Prosecutor to Lay Out Case Against Simpson

O.J. Simpson appeared in a Las Vegas courtroom Thursday for a hearing on whether state prosecutors have enough evidence to send him to trial, and the outcome may depend on a cast of witnesses with less than pristine pasts.

Prosecutors don't have to show much at the preliminary hearing, which may last several days. They just have to show enough to persuade the judge of "probable cause" — sufficient evidence to reasonably believe that Simpson and his two co-defendants committed the crimes they've been charged with in the alleged theft of sports memorabilia from a Las Vegas hotel room.

The first witness on Thursday was Bruce Fromong, one of the two memorabilia dealers Simpson is accused of robbing.

He testified that Simpson and several other men, one of whom had a gun, burst into his hotel room at the Palace Station Hotel and Casino on Sept. 13. Prosecutors say Simpson and five other men allegedly stormed into room 1203 at the hotel to confront Fromong and Alfred Beardsley about autographed footballs and other collectibles that Simpson claims were stolen from him.

Fromong said he thought he was meeting an anonymous buyer who was interested in the memorabilia. When he came in, Simpson was yelling, "I thought you were a friend ... You stole from me," Fromong testified.

According to police reports, two of the men were carrying guns and held Fromong and Beardsley at bay while Simpson and his alleged accomplices carried the memorabilia away in pillow cases. Fromong has said the memorabilia belong to him and estimated its value at between $80,000 and $100,000.

Fromong testified that some of the stolen items, such as Joe Montana lithographs, had nothing to do with Simpson.

Beardsley reported the alleged heist almost immediately, and over the next five days, Las Vegas police arrested Simpson and the alleged accomplices — Charles Cashmore, Alexander, Michael McClinton, Clarence Stewart and Charles Ehrlich.

Las Vegas District Attorney David Roger and his colleagues may try to make their case through witnesses, such as Cashmore, with criminal backgrounds and questionable credibility. The possible witnesses include three former defendants who agreed to cooperate with the prosecution in exchange for having the charges against them reduced.

One of the more controversial figures in the case is the man who allegedly set up the operation: Thomas Riccio, a California auctioneer and former business associate of Simpson.

On Thursday, Riccio's lawyer told ABC News that Riccio had signed a deal with Phoenix Books to write a book about the incident, tentatively titled, "Why I Did It" -- a play off the name of Simpson's book, released earlier this year, "If I Did It."

Cashmore, has a 1996 guilty plea to theft on his record. O.J.'s golf buddy Walter Alexander pleaded guilty in 1998 to a drug possession charge, according to the New York Daily News.

Prosecutors may not call all of the potential witnesses to the stand at the preliminary hearing, which may continue through Friday and into Saturday. But if they do, defense lawyers will be allowed to cross-examine the witnesses, and it's possible that these past transgressions will come up in the questioning.

Whether the witnesses prove vulnerable on the stand "depends on how well they perform, how sincere they come across," said Louis Palazzo, a criminal defense lawyer in Las Vegas. "I think it can go either way whether [the judge] will embrace their testimony or hold it against the prosecutor."

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