LAS VEGAS – The shackles and blue prison garb seemed to weigh down O.J. Simpson as he returned to a Las Vegas courtroom on Monday to ask for a new trial in the armed robbery-kidnapping case that sent him to prison in 2008.
Looking grayer and heavier, the 65-year-old former football star and TV pitchman was flanked by guards as he nodded and raised his eyebrows to acknowledge people he recognized in the audience.
Simpson joined the Buffalo Bills as a running back in 1969. He played with the team until 1977, when he left for the San Francisco 49ers.
On Monday, a marshal had warned onlookers not to try to communicate with Simpson, and no words were exchanged.
Still, a close friend saw a flash of the old, magnetic Simpson personality.
“Not much muscle tone,” observed Sherman White, a former NFL defensive lineman, teammate and friend of Simpson since they both played for the Bills. “But you saw a little of the O.J. pizazz when he came in.”
Simpson later conferred with his lawyers and listened intently to testimony from his daughter Arnelle Simpson and other witnesses.
Simpson, now more than four years into a minimum nine-year prison term, will be in court all week to claim that he had poor legal representation in the trial involving the gunpoint robbery of two sports memorabilia dealers in 2007 in a Las Vegas hotel room.
Simpson’s drab appearance contrasted with the fancy clothing he wore during his acquittal in his historic, high-profile 1995 murder trial in Los Angeles. The suit he wore then is now part of the Newseum collection in Washington, D.C.
The courtroom on Monday was partly empty, and an overflow room with closed-circuit hookups wasn’t needed.
Simpson hopes a new set of lawyers can persuade a judge that lawyer Yale Galanter, who represented him in the robbery case, had conflicted interests.
In a sworn statement outlining what he intends to say on the stand, Simpson said Galanter knew ahead of time about his plan to retrieve what he thought were personal mementoes from the memorabilia dealers in a casino hotel room.
Simpson also said Galanter never told him a plea deal was on the table.
Galanter was paid nearly $700,000 for Simpson’s defense but had a personal interest in preventing himself from being identified as a witness to the crimes and misled Simpson so much that the former football star deserves a new trial, lawyers for Simpson claim.
Galanter, who is scheduled to testify Friday, has declined comment before his court appearance.
“To me, the claims are solid. I don’t know how the court can’t grant relief,” said Patricia Palm, the Simpson appeals lawyer who produced a 94-page petition dissecting Galanter’s promises, payments and performance in the trial that ended with a jury finding Simpson and a co-defendant guilty of 12 felonies.
Of the 22 allegations of conflict-of-interest and ineffective counsel that Palm raised, Clark County District Court Judge Linda Marie Bell has agreed to hear 19.
It was not clear whether Bell would rule immediately after the hearing.
Simpson maintains his plan was to take back what he expected would be family photos and personal belongings stolen from him after his 1995 “trial of the century” acquittal in the slaying of his wife and her friend in Los Angeles.
Simpson was later found liable for damages in a civil wrongful death lawsuit and ordered to pay $33.5 million to the families of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman.
In the Las Vegas case, Galanter blessed the plan involving family photos and personal belongings as within the law, as long as no one trespassed and no force was used, Simpson said.
The first witness on Monday was Dr. Norman Roitman, a Las Vegas psychiatrist who testified that Simpson’s perception of what took place in the Palace Station hotel room might have been hampered by the effects of stress, lack of sleep and several vodka and cranberry juice cocktails Simpson consumed before the confrontation.
“In those situations, people may focus on objects in front of them and be oblivious to other things,” Roitman said.
Simpson is expected to testify that to this day, he doesn’t know there were guns in the room. He has testified just once in open court before — during the wrongful death lawsuit.
During the robbery trial, Simpson contends, Galanter “vigorously discouraged” him not to testify, and never told him that prosecutors were willing to let him plead guilty to charges that would have gotten him a minimum of two years in prison.
“He consistently told me the state could not prove its case because I acted within my rights in retaking my own property,” Simpson said in the sworn statement.