8 Sep 2008

OJ Simpson on trial for robbery, kidnapping

10:16 pm on 8 September 2008

Thirteen years after his acquittal in one of the most publicised murder cases in American history, OJ Simpson returns to court on Monday for a robbery and kidnapping case that could see him jailed for life.

Legal experts say the outcome of the case is far from clear as Simpson, 61, faces a dozen felonies that stem from a confrontation in a hotel room in September 2007 after which he and a gang of gun-toting cohorts left with pillow cases stuffed full of sports memorabilia.

The charges against Mr Simpson and one of those men, Clarence Stewart, include kidnapping and armed robbery, both of which carry potential life sentences in the state of Nevada.

Mr Simpson and his group allegedly stormed the room at the Palace Station Hotel-Casino to retrieve memorabilia largely related to the former football star's sporting career that he has insisted was stolen from him.

The items were in the possession of two collectables dealers, Bruce Fromong and Alfred Beardsley.

Mr Simpson later insisted he did not know that two of the men with him would be carrying guns and did not see them brandish their weapons. Four of the gang, including the two who carried weapons, have struck plea agreements for reduced sentences in exchange for testifying against Mr Simpson.

The encounter was arranged by another memorabilia dealer, Thomas Riccio, who recorded the incident and sold those recordings to a celebrity website for a reported $US165,000 before he shared the audio with police.

Mr Fromong said Mr Simpson and his group took hundreds of items including his new mobile phone and many collectables that were related to the careers of other American sports figures.

Legal analysts say that such a banal case rarely would go to trial but that the famous defendant has turned it into a much more complicated matter.

"Nothing about an OJ case is a normal case because it's OJ," says former federal prosecutor Laurie Levenson based in Los Angeles who covered his 1995 trial.

"A guy who can get off of a double homicide with DNA evidence is not a normal defendant. There's going to be some pressure to vindicate the judicial system in this case."

Choosing a jury will be a crucial phase. The court distributed a 26-page questionnaire to 500 prospective jurors to weed out those with strong feelings about Mr Simpson, who was acquitted in the 1994 slayings of his former wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ronald Goldman.

Mr Simpson has never been convicted of a crime.