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One key prosecution witness contradicted the account of another Friday, saying he used a key to admit O.J. Simpson and a group of men to a hotel room to claim Simpson’s property, denying there was a “military style invasion.”
“I had a key and I let them in,” said Thomas Riccio. “Nobody was busting the door down.”
Riccio, a memorabilia dealer who set up the hotel room meeting on Sept. 13 that led to Simpson’s arrest on robbery and other charges also said the former football star told him he never saw a gun during the confrontation.
But Riccio said he saw a man wave a gun near his face as hundreds of items were being taken from two other memorabilia dealers. He said the plan Simpson put together to retrieve the items he said were stolen from him began to “go south” when the weapon was pulled.
“O.J. made it clear to me he didn’t see a gun,” Riccio said. “I made it clear to him I did.”
Riccio’s testimony came during the second day of an evidentiary hearing to determine if Simpson, Clarence “C.J.” Stewart and Charles Ehrlich should face armed robbery, kidnapping and other charges for the Sept. 13 encounter at the Palace Station Hotel Casino.
Simpson, wearing a dark suit and white shirt, arrived for the hearing through the courthouse’s main entrance, avoiding most reporters and photographers who had been camped out at a “secure” entrance he had used the day before. He stood and chatted amiably with a uniformed court officer for several minutes before the hearing resumed.
Riccio, testifying under cross-examination by Simpson lawyer Yale Galanter, said that during several conversations following the incident Simpson never wavered from his contention that he never saw a gun.
“There’s a real good chance he didn’t see it,” Riccio said. “He was standing several feet in front of the guy that had the gun.”
Riccio’s testimony preceded the accounts of other witnesses who have said Simpson not only saw the gun but suggested firearms be brought to the room where Simpson had gone to retrieve game balls, jerseys, photos and other memorabilia he said was rightfully his.
Riccio said the plan to go to Las Vegas and retrieve the material had been under way for at least six weeks before Sept. 13.
“Never at any time in the whole six weeks did he ever mention a gun,” said Riccio.
He said memorabilia dealer Bruce Fromong’s testimony during Thursday’s first day of the hearing that Simpson and a handful of other men entered the hotel room as if they were conducting a “military style invasion” was exaggerated.
Riccio said when the group first entered the room Fromong’s demeanor was “apologetic” and he took “a scolding from Simpson” who complained loudly that the materials Fromong and fellow memorabilia dealer Alfred Beardsley had brought to the room were his.
That changed, Riccio said, when the men with Simpson began taking not only those items but Fromong’s cell phone and other things he said were his, including lithographs of football great Joe Montana and items signed by baseball stars Pete Rose and Duke Snider.
“Things went crazy,” Riccio said and the weapon was drawn.
Had the group only taken the Simpson items, Riccio speculated, the dealers might not have gone to the police.
“I don’t think we would have been here if no gun was here,” he said.
A recording Riccio made of the confrontation was played in court Thursday. On it, Simpson and others are heard screaming and swearing. Toward the end, a male voice says, “We were just robbed at gunpoint, man. We were just robbed at gunpoint by O.J. Simpson.”
The loquacious Riccio’s description of the scene inside the room at the Palace Station Hotel Casino was cinematic and at times comedic. He told of a tiny room at a low-end hotel crammed with nine men yelling and disputing the ownership of piles of memorabilia spread out on a bed.
He suggested the presence of the gun and the volatile personality of Beardsley, turned things sour.
“You called him a raving looney didn’t you?” Galanter asked.
“That’s appropriate,” Riccio said dryly. “A lot of people I know are harsher in their assessment of him.”
It was Beardsley, Riccio said, who first approached him, offering to sell what Beardsley acknowledged was stolen Simpson memorabilia.
“He came right out and said they were stolen from O.J.’s trophy room. Those were his exact words,” Riccio said.
The witness said he was hesitant to handle stolen goods so he contacted the FBI and police but they brushed him off.
“I was surprised. Zero interest, it seemed like. I was surprised and a lot disappointed,” he said of the FBI’s reaction.
Even after Simpson was arrested, Riccio said, Beardsley continued to admit the memorabilia was stolen.
“Why he never got arrested for it, I can’t answer,” he said.
Simpson, 60, and Stewart and Ehrlich, both 53, face 12 criminal charges. A conviction on the kidnapping count could result in a sentence of life in prison with the possibility of parole. An armed robbery conviction could mean mandatory prison time.
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