A 57-year-old man pleaded no contest Thursday to a felony count of receiving stolen property — USC’s copy of O.J. Simpson’s 1968 Heisman Trophy — which was taken during a campus burglary in 1994.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Douglas Sortino immediately sentenced Lewis Eugene Starks Jr. to three years probation and gave him credit for less than a week already served in custody, said Deputy District Attorney Casey Higgins.
The trophy was ordered to be returned to USC for final disposition, according to the prosecutor.
The trophy had been taken along with Simpson’s football jersey and a plaque underneath the jersey during a July 28, 1994, burglary at USC’s Heritage Hall, in which display cases were dismantled, authorities said.
A replica trophy was subsequently made for USC following the burglary, which occurred about 1 1/2 months after Simpson’s ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and Ronald Goldman, were killed outside her Brentwood condominium.
At a hearing in January in which Starks was ordered to stand trial, Los Angeles police Detective Donald Hrycyk testified that he went to USC last year after university officials were contacted by Starks, who brought the trophy and the plaque that had been underneath Simpson’s jersey to the campus and asked to have the trophy authenticated.
“He wanted to see if he could get a finder’s fee or reward,” Hrycyk said.
The detective testified that Starks said he had acquired the trophy from a friend whom he would not identify who had gotten it from the person involved in the burglary and that Starks said he had removed the name plate off the trophy’s wooden base so it could not be identified if his house was searched by police.
Starks said he had the items since about 1995 or 1996, according to the detective.
The trophy — which was one given to the university and not the one awarded to Simpson himself — was recovered last December by Los Angeles police and was brought to the downtown Los Angeles courtroom for the hearing. The detective said a representative from the Heisman Trust authenticated the trophy.
Under cross-examination, the detective said a USC representative told him that Starks was looking for a reward but that Starks said he would probably give it up if there was no reward for the trophy.
Simpson was arrested and tried for the June 12, 1994, killings, of his ex-wife and Goldman, but was acquitted in 1995 by a Los Angeles Superior Court jury in what was dubbed the “trial of the century.”
Simpson — who maintained that he didn’t commit the crime — was eventually ordered to pay a $33.5 million wrongful death judgment to Goldman’s biological parents and his ex-wife’s estate after a civil trial in Santa Monica.
Simpson reportedly sold his own copy of the Heisman for about $255,500 to help defray court costs.
In October 2008, the former football hero-turned-actor/sportscaster was convicted in Las Vegas of a dozen charges, including robbery and kidnapping, stemming from what he contended was an effort to retrieve memorabilia from his football career. He remains behind bars in Nevada.
—City News Service
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