By Timothy Pratt
LAS VEGAS (Reuters) - O.J. Simpson, the former football star famously acquitted of murder in 1995, offered sometimes emotional testimony in a packed Las Vegas courtroom on Wednesday as he sought a new trial in the robbery case that sent him to prison five years ago.
Simpson, brought to court from a Nevada prison, testified on the third day of a week-long hearing into his claims that his then-defense attorney, Yale Galanter, mishandled the Nevada trial in 2008.
During some five hours of testimony, Simpson portrayed Galanter as a forceful presence who would not listen to other lawyers, stubbornly refused to let him testify in his own defense and never hired the team of investigators and expert witnesses he promised.
He also repeated a key theme of his defense at the 2008 trial - that when he stormed into a room at the Palace Station Hotel and Casino with five other men in September 2007, he was only hoping to recover his own stolen property being peddled by a pair of sports collectors.
"I thought this is stuff I should have, not some guy selling it in a hotel in Vegas," he said.
Simpson, 65, is serving up to 33 years for his conviction on 12 charges, including armed robbery and kidnapping, for taking thousands of dollars in memorabilia and other items from the sports dealers at gunpoint.
His current attorneys have asked a judge to throw out the conviction on the grounds that Galanter had a conflict of interest because he knew in advance that Simpson planned to confront the sports dealers at the hotel.
They also said Galanter never told Simpson that prosecutors had offered a plea deal that included a sentence of two to five years in prison. A separate appeal by Simpson of his conviction in the case was rejected by the Nevada Supreme Court in 2010.
Appearing older, grayer and heavier after five years behind bars, Simpson told the court that Galanter had advised him that his plans were legal the night before the incident.
'TRIAL OF THE CENTURY'
Simpson said Galanter told him during a dinner discussion in Las Vegas: "You have the right to get your stuff" but cautioned he could not trespass on private property.
Simpson said he told Galanter that if the suit he wore during his sensational 1990s murder trial was included among the memorabilia he planned to burn it, and Galanter responded: "You're not going to burn it, you're going to bring it to me."
Asked by his current attorney, Patricia Palm, if he thought the his plan was legal, he responded: "Yes I did. It was my stuff. I followed what I thought the law was. My lawyer told me 'You can't break into a guy's room' and I didn't break into the room. I didn't beat up anybody."
He added: "And the guys acknowledged it was my stuff, even though they claimed they didn't steal it."
Simpson repeatedly and emphatically denied from the witness stand that the use of guns was discussed ahead of the hotel room confrontation and became emotional when discussing personal property, including photos of his deceased daughter and parents, which he said were found with the collectibles.
During cross examination by prosecutor Leon Simon, Simpson conceded that the trial judge had advised him of his right to testify, regardless of Galanter's advice.
Simpson, a former star NFL running back turned TV pitch man and actor, was accused of the June 12, 1994, stabbing and slashing murders of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend, waiter Ronald Goldman.
He was acquitted in 1995 after sensational proceedings carried live gavel-to-gavel on U.S. television, dubbed the "Trial of the Century" by various media outlets.
A civil jury later found him liable for the deaths of his former spouse and Goldman in a wrongful death lawsuit, awarding their families $33.5 million in damages.
Simpson did not testify in his own defense during the murder trial but took the witness stand in the civil case.
(Writing and additional reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Cynthia Johnston, Chris Reese, David Gregorio and Cynthia Osterman)