LAS VEGAS Two key witnesses in the O.J. Simpson armed robbery trial contradicted each other Monday, one saying Simpson probably did not see guns during the confrontation and the other saying he heard someone, possibly Simpson, say: "Put the gun away."
Charles Ehrlich, the last co-defendant to strike a plea deal, said after the hotel room encounter, a depressed Simpson told him: "I'm gonna need a bail bondsman."
"I said, 'O.J., these guys had guns.' He said, 'There were no guns' He sat down and started mumbling to himself: 'Why did I tell those two guys to come along?'
"He was in denial," Ehrlich said.
Ehrlich took the witness stand after Thomas Riccio, the middleman who arranged the meeting to reclaim Simpson memorabilia from two dealers, ended three days on testimony by disclosing he was paid $210,000 by media outlets before he gave police recordings of the confrontation.
In cross-examination of Riccio, Simpson's lawyer, Yale Galanter, laid out Simpson's defense that the former football star was not aware guns were involved and did not intend to profit when he and a group of men confronted the two dealers over memorabilia. Instead Simpson just wanted to retrieve personal mementos he said had been stolen from him.
"Did he ever say he wanted to sell it?" asked Galanter.
"No," said Riccio, who added that Simpson wanted the items as "heirlooms" to give to his children.
Riccio, who also deals in memorabilia, said he arranged the Sept. 13, 2007, meeting and wanted to make as much money as he could before giving police the recorder he had hidden in the room. That delay caused problems in authenticating the recordings, and FBI experts said they can't be sure they weren't altered.
Riccio said he was paid $150,000 by the gossip site TMZ, $25,000 by "Entertainment Tonight" $20,000 by a sponsor of Howard Stern's radio show and $15,000 by ABC under the guise of buying a photo of Riccio and Simpson.
Riccio also said he made about $20,000 from a book he wrote about the events.
Galanter started his cross-examination, asking Riccio, "Has O.J. Simpson ever asked you to lie about the events that occurred at the Palace Station Hotel?"
"No," Riccio replied.
Riccio, who was given immunity from prosecution, said Simpson never mentioned weapons in advance and told him repeatedly he had not seen a gun in the room.
"There is a chance he didn't," said Riccio. "I wouldn't bet my life either way."
Under questioning by prosecutor Chris Owens, Riccio acknowledged that it seemed like Simpson was trying to convince him there hadn't been a gun in the room.
Riccio said Simpson at one point was speaking to him and looking at him while another man in the cramped hotel room was "waving" a handgun.
"And where was the gun?" Owens asked.
"Right alongside my ear, right here," Riccio said motioning next to his head.
Ehrlich, who said he had forged a close friendship with Simpson over eight years in Florida, said he came to Las Vegas to meet him and found himself caught up in the planned confrontation.
When they arrived at the room he said he saw a man pull out a black gun that was "very noticeable."
Prosecutor David Roger had him stand and hold out his hand, imitating how the man held the gun.
"Someone said, 'Put the gun away,"' he testified.
"Who said it?" asked Roger.
"I believe it was Mr. Simpson," he said. "Or it was, 'Put that away."'
Riccio said he arranged the meeting that led to armed robbery and kidnap charges against Simpson and co-defendant Clarence "C.J." Stewart. Both men have pleaded not guilty. Each faces prison if convicted.
Riccio said he first went to authorities after one of the dealers, Alfred Beardsley, told him he was selling stolen family photographs and other Simpson items, but two police departments and the FBI in Los Angeles wanted no part of it.
Riccio then suggested a sting be conducted in Los Angeles but Simpson refused, saying his lawyers objected.
The prosecution has suggested that was because the items might be seized by Fred Goldman, father of Ronald Goldman who was slain along with Simpson's ex-wife, Nicole, in 1994. Although Simpson was acquitted of murder, Goldman won a judgment against Simpson in civil court which he has been unable to fully collect.