Tuesday, September 16, 2008

O.J. Simpson Vegas Trial Better Send in the Clowns

O.J. Simpson Vegas trial gets underway in Las Vegas, Nevada - AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, Pool

There's O.J. Simpson looking smug as a bug in a rug on the day of opening statements in his robbery and kidnapping trial. Simpson and co-defendant Charles "CJ" Stewart face a dozen charges that could theoretically send each to prison for life.

The case concerns a well-publicized Vegas hotel room scuffle wherein Simpson and friends allegedly held two memorabilia dealers captive using threats of bodily harm. Simpson claims he entered the room only to retrieve his own memorabilia and the situation quickly escalated out of control.

As expected, the trial offers soap opera drama writers can only dream about.

For one thing, Simpson entered the Vegas courtroom wearing the same cool and collected expression and beige suit as the days he waltzed into Los Angeles for the murder trial of ex-wife Nicole and her friend Ron Goldman.

For another, three of Simpson's five accomplices are convicted felons. Four of them plead guilty and agreed to testify for the prosecution in exchange for lighter sentences. Of those, star witness Michael McClinton previously testified that Simpson asked him to bring guns to the hotel room and told him to look "menacing" during the confrontation.

One of the memorabilia dealers tape recorded the scuffle and sold it to TMZ, reportedly for more than $100K. Thomas Riccio's audio tape is expected as key evidence later in the trial. Riccio also profited from an autobiography revealing every "niggly detail" of the hotel scuffle and subsequent proceedings. No doubt a sequel is in the works following issuance of a verdict.

Las Vegas Judge Jackie Glass called O.J. Simpson arrogant, ignorant or both
And then there's Clark County District Judge Jackie Glass, the little pistol who could. She initially kept Simpson locked up for arrogance and/or ignorance, later setting bail at $250K. Presiding over the selection of jurors, Glass chided each one saying, "If you think you are going to punish Mr Simpson for what happened in 1995, this is not the case for you."

But not according to Chief Deputy District Attorney Chris Owens. Over objections from defense attorney Yale Galanter, Owens referenced Simpson's infamous murder acquittal, positing,

Ladies and gentlemen, you are the jurors in this case and the final story is going to be told by you. You will be able to write that final chapter, the chapter of arrogance and hypocrisy and that will be the true verdict. The verdict you can feel good about. That's a different case and different facts, but the effect of the judgment is something you may consider.
Talk about impropriety. Thankfully, no request for mistrial ... yet.

Much fuss is being made over the composition of jurors. The nine-woman, three-man panel is composed solely of Caucasians, some with connections to law enforcement. Two African-Americans serve as alternates. Little wonder in a place like Clark County, one of the remaining bastions of good old boy justice.

To top things off, Bruce Fromong, the prosecution's opening witness, second memorabilia dealer, and former Simpson confidant, became unraveled on cross-examination, complained of lightheadedness, and was quickly escorted out of the courtroom. Paramedics examined the multiple heart attack survivor but found nothing amiss. Fromong took the witness stand again this morning, offering little to support the prosecution's case.

No one wants to see fulfillment of justice denied more than I, especially when it comes to O.J. But not an the expense of fundamental rights or principles of fairness and decency.

America prohibits double jeopardy, aka, retrial of the same crime following acquittal. Using subterfuge to circumvent constitutional safeguards makes our justice system look like a three-ring circus and even if somehow gratifying, the audience needs to realize they are the clowns.