Now facing a possible life sentence, O.J. Simpson makes his first court appearance today since his arrest Sunday after on armed robbery charges in Las Vegas. His attorneys will ask for bail, while prosecutors are expected to argue that Simpson poses a flight risk.
The former gridiron great was charged Tuesday with 10 felony counts and one gross misdemeanor by the Clark County district attorney's office in connection with the now-infamous armed robbery of several memorabilia dealers at a hotel room here last Thursday.
Simpson was charged with two counts each of conspiracy to commit kidnapping and first degree kidnapping with the use of a deadly weapon. The DA charged Simpson and three other men with trying to kidnap memorabilia dealers Alfred Beardsley and Bruce Fromong in a Las Vegas hotel room, and of using physical force, "or the immediate threat of such force," against them.
At one point, while "one or more of his confederates possessing, displaying and/or pointing one or more handguns," Simpson ripped Fromong's phone out of his hand, according to the complaint.
A fourth suspect in the case, Michael McClinton, 49, of Las Vegas, a man police describe as "a key player" in the alleged theft was arrested Tuesday evening and is also in custody.
The litany of charges and Simpson's no-bail status shocked criminal defense lawyers in Las Vegas, who said that the treatment was connected to Simpson's celebrity. Simpson could face life in prison on just the kidnapping charge.
"This is way over the top," said attorney Chris Rasmussen, who has secured bail for hundreds of defendants charged with more serious crimes. "If this was a regular case, this would be gross misdemeanor with probation, maybe five years' supervision. We have guys who shoot up 7-11s and they get out the next day."
Amy Chelini, a former Clark County prosecutor, was also surprised by the decision to deny bail. "I can't recall the last time that someone was denied bail," she explained. "Even the most serious charges, except for capital murder, get bail. I have a lot of clients who are from out of state and get bail. After all, a lot of people who come to this town get in trouble," she said.
Rasmussen said the complaint was being used to force Simpson into a plea deal with prosecutors. "Kidnapping alone is a 10-to-life sentence, and they're using that as a hammer over your head to pressure you to take a deal."
He dismissed Chief Judge Douglas Smith's rationale for denying bail, which was that Simpson represented a flight risk and lacked any ties to Las Vegas. "Probably 40 percent of our clients live out of state, go back home and come back for their trials," Rasmussen said, adding that he's representing a seven-time felon accused of robbing an auto store, and an alleged sex assailant, who both live out of state and who both made bail.
But Simpson spent his second day in a 7-foot by 14-foot cell at the Clark County Detention Center. One of 36 other inmates in a unit, Simpson is given three to four hours of free time while his fellow inmates stay locked in their cells. So far, prison officials say Simpson has been cooperative, asked for a pair of reading glasses and was given a Bible and a book, "The Purpose-Driven Life," to read.
New questions are being raised about Simpson's treatment when compared with that of his associates. While Simpson sits in jail, two of his associates were brought in for questioning and then freed on bail. Walter Alexander, who police say brandished a weapon during the alleged robbery, cut a deal with prosecutors and is back in Los Angeles. And Clarence Alexander, whose Vegas home was searched by police who recovered the memorabilia taken in the incident Thursday night, was arrested but freed on $78,000 bail.
"We're just treating him as we would as if he was anybody else. We're being professional. We're not acting as fans. We're not going down that route," a jail staffer told the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Alexander believes that Simpson was set up by Thomas Riccio, the memorabilia dealer who first tipped off Simpson that some of his collectibles were being sold, and set up a meeting with the two dealers in the hotel room. Riccio recorded the hotel-room confrontation and sold the recording to TMZ.com, according to The New York Times, but never informed police of his secret taping.
"It sounds like a setup to me," Alexander told ABC's "Good Morning America" Tuesday.
Riccio has a long rap sheet, including four separate felony convictions, including arson, prison escape and stolen property charges, according to thesmokinggun.com.
Riccio, who has spent a combined total of eight years in prison, was first convicted of a felony in 1984, a federal charge of conspiracy to receive stolen goods, according to court records. Several months later, he escaped from a federal minimum-security facility in Danbury, Conn.
Fromong, a witness in the O.J. Simpson robbery case, has been rushed to the hospital after suffering from a heart attack. A source said that Fromong was taken to the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Monday Fromong complained of severe chest pains, and a source said his heart had stopped and had to be restarted.
Rasmussen, the Las Vegas attorney, believes that Simpson's latest legal troubles could actually win him some sympathy, adding that for years Nevada law allowed the use of reasonable force to get one's property back.
"I think there will be a backlash against this and people will start supporting O.J.," he said.
Simpson was acquitted in 1995 of murdering his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and Ronald Goldman, after a long trial in California.
As in that trial, Simpson seems to be drawing supporters to his side. At least one O.J. supporter was outside the courthouse Tuesday.
Self-proclaimed apostle Larry Noble Mays stood on the steps for most of the sunny day holding a sign that read, "Ask Jesus to Save You Now." Donning a baseball cap that read, "Man of Faith," Noble explained that he took a bus from Englewood, Calif., on Monday night because "wherever the Lord sends me, I go."
Noble, who played the same role at Simpson's two previous trials, said that he prays for him. "If he did it or he didn't, he still needs the Lord. After all, we are all sinners. And Jesus died for the sinners."