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Gaming Guru

Melissa Arseniuk

O.J. Simpson jurors taken on secret field trip to Palace Station

19 September 2008

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Jurors this morning were taken on a secret field trip to Palace Station where they were given a firsthand look at the room where the confrontation between O.J. Simpson and two sports memorabilia dealers took place last year.

Along with one of the six men who accompanied Simpson on Sept. 13, 2007, Clarence "C.J." Stewart, the former NFL star now faces a dozen robbery, weapons and kidnapping-related offenses. The trial began Monday and is expected to last another four weeks.

The 18-member group of 12 jurors and six alternate jurors toured the modest $35-a-night room two at a time, beginning at 7:45 a.m. Most of the jurors spent less than a minute in the room. According to a reporter from the Las Vegas Review-Journal who was chosen to go on the tour, alternate juror No. 5 used the opportunity to reach on top of the armoire where collectibles dealer Thomas Riccio left his recording device and Juror No. 12 paced out distances.

The group was joined by Judge Jackie Glass, attorneys for the prosecution and defense and court marshals. Simpson did not take the tour, but his co-accused, Clarence "C.J." Stewart, revisited the scene this morning with attorneys from the prosecution and the defense, all in one group.

Room 1203 in the casino's courtyard was quiet and dark, its door locked tight last Saturday as the hotel marked the one-year anniversary of the alleged robbery.

Though rooms in the two-story building were sold-out, room 1203 remained vacant that night.

Court spokesman, Michael Sommermeyer, said the tour was arranged late Thursday afternoon after Judge Glass wasn't satisfied after viewing a replica room that had been constructed in the basement of the Regional Justice Center. District Attorney David Roger had a 23-foot-by-14-foot room replica built in the courthouse basement

"Once she went down and saw the mock-up room, she wasn't impressed with it," Sommermeyer said.

The judge reconsidered her options and decided to send the jury to see the actual room where the confrontation took place.

"She wanted the jurors to see the room," Sommermeyer said.

The excursion was kept secret from reporters. Just one videographer, photographer and journalist were invited to participate.

The decision to keep the tour from the press infuriated members of the local and national media. The Associated Press contacted their attorneys and has called the clandestine move "illegal."

Collectibles dealer to continue testimony in fifth day of O.J. Simpson trial

Steve Marcus Thomas Riccio testifies during O.J. Simpson's trial in Las Vegas, Thursday, Sept. 18, 2008. Simpson faces 12 charges, including felony kidnapping, armed robbery and conspiracy. The first week of the trial wraps up today with further testimony from the animated collectibles dealer who arranged the now-notorious meeting between two other memorabilia dealers, Bruce Fromong and Alfred Beardsley, and Simpson in a Palace Station hotel room last year.

Thomas Riccio was called to the witness stand Thursday and will return today to continue his deposition.

Riccio used an audio recorder to secretly record the six-minute confrontation in the hotel room, as well as several other conversations he had before and after the run-in occurred.

The device also captured audio of Metro Police crime scene analysts as they processed evidence they found in the hotel room.

Rather than turning the recording over to police after the alleged robbery, Riccio turned around and sold it to the gossip Web site, TMZ, for more than $100,000.

Those recordings are now at the center of the case against the former NFL star.

Riccio told the court on Thursday that Beardsley contacted him in 2007 about a collection of stolen Simpson memorabilia that he had for sale. Riccio later told him that he had found a buyer for the merchandise and arranged to meet in Las Vegas to do the sale.

Meanwhile, Riccio said he contacted Simpson, who was eager to reclaim the items that he said had been stolen from him years before. The two developed a plan to recover the items and Riccio said Simpson agreed to sign 200 copies of his book, "If I Did It," in return for Riccio's services.

Assisted by audio recordings he took during planning meetings, Riccio explained how he met with Simpson and the other men on Sept. 13, 2007, to develop an action plan for the reconnaissance mission later that night.

He said guns were never part of that scheme, but two men who accompanied Simpson that day, Walter Alexander and Michael McClinton, said Simpson asked them to bring firearms. Both men have signed plea bargains with prosecutors and will testify against the accused.

Riccio said everything went as planned until Fromong refused to hand over his cell phone and someone pulled a gun. When that happened, he said the generally cooperative mood changed and things got ugly.

Jurors heard Thursday two of the nine recordings police and FBI analysts recovered from Riccio's recorder. They will likely hear more audio footage today as prosecutors continue to build their case against both defendants.

Riccio has been given immunity from prosecution in return for his testimony but has been criticized for his ongoing efforts to capitalize on the controversy, including offering to alter his testimony for money.

Simpson's trial is expected to last another four weeks.