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October 25, 2014

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O.J. Simpson jury tunes in to audio recordings of hotel run-in

Audio accounts detail plans to recover memorabilia items, Palace Station confrontation, police arrival

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Judge Jackie Glass listens to recordings during O.J. Simpson's trial in Las Vegas, Friday, Sept. 19, 2008. Simpson faces 12 charges, including felony kidnapping, armed robbery and conspiracy.

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O.J. Simpson appears in court during his trial in Las Vegas, Friday, Sept. 19, 2008. Simpson faces 12 charges, including felony kidnapping, armed robbery and conspiracy.

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Collectibles dealer Thomas Riccio holds up an audio recorder as he testifies Thursday afternoon, Sept. 18, 2008, during O.J. Simpson's trial at the Clark County Regional Justice Center in Las Vegas. Simpson faces charges that include burglary, robbery and assault following an alleged robbery at the Palace Station Hotel & Casino in September 2007.

Earlier story

After long week of hearing from analysts, Metro Police detectives and hotel security personnel, the jury of the O.J. Simpson robbery/kidnapping trial on Friday finally heard an audio account of the alleged robbery at Palace Station.

They first heard from the controversial individual who made the recording, Thomas Riccio, on Thurday. He is the one who arranged the meeting between the Simpson and memorabilia dealers Alfred Beardsley and Bruce Fromong last year.

Simpson and one of the men who accompanied him that day, Clarence "C.J." Stewart, both face a dozen robbery, weapons and kidnapping-related offenses stemming from the altercation.

Riccio's recordings have been disputed by Stewart's lawyers and the transcripts of the nine separate audio files have been contested by both sides of the defense.

FBI examiner Kenneth Marr testified earlier this week that he could determine whether or not the audio had been manipulated or altered.

The nine audio recordings that Riccio made are now crucial evidence in the trial. They include audio before, after, and during the run-in in the hotel room, and feature the hours after the incident occurred, as Metro Police crime scene analysts processed evidence.

Friday was the first time members of the jury heard the six-minute recording of the hotel room confrontation. It was taken using a digital recorder Riccio purchased from a Las Vegas Radio Shack and hid on top of the room's armoire.

That audio clip begins as Riccio, Fromong and Beardsley wait for a person that Riccio said was an affluent Simpson memorabilia collector who was looking to expand his collection.

Riccio's cell phone rings and the caller tells him that Simpson and the others are waiting for him in the hotel lobby. He proceeds to retrieve the seven men and bring them to the room.

Riccio testified Friday that he wasn't expecting such a large group.

"I was surprised there was as many as there were, that showed up," he said.

When Riccio brought Simpson and his entourage into the room, Fromong is heard talking on the phone. "I'll have to call you back," he hurriedly tells the caller.

Simpson is soon heard shouting, swearing and instructing his colleagues not to let anyone leave.

"Don't let nobody out of here," he says before turning his attention to Beardsley and Fromong.

"You think you can steal my sh*t and sell it!?" the former NFL star shouts.

Beardsley repeatedly tells Simpson, "Mike took it," implying that it was Simpson's former agent, Mike Gilbert, that stole the Heisman Trophy winner's personal items.

Fromong, meanwhile, tells Simpson he bought the items from Gilbert.

Fromong testified earlier in the week that the items he was selling that day were obtained through legal means. He admitted, however, that he couldn't say how Gilbert obtained all of the Simpson memorabilia.

Simpson has maintained that the items his crew took from the hotel room that day were rightfully his. The 61-year-old claims the heirlooms - including NFL game presentation balls, his Hall of Fame plaque, family photographs and a picture of him and former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover - were stolen from his home.

He said he thought he would get them back on Sept. 13, 2007.

That afternoon he met with Riccio and others to develop a scheme to have him surprise Fromong and Beardsley, then demand they return the allegedly-stolen goods. If the memorabilia dealers didn't cooperate, they men agreed they'd call the police.

Before Simpson and his entourage arrived at the hotel that day, Riccio had Fromong and Beardsley move the memorabilia from their vehicle and into Riccio's hotel room. The three men spread the items on the bed to create a display.

"I wanted O.J. to see everything there, identify it, make sure it was all his," Riccio said. "If it wasn't his, I guess we would've just left and said we're not interested."

Riccio, who at the time was a co-owner of the Calif.-based collectibles warehouse, Universal Rarities, said he was impressed by what Fromong and Beardsley brought with them.

"It (was) stuff you just don't see for sale. People keep this in their family for generations," he said.

He said the men had many one-of-a-kind and personal items that are hard to find. "It's like seeing a diamond in a pile of coal," Riccio said.

"These are (game presentation) balls that were used in games where (O.J. Simpson) broke records that people thought would never be broken," he said.

"This stuff belongs in the Hall of Fame, or in O.J.'s trophy room, where it was."

After Simspon's entourage made their way into the room, one of the men, Michael McClinton tells the others to pack up the memorabilia. "Bag this sh*t up ... bag it up ... bag it!" he barks.

McClinton has agreed to a plea bargain with the prosecution.

Riccio said Beardsley and Fromong were initially apologetic and cooperative.

"They were pushing the stuff towards O.J., like 'Please take it, you know, we're sorry, we apologize,' and everything was going great," he said, for the first minute or so.

The trouble started when the men started taking items that Fromong said were his. During his deposition, Fromong said that about 30 lithograph prints of another NFL legend, Joe Montana, and two dozen baseballs signed by Pete Rose and Duke Snider were stolen from him that day. His cell phone was also allegedly taken.

Riccio said Simpson "made it clear" that any items that weren't his would be returned.

"I do remember O.J. saying, 'Look, we don't want anything that's not mine ... if they took something that's yours, I'll bring it back'," Riccio told the court.

The transcript reads:

Fromong: They took the box of my Montana litographs.

(inaudible conversation)

Simpson: Then we'll put them at the front desk.

One of Simpson's accomplices, Walter Alexander, is credited in the transcripts as saying, "I'm gonna leave these at the front desk," and asking whose name the room is under before he leaves.

Riccio said things got ugly when the group started rounding up items that never belonged to Simpson, and demanded Fromong hand over his cell phone.

Riccio testified that's when Michael McClinton, who has cut a deal with prosecutors and will testify against the defendants later in the trial, pulled out a gun.

"It got crazy from there," Riccio said. "It was a scary situation. The gun was even pointed at me for a few seconds."

Fromong said that McClinton had his gun pointed at him and, at some point, someone yelled "put the gun down." The command is not audible or noted in the transcript.

Riccio said McClinton was, "hopping around with the gun in his hands, barking orders."

"You mother (expletive) (are) lucky you ain't in L.A. or you're a** would be laying on the floor ... I wouldn't even be talking to you mother (expletive) right now, I'm tellin' ya," he shouts.

After Simpson and the six others left the room, Beardsley calls 9-1-1 and tells the operator, "We were just robbed at gunpoint, man. We were just robbed by O.J. Simpson."

Fromong, meanwhile, goes out to the parking lot to get his gun.

Simpson calls Riccio's cell phone and talks to one of the police officers on the scene. Riccio said the officer was laughing while he had Simpson on the line, and said he could tell Simpson was, too.

Simpson left Riccio a voice mail message that day, as well, which was also played for the court. In it, an anxious-sounding Simpson says he heard someone said something about a gun but insisted, "there was no gun."

Riccio's recorder remained hidden on top of the armoire for several hours, capturing more than 10 hours of audio before he returned to the room and retrieved it without police noticing.

He has been criticized for not telling police about the recordings. Rather than turning the recording over to authorities, the animated Conona, Calif. resident later sold the recording to the gossip Web site, TMZ, for $100,000.

Before Riccio sold that tape, however, he made a few more recordings that the court heard Friday.

In a telephone conversation made the next day, Riccio tells Simpson there was a gun involved.

Simpson tells Riccio he was "shocked" when he heard people saying there was a gun involved during the raid. "I didn't see it."

"I know you didn't see it," Riccio says.

"You need to stay straight," Simpson tells Riccio. "I'm stayin' straight. Tell the cops the truth."

Riccio testified on Thursday that he met with Simpson and others during the afternoon of Sept. 13 to developed a plan to recover what Simpson believed were items that had been stolen from his home.

He said guns were never part of the plan.

Riccio, who has been given immunity in exchange for his testimony, will return to the witness stand on Monday.

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