Steve Marcus / AP
O.J. Simpson, left, confers with defense team member Dustin Marcello during an evidentiary hearing in Clark County District Court in Las Vegas on Tuesday.
Back for a second day of his hearing in Las Vegas, former football great O.J. Simpson entered the courtroom shackled on Tuesday, hoping to prove to a judge that his former lawyer botched the 2008 case that landed him in prison.
The Heisman Trophy winner and one-time Hollywood actor, now graying and stocky at 65 years old, is expected to be in court through Friday for the hearing. Simpson is alleging that his ex-lawyer, Yale Galanter, gave him bad advice that resulted in the 2008 robbery conviction that he is currently serving a 9 to 33-year sentence for.
Clad in his blue prison jumpsuit, flanked by new lawyers now, Simpson was granted one wish on Tuesday: The judge agreed when asked by Simpson's lawyers to free one of hands from his handcuffs so he could take notes and drink water in the courtroom. Shackles remained on his ankles.
But Simpson's bigger request of Clark County District Judge Linda Marie Bell — to let him be a free man on the basis that he had improper legal representation — may not be so easily granted. To try to sway the judge to free him, Simpson could testify as early as Wednesday.
Simpson was found guilty of robbing two sports memorabilia dealers at gunpoint in 2007 in a Las Vegas hotel room, an unexpected turn of events in the life of a football legend who was acquitted 12 years before of murdering his wife and her friend.
Simpson testified once in his civil trial in 1995, but this will be the first time he is testifying in a criminal case — albeit just a hearing — and experts say he has little choice.
"He has to. He's making certain allegations about communications with his lawyer, and why he did and did not do things, and that he didn't get a plea offer, and that he thought it was OK to go to the hotel room and do these things" said Laurie Levenson, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles who was a commentator during Simpson's 1995 trial and has observed his Las Vegas trial. "If he wants to succeed on his petition, he has to do it."
Simpson is now claiming his ex-lawyer not only rejected defense moves that could have helped him, but Galenter even met with him the night before the robbery and approved of it. Of course, it's his word against Galanter's, who is scheduled to testify Friday.
This type of a proceeding, known as a writ of habeas corpus and often called a "Hail Mary motion," is often attempted by people behind bars, but rarely succeeds, Levenson said.
"Less than one percent of the people who file these succeed. Everybody sitting in prison wants out, and this is how they try to get out. Many of them claim their lawyers have been ineffective," she said. "He may have a good case, but it's going to come down to whether the judge believes him or believes his lawyer."
Whether Simpson testifying on his behalf will help or hurt his case has yet to be seen. In 1995, after he was acquitted in Los Angeles of murder his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman, he testified for the first and only time in a subsequent civil case in which he was found liable for civil damages of $33.5 million.
"People may not remember that. He wasn't a very good witness," Levenson said. "He has a range of issues, from anger management to the like."
A previous appeal by Simpson was turned down in 2010. If he stays in prison, he would be eligible for parole when he is 70.
On Monday, a friend of Simpson's testified that Galanter was "dismissive" of concerns Simpson voiced about how the 2008 trial was going.
“Mr. Simpson was ... somewhat intimidated by Mr. Galanter. He was dominated by him. He tended not to question what he told him,” said James Barnett, a Las Vegas businessman.