At Simpson trial, defense focuses on Riccio's recording
LAS VEGAS -- Jurors who have been told to refrain from judging O.J. Simpson on his past heard about a recording Thursday of a police employee exulting: "This is great. ... California can't get him. ... Now we'll be able to."Police detective Andy Caldwell conceded the statement referring to Simpson's 1995 murder acquittal was made as a team of officers examined a casino hotel room where Simpson is accused of having led a kidnapping and armed robbery. Caldwell said the comment came from a civilian employee of the police department, not a sworn officer. The statement was read to him by defense lawyers from a transcript of comments picked up on a digital recorder that had been secretly placed by Thomas Riccio. It was Riccio who had arranged a meeting in the hotel room between Simpson and two sports memorabilia dealers that escalated into a confrontation last year. Riccio testified later Thursday that a plan to recover the former football star's personal property worked perfectly "until the gun came out." "They were giving it back," Riccio said of the dealers. "There was no reason for the gun to come out." Simpson and co-defendant Clarence "C.J." Stewart have pleaded not guilty to charges of kidnapping, armed robbery, coercion and assault with a deadly weapon. Four former co-defendants have agreed to testify. Simpson has said he didn't ask anyone to bring guns and that he didn't know anyone in the room was armed. Stewart maintains he relied on Simpson's assurances that he was only going to recover some personal property. Simpson's lawyer, Yale Galanter, pressed Caldwell on the recorded statement that referred to getting Simpson. He asked if police were conducting "what's supposed to be an unbiased investigation." Caldwell said they were. "And they're prejudging him; they want to get Mr. Simpson?" Galanter asked. "I can't say what someone else is thinking," Caldwell said. When prosecutor Chris Owens took over questioning Caldwell, he asked how the detective researched ownership of the items taken from the room. Caldwell tried to say he contacted a lawyer for Fred Goldman, the father of Ronald Goldman, who was slain along with Simpson's ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson in 1994. Galanter quickly objected, and Caldwell was barred from continuing. Riccio, a California collectibles dealer, testified that he hoped to make some money brokering a deal between Simpson and two memorabilia dealers offering a cache of Simpson mementos for sale, Arthur Beardsley and Bruce Fromong. Riccio acknowledged he set up a meeting after Beardsley asked him to become involved. He said Beardsley told him not to tell Simpson, but he immediately did. "O.J. said, 'This is personal stuff that was stolen from my house years ago. I want to get it back,' " Riccio said. Riccio said the plan to confront Beardsley and Fromong and retrieve the items went according to plan, until a weapon was displayed. "Everything was perfect until the gun came out," he said. In the afternoon, jurors donned headphones to listen to Riccio's recordings of conversations with Simpson before the event. Riccio was heard telling Simpson he had rented a $39-a-night hotel room for the meeting with the dealers and was "90 percent sure they're gonna back off." But he added, "Who knows what's gonna happen." In the recordings played so far for the jury there was no mention of guns being involved. After morning testimony ended, a 49-year-old woman was detained when she approached Stewart, apparently seeking an autograph. Authorities said the woman was not arrested. The jury had already left the room.
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press
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