AFP - Disgraced former American football star O.J. Simpson was sentenced Friday to at least 15 years in prison for armed robbery and kidnapping during a 2007 raid on a Las Vegas hotel room.
Earlier with tears in his eyes, Simpson, 61, who will not be eligible for parole for some five years, had apologized for the September 2007 robbery on the Palace Station hotel.
"I stand before you today, sorry, somewhat confused," Simpson told judge Jackie Glass.
"I did not know that I was doing anything illegal. I thought that I was confronting friends and retrieving my property. So I am sorry. I am sorry for all of it," Simpson said, his voice trembling as he fought back tears.
His co-accused Charles Stewart, 54, was also sentenced to 15 years for the same charges as emotional friends and relatives of both men looked on from the public gallery.
Simpson’s October 3 conviction on 12 charges came 13 years to the day after he was acquitted in his controversial 1995 trial of murdering his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend, Ron Goldman.
Earlier Friday, looking nervous and dressed in a blue prison uniform, Simpson listened intently as his lawyer Yale Galanter asked Glass not to imprison his client. The judge denied that request but did dismiss two charges against him.
Simpson was convicted for his role in the 2007 raid in which he and five friends stormed the Las Vegas hotel, two of them carrying arms, and robbed two dealers of a trove of sports memorabilia.
Addressing the court for the first time in the trial, Simpson said he had been trying to get back personal items which had been stolen from his family after years of frustration at seeing his property end up for sale on the Internet.
"Property that over the years we have seen being sold on the Internet, and we have seen pictures of ours that were stolen from our home going into the tabloids," he said.
"This is the first time I had an opportunity to catch the guys red-handed who had been stealing from my family. I knew these guys."
He said among the items he had been looking for was a picture of his son in the Oval Office and his daughter's mother's wedding ring.
Lawyers for both Simpson and Stewart, who have been in custody since their convictions, have vowed to appeal the convictions.
Simpson's team took issue with the jury selection which left no African-Americans on the panel.
And they charge that judge Glass engaged in theatrics during the trial, berating attorneys and witnesses, sighing and waving her hands in disgust.
"What she did was horrible towards the defense and that really does have an impact on jurors," said David Figler, a Las Vegas criminal defense attorney not associated with the case.
"They can easily make a greatest hits of her screaming or yelling shut up or other signals to the jury."
But another Las Vegas criminal defense attorney, David Chesnoff, said Stewart may have a better case for an appeal because his lawyers had asked from the start for a separate trial to avoid being tainted by Simpson's notoriety.
"There are some issues on severance for Stewart that the Nevada Supreme Court has been sensitive to in the past," said Chesnoff, who has represented Martha Stewart and Mike Tyson among other celebrity clients.
"I saw a great deal of the trial. I didn’t see any egregious errors by the judge. She knows the rules of evidence."
One of the most famous American football players of his generation during a glittering 1970s career, Simpson was the prime suspect in the 1994 brutal murders.
Nicole, who had divorced Simpson in 1992 citing his "abusive behavior," was attacked so savagely she was almost decapitated.
Simpson, who has always vehemently denied the killings, was acquitted after the racially charged 1995 trial, in a verdict that was greeted with widespread outrage across America.
Simpson was subsequently found liable for the deaths in a 1997 civil suit and was ordered to pay damages to the victims' families totaling 33.5 million dollars. He has repeatedly said he will not pay the settlement.