Monday, May 13, 2013 | 9:45 p.m.
If Gabriel Grasso had his way, O.J. Simpson would have testified during his 2008 robbery trial and the defense would have sought to exclude from evidence potentially damaging audio recordings.
But that didn’t happen. And Grasso, one of Simpson’s trial lawyers, levied the blame on his co-counsel, Yale Galanter, during an evidentiary hearing Monday in Clark County District Court.
“I thought we needed a lot of things, but that was always shut down,” Grasso testified. “… (Galanter) was in charge of trial strategy — not me.”
Grasso’s four hours of testimony — with more to come Tuesday — set the stage for Simpson’s bid to get a new trial on grounds that Galanter, his lead trial attorney, provided ineffective counsel, resulting in a conviction.
A Clark County jury found Simpson guilty of a dozen charges, including robbery and kidnapping, related to a September 2007 incident at Palace Station. The former football star was convicted of illegally entering hotel room No. 1203 with a group of men, including two armed with guns, and taking memorabilia.
Since then, Simpson has been serving a nine- to 33-year prison sentence at Lovelock Correctional Center in Northern Nevada. His absence from the public eye ended Monday morning.
With local and national media partly filling a Las Vegas courtroom, Simpson entered wearing shackles on his hands and feet, smiled briefly at his family and sat down next to his new defense attorneys, Patricia Palm and Ozzie Fumo.
Grasso, the fifth witness called by the defense, said Galanter, a Florida-based attorney, contacted him shortly after Simpson’s arrest and asked if he would serve as local counsel. The two are now embroiled in litigation over Grasso’s claims that Galanter never paid him a promised $250,000 cut of a $750,000 payment.
Grasso said Galanter made all the defense decisions, despite him giving advice about a variety of issues, including whether Simpson should testify.
At one point, Simpson had asked Grasso if he would be testifying during the trial, he said. Grasso’s answer: “Hell yes.”
Galanter later scolded Grasso for the statement and dismissed the idea, Grasso said.
Simpson never testified during the trial, one of the 22 questions raised in his appeal for a new trial. Last year, District Judge Linda Marie Bell granted the evidentiary hearing and agreed to hear 19 of the questions raised.
“I felt he was the only chance we had to win this case,” Grasso said. He added: “O.J. is a very eloquent person, and he can explain his thoughts very well.”
The defense had argued during trial that Simpson had no criminal intent and had no knowledge of the firearms in the hotel room.
Grasso also testified about his frustrations with audio recordings that were included as evidence in the trial. Thomas Riccio, who arranged the meeting between Simpson and the memorabilia dealers, recorded audio of moments before, during and after the run-in in the hotel room — parts of which were played during the trial.
“The tapes should have been challenged from the beginning,” Grasso said, citing alleged prejudicial information on them.
Galanter allowed the tapes to be included as evidence and never paid extra money to have them analyzed for authenticity, Grasso said. That was just one example of Galanter’s unwillingness to do “anything extra” to build a stronger defense, such as hiring an investigator, Grasso said.
A Simpson family friend, James Barnett, testified that when he expressed concern to Galanter about the authenticity of the audio recordings, Galanter asked him for $250,000 to have them analyzed. Barnett declined because he said he didn’t trust Galanter.
“It is my opinion that his attitude toward the tapes was pure incompetence,” Barnett said of Galanter.
During cross-examination, Barnett said he was surprised by the jury’s findings of guilt and hopes evidence presented in this hearing results in Simpson receiving a new trial.
After Monday’s hearing, Palm said she considers the issue of the audio recordings to be the strongest defense at this point.
“It’s undisputed that the audio tapes were extremely prejudicial,” Palm said.
The defense also asserts Galanter had a conflict of interest and that Simpson never knew about a possible plea deal.
Simpson’s daughter, 43-year-old Arnelle Simpson, testified that she and her father dined with Galanter and his wife at a restaurant at the Palms the night before the Palace Station incident.
Arnelle Simpson said she overheard her father mention the plan to retrieve his memorabilia to Galanter, but she never heard him use the words “weapons” or “guns.”
The defense argues that Galanter had been giving Simpson legal advice regarding his plan to retrieve memorabilia at Palace Station.
Such a situation would have created a conflict of interest, said Grasso, who added that Galanter denied ever advising Simpson about the legality of the plan.
Grasso also testified that a plea deal had been offered, which would have resulted in Simpson receiving a two- to five-year prison sentence.
Grasso said he never discussed the plea deal with Simpson because Galanter said he would take care of it. It’s unclear whether Simpson knew about the deal and rejected it, he said.
Simpson argues he was not informed of the plea deal. Galanter will testify as a witness for the prosecution later this week.
The first day of testimony wrapped up by 5 p.m. Monday. Grasso will return to the stand Tuesday morning, Palm told Bell.
The defense expects to call four additional witnesses Tuesday. Simpson likely will testify Wednesday.
Simpson showed little emotion during the hearing as he sat shackled to a chair. Palm and Fumo said the 65-year-old was tired from traveling to and staying at the Clark County Detention Center.
Court marshals ran a strict courtroom: They wouldn’t allow Simpson to be without shackles or eat a mint, his attorneys said.