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October 20, 2014

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A ‘good day’ for O.J.: Simpson tells his version of trial gone wrong

Claims of ineffective counsel center on bad advice from lead lawyer

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Julie Jacobson / AP

O.J. Simpson, right, testifies as Judge Linda Marie Bell listens during an evidentiary hearing in Clark County District Court, Wednesday, May 15, 2013 in Las Vegas.

O.J. Simpson Hearing: May 15, 2013

O.J. Simpson has one of his handcuffs removed as he takes the witness stand during an evidentiary hearing in Clark County District Court, Wednesday, May 15, 2013 in Las Vegas. Launch slideshow »

The man who helped clear O.J. Simpson in a road-rage case could inadvertently help free him again — that is, if a judge believes the former football star’s accusations against his lead trial attorney.

Dressed in blue jail attire with his left hand shackled to a chair, Simpson spoke for more than four hours Wednesday in a Las Vegas courtroom trying to make his case for a new trial on armed robbery charges.

The charismatic 65-year-old spoke clearly and coherently, even eliciting a few laughs from the audience. At one point, he asked a burly corrections officer to stand.

Simpson said he liked to travel with men of the officer’s size “not to start trouble but to make sure there wouldn’t be any trouble.”

The visual demonstration was part of Simpson’s explanation for how a group of men ended up accompanying him to a Palace Station hotel room Sept. 13, 2007, to retrieve family photos and footballs. A Clark County jury found him guilty of a dozen charges, including robbery and kidnapping, in 2008.

Poor advice from Yale Galanter, his lead trial attorney, led to his conviction, Simpson argued from the stand.

“He was my guy,” Simpson said, describing their early friendship. Galanter helped him with media issues and successfully argued his acquittal in a road-rage case, Simpson said. In 2001, Simpson was cleared of all charges in the Florida case.

As a result, Simpson said he trusted Galanter, a Florida-based attorney, and gave him $387,500. Galanter never asked for money for himself, instead saying his local co-counsel, Gabriel Grasso, wanted money and they needed funds for hiring experts, Simpson testified.

“I’ve spent a lot of money on lawyers, so this was nothing,” Simpson said.

Grasso testified earlier this week, however, that Galanter never paid him his share of money promised. Grasso has since filed a lawsuit against Galanter over the alleged unpaid funds.

Simpson admitted that, during his trial, he was heeding all legal advice dispensed by Galanter, who he said diminished Grasso’s role as co-counsel.

“Yale is a pretty forceful guy,” Simpson said. “He sort of takes over.”

Last year, Clark County District Judge Linda Marie Bell agreed to hear 19 questions raised in Simpson’s appeal, most of which claim ineffective counsel.

Simpson said he spoke with Galanter several times leading up to his attempt to retrieve memorabilia at Palace Station. Galanter advised him he had a right to get his stuff as long as he did not trespass or use force, Simpson said.

When questioned by his new defense attorney, Patricia Palm, Simpson repeatedly said he never planned to use weapons, nor did he see any during the group’s time in the hotel room with the two memorabilia dealers.

Two former co-defendants who testified during the 2008 trial said they had guns.

Simpson said Galanter told him to not testify and didn’t provide information about a possible plea deal or discuss using his alcohol consumption as a defense.

“I surely would have considered it,” Simpson said of a plea deal.

During cross-examination, prosecutor Leon Simon, a chief deputy district attorney, showed Simpson trial transcripts of Judge Jackie Glass advising him of his right to testify.

Simpson admitted he declined that right based on Galanter’s advice. Galanter told him the prosecution hadn’t provided enough evidence for conviction, Simpson said.

“I think it’s obvious he didn’t understand the consequences of a lot of things and was relying heavily on his attorney to tell him what things mean,” Palm said outside the courtroom. “His testimony was he was constantly being told, ‘You cannot be convicted.’”

That proved false and now Simpson is serving a nine to 33-year prison sentence.

Palm and her co-counsel, Ozzie Fumo, said Simpson appeared in good spirits after testifying.

“He’s very happy he got to tell what happened,” Palm said.

Henry Johnson, Simpson’s doctor since 1998, watched his friend’s testimony from the courtroom’s public seating. He called the hearing a “good day” for Simpson.

“I think it went very well for him,” Johnson said. “He’s an honest man, and he came across very honest.”

Galanter will have the opportunity to tell his side of the story later this week, as the prosecution is expected to call him as a witness.

Whether Simpson receives a new trial will be up to Bell. The defense only has to prove one of the 19 “grounds for relief” listed in the appeal, Fumo said.

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