson's trial at the Clark County Regional Justice Center, Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2008 in Las Vegas. Simpson faces 12 charges, including felony kidnapping, armed robbery and conspiracy.

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The defense has rested its case in the armed robbery/kidnapping trial of O.J. Simpson and his former golfing buddy, Clarence "C.J." Stewart.

The two men face 12 robbery, kidnapping and weapons charges stemming from a run-in last year with two memorabilia dealers in a Palace Station hotel room.

Simpson has said he and the six others who accompanied him on Sept. 13, 2007, were retrieving items that belonged to him and no weapons were involved. The victims, Bruce Fromong and Alfred Beardsely, said they were robbed by a group of thugs at gunpoint.

Closing arguments will be heard Thursday afternoon. After that, Simpson and Stewart's fate will rest with the predominately white, predominately female jury.

The trial began on Sept. 15 and was originally expected to last five weeks.

Prosecutors called 19 witnesses, Simpson's team called one and recalled two witnesses, and Stewart's lawyers called two witnesses as well. After the defense rested this afternoon, prosecutors called two rebuttal witnesses, including the lead Metro detective on the case, detective Andy Caldwell, for the third time.

Caldwell nearly caused a mistrial during his latest trip to the witness stand when he went off-topic while answering questions from Deputy District Attorney Christopher Owens.

It was originally thought that Caldwell alleged the defense's witness, Tom Scotto, attempted to tamper with state witnesses during the preliminary hearing and had been ejected from the courtroom by preliminary hearing Judge Joe Bonaventure.

Attorneys for both defendants jumped to their feet, demanding a mistrial. Stewart's lawyers also filed additional motions to sever and stay.

Upon a review of the detective's testimony, however, it was revealed that Caldwell said Mrs. Scotto, not Mr. Scotto, so the allegations became a moot point. It was then clarified for the jury that Caldwell was talking about Mrs. Scotto, not her husband, and he was relaying second-hand information when he made the original statement.

The Scottos were married at the Little White Wedding Chapel on Sept. 15, 2007. Simpson and many of the others involved in the alleged robbery came to Las Vegas specifically to attend the nuptials.

While Tom Scotto wasn't directly involved in the confrontation that occurred two days before his wedding, he became involved after one of the members in Simpson's entourage that day, Walter Alexander, allegedly tried to extort $50,000 from him and the former NFL star.

Alexander denied Scotto's allegations, but admitted he did ask him to pay for a defense lawyer.

Scotto explained how he provided investigators with a recording of a message Alexander left on his voice mail. During the recording, Alexander can be heard saying he "need(s) some help" and promising to "do what (he) can" in exchange.

"I'll do whatever I can and I think I can do quite a bit," Alexander says, noting that he hadn't yet signed a plea agreement with the defense.

Scotto said he interpreted Alexander's solicitation to mean, "his testimony was for sale."

The voice mail was left on Oct. 3, 2007. Scotto did not respond to the message and Alexander later agreed, on Oct. 15, to testify against Simpson and Stewart.

Scotto also said Alexander and the other men who claimed he brought a gun to the hotel room run-in, Michael McClinton, confronted him the night before his wedding during a reception at Stewart's home.

"They made sure they took me away from everybody," he said, explaining the two led him out into Stewart's unlit back yard to confront him.

"They started, like, really getting on me," Scotto said. He claimed McClinton told him that he didn't know him all that well, and that he would resort to violence if their demands weren't met.

McClinton said "he was going to shoot me and everyone else involved," Scotto said, if he or Simpson didn't pay up.

Scotto also said McClinton and Alexander told him that they had tape-recorded conversations with Simpson and the others the night before, during a dinner at the Little Buddha Cafe at the Palms, that they would use against Simpson if he didn't "pay up."

"I was a little bit shaken up," Scotto said.

McClinton and Alexander both claim Simpson asked them to bring guns to the altercation. Like the three others who accompanied the defendants during the raid, they, too, have agreed to testify against the defense in exchange for reduced sentences.

Scotto also testified Friday that Stewart was with him for most of the afternoon the day the alleged robbery took place.

Stewart has said he wasn't at a pre-raiding party planning session at the Palms that day. Prosecutors and many of their witnesses have said otherwise. Whether or not Stewart took part in the poolside meetings is key because three of his charges involve conspiracy and investigators have said much of the conspiring took place at that meeting.

Scotto said Stewart picked him and his then-fiance, Sabrina, up from their hotel room at the Palms at about 2 p.m. and then couriered them around town for the rest of the afternoon while they ran errands related to their upcoming wedding.

Scotto said Stewart first drove downtown to the marriage licensing bureau on Clark Avenue, which, coincidentally enough, is in the same Regional Justice Center building in which the trial is currently taking place.

Scotto said he waited more than half an hour to obtain his marriage license while Stewart waited outside in his vehicle with Simpson's daughter, their wedding planner, Arnelle Simpson. Once he and his wife had their license in hand, Scotto said the group drove out to Leopold's bakery on West Charleston Boulevard, visited a Starbucks coffee shop, and went to an area florist, as well. All in all, he said they were together until nearly 7 p.m. that night.

After Scotto left the stand, Stewart's cousin, Linda Lockheart, was called to testify. She told the court that her cousin had lunch at the Carnival World Buffet at the Rio on Sept. 13, 2007, providing further strength to Stewart's alibi.

Prosecutors then called Clark County Marriage Licensing Bureau administrative services manager Linda Foresta, who said Scotto probably didn't have to wait more than nine minutes to get his marriage license.

Caldwell was the trial's last witness, and the only one to testify three separate times. Prosecutors had him come back to explain how investigators tracked calls between Simpson, Beardsley and an AP reporter in effort to suggest Simpson tried to influence Beardsley.

The choice to recall Caldwell nearly proved itself disastrous, however, when the detective made a verbal slip, suggested witnesses had been tampered with, and threw the entire trial into jeopardy.

While the issue was resolved, attorneys will likely argue the detective's slip-up provide grounds for appeal if either defendant is found guilty.

"You cannot unring a bell like this," Stewart's lawyer, Brent E. Bryson, said.

District Court Judge Jackie Glass, however, said she "unrung" that bell and refused to grant a mistrial over the perceived inflammatory statement. "We've had testimony in this case about any number of things that is highly prejudicial," she said, refusing to throw in the towel after four long weeks of jury selection, cross examinations and oftentimes controversial and contradictory testimony.

Glass will tomorrow give the nine woman, three man jury its instructions. The six-person alternate jury panel will also get briefed on what the coming days will entail.

The main jury panel includes one woman who considers herself Asian and one woman who identifies herself as Hispanic. There are no blacks on the main jury panel, but the first alternate juror is a black man and there is a black woman in the group of standby jurors, as well.

The jury will reconvene at 10:30 a.m. tomorrow to receive their instructions and expects to hear closing arguments after lunch.

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