LAS VEGAS (AP) – Cutting deals with co-defendants to testify against O.J. Simpson could undercut prosecutors if they ever need to convince a jury the former football star is guilty of serious crimes, legal experts said yesterday.

But that could happen only if the case makes it past a preliminary hearing next week before a judge whose main concern will be what the evidence is rather than where it came from. Of the five men charged with Simpson in a hotel-room confrontation with sports memorabilia dealers, three have agreed to plead guilty and testify against him.

“This is a basic prosecution tactic that is very effective,” said Jody Armour, a criminal law professor at the University of Southern California. “Its greatest weakness is that the jury is going to hear from the defense that the only reason they’re testifying is because they cut a deal that can benefit them.”

Simpson co-defendant Michael McClinton told a judge yesterday that he will plead guilty Nov. 13 to robbery and conspiracy to commit robbery. The 49-year-old Las Vegas man could end up being the star witness.

McClinton’s lawyer said he can testify that Simpson asked him to bring guns to a room at a Las Vegas casino hotel to get items that Simpson said was his. That would contradict Simpson’s claim that no guns were involved.

McClinton wielded a gun and acted like a police officer Sept. 13 when Simpson and the others allegedly robbed collectibles dealers Bruce Fromong and Alfred Beardsley, according to police reports. McClinton’s lawyer said his client worked as a security guard and had a concealed weapons permit.

Authorities say memorabilia taken included football game balls signed by Simpson, Joe Montana lithographs, baseballs autographed by Pete Rose and Duke Snider, photos of Simpson with the Heisman Trophy, and framed awards and plaques, together valued at as much as $100,000, according to police reports.

New York defense lawyer Michael Shapiro called prosecution offers of plea deals and immunity “a standard way of building your case.”

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