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Simpson released in connection with armed robbery

9/20/2007 - NFL

LAS VEGAS -- In a scene of legal deja vu, a grayer, heavier
O.J. Simpson stood handcuffed in court Wednesday to face charges
that could put him behind bars for life. The prosecutor who failed
to get him a dozen years ago was there to watch, and news cameras
tracked his every move as if they were covering a slow-speed chase.

But as Simpson made his $125,000 bail on charges including
kidnapping and armed robbery, legal experts were questioning: Could
a former football star who beat a double-murder rap really do hard
time for a crime that sounds like a bad movie?

Police have laid out a case that makes Simpson the leader in an
armed holdup of sports memorabilia collectors, and they arrested a
fifth suspect in the case Wednesday. Some of the facts -- including
a curious recording of the confrontation -- don't seem so clear-cut.


According to police reports, collectors Alfred Beardsley and Bruce Fromong were ordered at gunpoint to hand over several items valued at as much as $100,000, including football game balls signed by Simpson, Joe Montana lithographs, baseballs autographed by Pete Rose and Duke Snider and framed awards and plaques.

Beardsley was arrested at his room at the Luxor hotel Wednesday for violating parole. In a Las Vegas court Thursday, he waived extradition, but it was not clear when he would return to California.

Authorities said Beardsley, of Burbank, Calif., was paroled in March 2006 after serving 11 months of a two-year sentence for
stalking a woman in Riverside County. A California corrections spokesman said Beardsley was required to get written approval before traveling more than 50 miles from home or leaving home for more than 24 hours.

Legal experts say that issues such as who had rightful ownership
of the goods and the reputation of witnesses in the sometimes
less-than-reputable world of memorabilia trading could cloud the
prosecution's case.

Simpson has insisted he was merely retrieving items that were
stolen from him earlier.

Beardsley told NBC's "Today"
show before Simpson's hearing that he didn't think an audiotape
made at the scene was accurate.

Fromong was recovering from a heart
attack in a Los Angeles hospital. The man who arranged the meeting
between Simpson and the two collectors, Tom Riccio, has a criminal
record.

"The credibility of the cohorts in the enterprise would be a
key issue at trial," said University of Southern California law
professor Jody Armour.

Agreed, said Dennis Turner, a professor at the University of
Dayton School of Law. "This is a pretty shady world and pretty
shady characters dealing with each other in a pretty shady way."

A key difference with the 1995 murder trial is that there are
plenty of witnesses this time who place Simpson at the scene,
including hotel video surveillance. Simpson has made no secret he
went to the hotel room intending to take the memorabilia and told
The Associated Press that a man who came with him brought a truck
to cart away the goods.

"It's not like the murder case involving his ex-wife and Ron
Goldman, where Simpson had a completely different story in which he
said, 'I wasn't there,"' said Doug Godfrey, a professor at the
Chicago-Kent College of Law. "A prosecutor only has to show
intent. And the intent is, 'Were you acting in concert with someone
with a gun to take property from someone?' If you were, you're
guilty of armed robbery."

Simpson attorney Yale Galanter said: "You can't rob something
that is yours."

Simpson furrowed his brow as the judge read the list of charges
against him. Gone was the slight smirk he flashed when he was
arrested.

He answered quietly in a hoarse voice and nodded as the judge
laid out restrictions for his release, including surrendering his
passport to his attorney and having no contact with co-defendants
or potential witnesses.

Simpson did not enter a plea.

Galanter said after the hearing that the $125,000 bond was
reasonable.

The oddity of the case has attracted a swarm of reporters,
including Marcia Clark, who unsuccessfully prosecuted Simpson for
the 1994 murders and was reporting for "Entertainment Tonight." A
helicopter television crew followed Simpson's vehicle leaving the
court, strangely reminiscent of the slow-speed chase in which he
once fled police in a white Ford Bronco.

Simpson, 60, flew home to Miami later Wednesday in a spectacle
just as surreal. US Airways emptied a plane so he could board first
with Galanter and his girlfriend, Christine Prody.

Simpson sat in seat 4D, an aisle seat in economy class.
Passengers who boarded behind him took pictures with cell phones
and cameras. He nodded and smiled as they passed.

He pulled a white visor over his eyes shortly after takeoff and
slept almost the entire flight. Upon landing, he stood and gave
Galanter, who had been sitting across the aisle, a big hug.

After leaving the plane, Simpson walked silently past dozens of members of the local and national media, holding up a garment bag to try to shield himself. Simpson left in a Ford Excursion someone else was driving.

Prody, who left the plane five minutes before he did, wore a cap of Simpson's alma mater, USC. Asked how Simpson was doing, she replied, "He's fine."

Simpson was arrested Sunday after a collector reported a group of armed men charged into a hotel room at the Palace Station casino and took several items.

The Heisman Trophy winner spent three nights in jail after being
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.

Four other men have been arrested on many of the same charges,
and police were still looking for another suspect.

Charles Howard Cashmore, 40, surrendered to police Wednesday and
was scheduled to appear in court Thursday morning. Cashmore brought
in items that are believed to have been taken, police said without
elaborating.

Authorities allege that the men went to the room Sept. 13 on the
pretext of brokering a deal with two longtime collectors, Beardsley
and Fromong. According to police reports, the collectors were
ordered at gunpoint to hand over several items valued at as much as
$100,000, including football game balls signed by Simpson, Joe
Montana lithographs, baseballs autographed by Pete Rose and Duke
Snider and framed awards and plaques.

Beardsley told police he expected that night that the collection
would earn $35,000 from the "client" he had never met.

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.

Authorities said Beardsley, of Burbank, Calif., was paroled in
March 2006 after serving 11 months of a two-year sentence for
stalking a woman in Riverside County.

He was arrested at his room at the Luxor hotel Wednesday for
violating parole. A California corrections spokesman said Beardsley
was required to get written approval before traveling more than 50
miles from home or leaving home for more than 24 hours.

Beardsley was held without bail pending an extradition hearing
Thursday.

Court records show Riccio also has a criminal history, including
grand larceny in Florida in 1984, when he received three years of
probation; and felony arson in 1995, in California, for which he
was sentenced to two years.

Riccio has 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.

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. Suspect Michael
McClinton, 49, of Las Vegas, surrendered to police Tuesday. Jailers
were unable to say whether Cashmore or McClinton had retained a
lawyer.

Police have not identified the remaining suspect they are
seeking.

Armour said if the other suspects who have been arrested turn on
Simpson in exchange for lighter sentences, it could help the
prosecution, but also damage their credibility. Allegations of a
setup could also cast doubt on the testimony of the memorabilia
dealers, he said.

"But at the end of the day, that may not matter as much as
whether they think he [Simpson] deserves some punishment for
something," Armour said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.