LAS VEGAS (Reuters) - O.J. Simpson stormed into a Las Vegas hotel room with five men, shouting about his "stolen stuff," then had his accomplices cram 800 memorabilia items into pillow cases and haul them away, a sports dealer told a court on Monday as Simpson's kidnap and robbery trial opened.
Bruce Fromong, the first witness to testify in a case that could send Simpson to prison for life, said he was expecting to meet a memorabilia buyer at the Palace Station hotel and casino in September 2007 when the former "Trial of the Century" defendant and his sidekicks instead burst into the 12th-floor room.
Fromong said Simpson was hurling angry accusations at him and a second sports dealer, Alfred Beardsley. One of Simpson's cohorts was pointing a gun, Fromong said, and another had a firearm sticking out of his pants.
"When (Simpson) first came through the door he stopped, then he proceeded into the room and started hollering at everyone," said Fromong, who has known Simpson since before the infamous Los Angeles murder trial and helped sell memorabilia.
"He was just yelling about how this is his stuff, how could you steal my stuff, I thought you were an OK guy, how could you steal my s---," Fromong said. "He said: 'Don't let anybody leave this room, nobody gets out of here.' "
Under questioning by a defense lawyer, Fromong became tearful as he described himself as once Simpson's "best friend" who had his feelings hurt by the hotel room confrontation.
Simpson sat stone-faced at the defense table as the sports memorabilia dealer sniffled and dabbed his eyes.
Fromong conceded under cross-examination that Simpson, who along with co-defendant Charles "CJ" Stewart faces a dozen criminal charges, did not have a gun in the hotel room and never struck or menaced him physically.
Earlier in the day, prosecutor Christopher Owens told jurors during his opening statement that the Las Vegas incident was born out of grudges Simpson has nursed since his murder trial and civil case more than a decade ago.
Simpson's ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ron Goldman were stabbed and slashed to death on June 12, 1994 and Simpson's year-long murder trial transfixed much of the world. A Los Angeles jury cleared Simpson of the charges
A civil court jury later found Simpson responsible for the deaths and ordered him to pay $33.5 million in damages to the victims' families, a judgment that remains largely unpaid.
Owens seemed to invoke the Los Angeles case when he urged jurors to ultimately convict Simpson, 61, and Stewart, 54.
"Ladies and gentlemen you are the jurors in this case and the final story is going to be told by you," Owens told the nine-woman, three-man panel. "You will be able to write that final chapter, the chapter of arrogance and hypocrisy and that will be the true verdict. The verdict you can feel good about."
Defense attorney Yale Galanter began his opening remarks by taking umbrage at that suggestion, reminding the jury that District Court Judge Jackie Glass has told them not to be influenced by Simpson's murder case.
"This case, as Judge Glass has instructed you so many times I have lost count, is not about what occurred in California," Galanter said. "This is not about writing a book and writing a last chapter about Mr. Simpson and his life nor should it be."
Of the six original defendants in the Las Vegas case, four have agreed to plead guilty and testify against Simpson.
Editing by Cynthia Osterman