O.J. headed for prison

Published 11:56 am Sunday, December 7, 2008

LAS VEGAS — In the harsh light of the morning after his sentencing, O.J. Simpson’s future was clear Saturday. His new home will be a prison cell in the Nevada desert with his door to freedom hinging on an appeal of a trial that his lawyers say was filled with errors.

‘‘This is not a frivolous appeal,’’ Yale Galanter, Simpson’s lawyer, said. ‘‘There were some grave errors made by Judge (Jackie) Glass, and we think they are strong enough to overturn the conviction. We also think we have a shot at bail.’’

Galanter has cited six initial issues for appeal. The most significant concern could be the exclusion of blacks from the jury selection. The defense also will protest the judge allowing comments about Simpson’s 1994 Los Angeles murder case in which he was acquitted of killing his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ron Goldman.

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On Saturday, Simpson remained at the Clark County jail where he has been housed since his conviction on Oct. 3, along with co-defendant Clarence ‘‘C.J.’’ Stewart. The two men were found guilty of 12 criminal charges, including kidnapping, armed robbery and assault with a deadly weapon.

Simpson was sentenced Friday to 9 to 33 years in prison. Stewart got 7 1/2 to 27 years.

Michael Shapiro, a New York defense lawyer who has followed the Las Vegas case, said Simpson’s case may get extra attention from Nevada Supreme Court, the state’s only appellate court.

‘‘Superimposed over all of it is that he’s O.J. He’s not Joe Schmo,’’ Shapiro said. The justices also could be influenced by Simpson’s murder trial, he said, calling it ‘‘the 800-pound gorilla in the room.’’

Before any appeal winds its way to the Nevada Supreme Court, Simpson faces years in prison for a September 2007 confrontation with two sports memorabilia dealers over collectibles that Simpson insisted were stolen from him.

‘‘Prison will be very taxing on him,’’ Galanter said. At 61, Simpson is not in great health, he said.

‘‘He’ll be treated like every other inmate,’’ said Howard Skolnik, director of the Nevada Department of Corrections. ‘‘The only issue might be whether we have to provide a little more protective custody because of his notoriety, at least at the start.’’

Gabriel Grasso, another Simpson lawyer, anticipated that Simpson would find friends in prison, adding that Simpson had been buying snacks for fellow inmates at the Clark County jail.

‘‘I think when he does meet people in jail, they’re going to treat him well because he treats them well,’’ Grasso said.

Simpson could be moved within a week to High Desert State Prison, about 45 miles northwest of Las Vegas, where a 2004 inmate brawl killed one inmate and wounded 18 others. Skolnik said it was unlikely he would go to Nevada’s one maximum security facility because he was not under a life sentence. Nevada has six medium security prisons.

Wherever he winds up, the accommodations will be spartan.

Skolnik acknowledged that adjusting to prison may be difficult for a man who once lived the high life as a football star, movie actor and advertising pitchman.

Prison cells average 78 square feet. Each cell has a narrow window about four inches wide and 30 inches long. Most have two beds, a commode, a sink, a shelf and a plastic glass window on the door that allows guards to peer inside.

He won’t have much freedom at meal time either. The state allocates $2.18 for meals per day per inmate, and men get a standard 2,800-calorie diet. Hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken and pizza are among the most popular menu items, Skolnik said.

When Simpson is issued a number, clothing, bedding, toiletries and tennis shoes, he’ll be one of about 13,000 state prison inmates.

But undoubtedly he will be the most famous prisoner in the yard.