The burden of proof in a post-conviction writ of habeas corpus is on the defendant to convince a judge — not a jury — that the first trial was tainted and new evidence might yield acquittal. It’s not yet clear whether Clark County District Court Judge Linda Marie Bell will make an immediate ruling or issue a written decision later.
Bell didn’t handle the trial, and both prosecutors have retired. Most of the colorful cast of characters involved in Simpson’s first trial won’t be involved in next week’s hearing. Attorneys put the number of expected witnesses at 16 — including lawyers, experts, Simpson friends and his 44-year-old daughter, Arnelle.
Some legal observers think Simpson has a chance at getting a new trial.
“If Mr. Simpson can establish that the strategy of the defense was motivated by his lawyer’s self-interest, and that it compromised Mr. Simpson’s trial rights, he could overcome the defendant’s burden and establish the claim of ineffective assistance of counsel sufficient to get him a new trial,” said Las Vegas attorney Michael Cristalli. The veteran lawyer handled the successful appeal, retrial and 2004 acquittal of a former stripper in the 1998 death of wealthy casino executive Ted Binion.
Simpson’s 94-page petition for a new trial exempts trial co-counsel Gabriel Grasso from the conflict-of-interest question. It says Grasso wasn’t made aware of Galanter’s pre-incident advice, wasn’t privy to private strategy discussions between Galanter and Simpson, and was rebuked when he tried to advise Simpson without Galanter’s approval.
Former District Attorney David Roger is due to testify. In an interview, he recalled discussing a possible plea with Galanter during trial, but said discussions didn’t yield “negotiations in the legal sense.”
Galanter said Simpson might be willing to serve 24 months in prison, Roger recalled. Prosecutors countered with 30 months. Galanter later said Simpson wanted no more than 12 months. Roger said he thought Galanter had spoken with Simpson.
“That’s where the conversation ended,” the former prosecutor said.
H. Leon Simon, the chief deputy district attorney now handling the case, said Simpson isn’t owed a new trial. Evidence was overwhelming, he said.
Hotel security video showed Simpson and five other men arriving at the Palace Station casino-hotel with middleman Thomas Riccio, and leaving with boxes of items. Jurors heard audio recordings of Simpson and others talking about the plan ahead of time and of the five-minute confrontation involving nine men crammed around a big bed in a small room. Two of the men said they had guns.
Simpson trial co-defendant Clarence “C.J.” Stewart served more than two years of a 7½-to-27 year prison sentence before the state Supreme Court overturned his conviction. The justices ruled Simpson’s fame tainted the Las Vegas proceedings and Stewart should have been tried separately.
Stewart took a plea deal to avoid a retrial and was convicted of felony robbery and conspiracy but set free.
“As far as Simpson is concerned, I wish him luck,” said Stewart, now 59 and driving limousine in New Orleans. “He needs to tell the truth about Yale Galanter. Yale only represented him to protect himself, to make sure his name didn’t come up.”