LAS VEGAS— O.J. Simpson's former lawyer defended himself point-by-point today against allegations he botched the former football star's armed-robbery trial, and he testified Simpson actually knew his buddies had guns when they went to a hotel room together to reclaim some sports memorabilia.
Yale Galanter took the stand at an often combative hearing on Simpson's claim that his conviction should be thrown out on the grounds that his attorney did a poor job representing him.
Galanter denied giving Simpson the go-ahead to retrieve the photos and footballs he believed had been stolen from him. He denied keeping Simpson in the dark about plea bargain offers that carried only a few years in prison. He said his client agreed all along with the decision not to put him on the stand.
And he disputed Simpson's testimony from earlier this week when the former NFL star said he didn't know anyone in the hotel room had taken along guns.
“When you look at the entire trial, I don't think I could have fought harder, done more,” Galanter said of his handling of the case. “I put every ounce of blood, sweat and soul into it.”
At another point, he said: “Simpson brought a lot of baggage into the courtroom. It's not like the 12 jurors didn't know he was accused of murder and acquitted.”
Simpson, 65, was found guilty in 2008 of kidnapping and armed robbery over the hotel room episode and was sentenced to nine to 33 years in prison. The conviction came 13 years after the sensational Trial of the Century, where he was acquitted of murdering his ex-wife and a friend of hers.
When the hearing concluded late this afternoon, Clark County District Judge Linda Marie Bell told attorney she will issue her decision on the bid for a retrial at a later time. She did not specify when the decision would be released.
Freed from the usual attorney-client confidentiality rules, Galanter testified that Simpson confided to him that he had asked two men to bring guns to the hotel room in 2007, and “he knew he screwed up.”
On the stand, Galanter brought up the guns only after he paused and was reminded that Simpson had waived attorney-client privilege. “I'm very uncomfortable doing this,” he said.
After the lawyer delivered the blow, Simpson didn't move, looking straight ahead at his former counsel and confidant.
Testifying about events leading up to the incident, Galanter said he was surprised when Simpson told him over dinner in Las Vegas that he and several other men were planning a “sting” the next morning to take back the mementos.
Galanter said he advised Simpson not to take matters into his own hands: “I said, `O.J., you've got to call the police.’”
According to Simpson, Galanter advised him that he was within his rights to retrieve the items; told him not to testify at the trial; and failed to tell him prosecutors had offered plea bargains.
Simpson lawyer Tom Pitaro questioned Galanter closely about financial aspects of the case. During one objection, the judge asked Pitaro where he was going with his questions.
“What Mr. Galanter has done is, this man has received over a half-million dollars and has put his interest, his financial interest, above the interest of his client,” Pitaro said.
Galanter insisted he told Simpson at least three times that prosecutors discussed plea bargains. He said Simpson rejected them.
Simpson said, “No deal. No way” to an offer from the district attorney of five to seven years in prison, Galanter said. Later, during the trial, Simpson turned down a better offer, Galanter said.
“I went out in the hall and said to O.J, `There is an offer of two to five.’ He said, `See if they will take a year,“’ Galanter testified. “I discussed a year with them, and they said no and the trial went on.”
Galanter was also grilled about trial decisions such as not objecting to a recording of a discussion that mentioned Simpson's murder trial. Galanter noted that the judge had instructed the jury it couldn't consider the murder case.
The attorney said he also believed that letting the jury hear the audio would help Simpson.
“We needed a way to get O.J.’s story in without his taking the witness stand,” he said. “It was a way to get O.J. to testify without cross-examination.”
If Simpson succeeds in getting his conviction thrown out, prosecutors will have to decide whether to retry him or offer a plea bargain. If he loses, he will be sent back to prison and will probably appeal. He will be 70 before he is eligible for parole.