Wednesday, September 19, 2007

LAS VEGAS — O.J. Simpson was granted bail of $125,000 Wednesday and ordered to surrender his passport in connection with his alleged participation in an armed heist to reclaim sports memorabilia. Simpson was expected to walk out of jail later Wednesday after posting the surprisingly low cash bail, following his arraignment in a Las Vegas courtroom on several serious criminal charges, including first-degree kidnapping — which carries a possible life sentence.

Prosecutors and police say Simpson took part in an armed robbery of sports memorabilia at a Las Vegas hotel room. Simpson has said he reclaimed items that rightfully belonged to him. A plea of not guilty would be entered, according to defense lawyers.

The 60-year-old former actor and football star, who appeared in court in a navy blue prison jumpsuit and handcuffs, was expected to make bail and be released from custody within hours, said one of his attorneys, Yale Galanter. He would then return to his home in Miami.

"We expect Mr. Simpson to be processed and released fairly quickly," Galanter said after the hearing. "He's relieved. This has been a very harrowing experience for him."

To comply with the conditions of his bail, Simpson was ordered to surrender his passport and have no direct or indirect contact with any witnesses, alleged victims or co-defendants.

"If you see them walking down the street, you're to cross the street," the judge said. "You do not use any means to contact these individuals. Don't use e-mail, telephone, mail, passenger pigeon, no, whatsoever, contact."

Galanter said the $125,000 bond, agreed upon by prosecutors and Simpson's attorneys, was reasonable and had already been arranged for Simpson.

The next proceeding would take place the week of Oct. 22, according to Galanter.

"We will thoroughly make the case," he said, adding that he and only one other attorney, Gabriel Grasso, were representing Simpson.

He said Simpson would not be doing any media interviews.

A supporter shouted words of encouragement while Galanter spoke to reporters.

Earlier, in court, Simpson answered quietly in a hoarse voice and nodded as Justice of the Peace Joe Bonaventure Jr. detailed charges of kidnapping and robbery, among others, and laid out restrictions for his release.

Simpson did not enter a plea during his arraignment. He expressed surprise as the judge read some of the charges — especially the kidnapping charge.

"Mr. Simpson do you understand the charges against you?" the judge asked.

"Yes, sir," Simpson said.

Unlike his arraignment in the killings of his ex-wife and a friend in 1994, when he declared he was "absolutely 100 percent not guilty," Simpson was subdued throughout the proceeding.

Simpson arrived at the hearing via underground tunnel. The arraignment had been scheduled for about 11 a.m. EDT, but was delayed. It lasted about 10 minutes.

Security at the courthouse was tight for the arraignment hearing. People entering the courtroom were screened by security officers and Las Vegas police with bomb-sniffing dogs.

The case has attracted a swarm of media, including Marcia Clark, who unsuccessfully prosecuted Simpson for the 1994 murders and was reporting for "Entertainment Tonight."

Simpson's lawyers asked for Simpson's release on his own recognizance.

"We intend to vigorously represent Mr. Simpson on all charges. We believe ultimately he will be found not guilty," Galanter said before the hearing.

In court to support Simpson were his oldest daughter, Arnelle Simpson, whom Simpson had with his first wife Marguerite Whitley, and his sister, Shirley Simpson-Baker. His girlfriend was also at the hearing.

On Tuesday, prosecutors charged Simpson with 11 criminal offenses in all, including the first-degree kidnapping charge.

Simpson was arrested Sunday after a collector reported a group of armed men charged into his hotel room at the Palace Station casino and took several items that Simpson claimed belonged to him. He has been held since then in protective custody in a 7-foot-by-14-foot cell.

The Heisman Trophy winner was charged with kidnapping, robbery with use of a deadly weapon, burglary while in possession of a deadly weapon, coercion with use of a deadly weapon, assault with a deadly weapon, conspiracy to commit kidnapping, conspiracy to commit robbery and conspiracy to commit a crime.

"These are very serious charges," Galanter said. "He is taking it very seriously."

Authorities allege that the men went to the room on the pretext of brokering a deal with two longtime collectors, Alfred Beardsley and Bruce Fromong. According to police reports, the collectors were ordered at gunpoint to hand over several items valued at as much as $100,000.

Beardsley told police that one of the men with Simpson brandished a pistol, frisked him and impersonated a police officer, and that another man pointed a gun at Fromong.

"I'm a cop and you're lucky this ain't LA or you'd be dead," the man said, according to the report.

"One of the thugs — that's the best thing I can call them — somebody blurted out 'police!' and they came in military style," Beardsley said Wednesday on NBC's "Today" show. "I thought it might have been law enforcement or the FBI or something because I was ordered to stand up, and I was frisked for weapons."

"At no time did Mr. Simpson hold any type of firearm at all," he said.

Beardsley also cast doubt on the authenticity of a recording of the confrontation made by Tom Riccio, the man who arranged the meeting between Simpson and the two collectors. Riccio reportedly sold that tape to celebrity gossip Web site

"I do not believe that these tapes are accurate," Beardsley said. He said information was missing and the recordings should be professionally analyzed.

"Simpson confronted me, saying 'Man what's wrong with you, you have a turn-over order, you have a turn-over order for this stuff, man,"' Beardsley said, but he said that part wasn't on the tapes.

The Los Angeles Times reported that court records show Riccio has an extensive criminal history from the 1980s and '90s, including grand larceny in Florida, possession of stolen goods in Connecticut and receiving stolen property in California. According to the newspaper, Riccio acknowledged his past in a telephone interview late Tuesday.

Riccio said he was not concerned with how his past might affect his credibility "because everything's on tape. That's why it's on tape."

He also said he had been promised some form of immunity by prosecutors.

The memorabilia taken from the hotel room included football game balls signed by Simpson, Joe Montana lithographs, baseballs autographed by Pete Rose and Duke Snider and framed awards and plaques, together valued at as much as $100,000.

Although Simpson was acquitted of murder charges in the deaths of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson and friend Ron Goldman, a jury later held him liable for the killings in a wrongful death lawsuit and ordered him to pay a $33.5 million judgment. On Tuesday, a California judge gave a lawyer for Goldman's father a week to deliver a list of items Simpson was accused of taking from the hotel room, raising the possibility that they could be sold to pay off the judgment.

"He's ordered to pay us millions of dollars," Goldman's sister, Kim Goldman, said Wednesday on NBC. "If he went to Vegas to go collect on those things so we wouldn't, there's some irony in that."

She also said she felt some satisfaction with Simpson's arrest.

"I'm not going to lie to you, I do feel a little bit of elation to see him in handcuffs," she said. "I hope that in some way the pressure that we put on him for the last 13 years drove him to this."

Two other defendants, Walter Alexander, 46, and Clarence Stewart, 53, were arrested and released pending court appearances. Stewart turned in some of the missing goods and Alexander agreed to cooperate with prosecutors, authorities said. A fourth suspect, Michael McClinton, 49, of Las Vegas, surrendered to police Tuesday.

Police were seeking two other suspects, whom they had not identified.

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