LAS VEGAS - A former golfing buddy of O.J. Simpson on Thursday appealed to overturn his conviction in an armed hotel room heist, saying he suffered "spillover prejudice" from being tried with the former NFL football star.
Clarence (C.J.) Stewart, 55, also said in his appeal to the Nevada Supreme Court that crucial audio recordings were improperly admitted as evidence and that the jury foreman committed misconduct by withholding his bias toward Simpson until after the pair were convicted and sentenced.
"From the beginning of trial until its conclusion, the jury was improperly presented with 'prejudicial,' 'tainted' and 'unreliable' evidence," Stewart's lawyer Brent Bryson argued. "The cumulative error that infected this trial warrants reversal of these convictions."
Stewart, Simpson and four other men were accused of holding two sports collectibles pedlars at gunpoint in a Las Vegas hotel room in September 2007 and taking property that Simpson claimed had been stolen from him. Stewart and Simpson were found guilty Oct. 3 of all 12 charges against them, including kidnapping, armed robbery, conspiracy and assault with a deadly weapon.
Stewart was sentenced to 7 1/2 to 27 years in state prison, and Simpson got nine to 33 years. The other co-defendants accepted plea deals, testified against Simpson and Stewart, and received probation.
Stewart's lawyers had argued before, during and after the trial that Simpson's notoriety and conflicts between the two men's defence theories required Stewart to be tried separately.
"Simpson's infamous history is a matter of public debate," Bryson said in the appeal. "To much of the world, he is the exemplar of the wrongfully acquitted. Stewart was the victim of spillover prejudice."
Bryson referred to Simpson's acquittal in the 1994 slayings in Los Angeles of Simpson's ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ronald Goldman. Simpson was found liable in a 1997 civil court judgment and ordered to pay $33.5 million to the victims' estates.
Bryson said the most significant issue in his appeal was the judge's decision to admit recordings of a conversation between Simpson and others planning the confrontation and another recording made in the room by the man who arranged the meeting.
Bryson said the recordings, which were sold to a celebrity gossip website before being turned over to police, could have been manipulated and that no witness authenticated them in court.
"But that appears to be what the jurors hung their hat on: the recordings," Bryson said.
Stewart's appeal also alleged bias and inconsistencies by jury foreman Paul Connelly in his pretrial juror questionnaire and comments made after the verdict.
"Some people think (Simpson) should have been given life 13 years ago," Bryson quoted Connelly as saying after the trial. "That was my opinion, but I think that's reserved for the court to decide."
Connelly did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.
Simpson, 61, filed an appeal separately Tuesday in which his lawyers cited insufficient evidence for conviction and improper exclusion of blacks from the jury. Stewart's appeal Thursday raised several of the same issues. Both defendants accused Clark County District Court Judge Jackie Glass of judicial misconduct and bias against defence lawyers.
A clerk for Glass said the judge could not comment. The judge has denied requests for a new trial, but threw out two coercion charges against both men before the sentencing on Dec. 5.
A spokesman for Clark County District Attorney David Roger said he was confident the convictions would stand.
On the Net:
Nevada Supreme Court: http://www.nevadajudiciary.us/index.php/supremecourt.html