LAS VEGAS (Reuters) - O.J. Simpson, who more than a decade ago stunned much of America by beating murder charges, found himself in a Las Vegas jail on Saturday, facing the possibility of life in prison after a jury found him guilty of kidnapping and robbery in a dramatic late-night verdict.
The former football star who walked away from his “Trial of the Century” a free man amid widespread views he had stabbed and slashed his ex-wife and her friend to death, was handcuffed and led to jail on Friday night after he and a co-defendant were convicted of robbing a pair of sports memorabilia dealers at a Las Vegas hotel.
A court clerk quickly rattled off a dozen guilty verdicts against him and co-defendant Clarence “C.J.” Stewart that jurors returned after 13 straight hours of deliberations, 13 years to the day after his October 3, 1995 acquittal in Los Angeles.
Simpson’s family members were left sobbing in the front row of the courtroom and his sister, Carmelita Durio, was treated by paramedics after collapsing.
Clark County District Court Judge Jackie Glass summarily rejected requests by lawyers for Simpson, 61, and Stewart, 54, that they be allowed to remain free until the December 5 sentencing.
Both men, who were found guilty of conspiracy, burglary, kidnapping, robbery and assault, face mandatory minimum penalties of five years in prison but could end up with life terms.
While Friday’s courtroom scene was emotional, it did not grip America and attract the millions of viewers who watched live in 1995 when Simpson was acquitted of the murders of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman.
On Saturday, Ron Goldman’s father, Fred Goldman, told CNN, “We’re absolutely thrilled to see that the potential is that he could spend the rest of his life in jail where that ... belongs.”
The Brown family on Saturday issued a terse statement asking for privacy.
In contrast to the murder case which riveted much of the world, divided Americans sharply along racial lines and ushered in a new age of celebrity journalism, Simpson’s three-week Las Vegas trial generated few screaming headlines and none of the circus-like atmosphere.
But prosecutors told jurors during opening statements that the armed confrontation at the Palace Station hotel and casino grew out of grudges Simpson had nursed since his murder trial and civil case, and suggested that they could right a wrong by convicting him.
“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,” prosecutor Christopher Owens said at the time.
Witnesses said the former star athlete once known as “The Juice” and five sidekicks stormed into Room 1203 of the Palace Station and held sports memorabilia dealers Bruce Fromong and Alfred Beardsley at gunpoint, making off with thousands of dollars in collectibles.
Defense lawyers argued that much of the property belonged to Simpson and that he wasn’t aware that two of his cohorts were carrying guns. Four of Simpson’s accomplices that day agreed to plead guilty and testified against him at the three-week trial.
On June 12, 1995, Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman were found stabbed and slashed to death.
Simpson was quickly charged and after a trial that lasted for more than a year was acquitted on October 3, 1995.
A civil court jury later found Simpson liable for the deaths and ordered him to pay $33.5 million in damages to the victims’ families, a judgment that remains largely unpaid.
Additional reporting by Bernie Woodall and Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Eric Walsh