O.J. Simpson Granted Parole
"I basically have spent a conflict-free life," the disgraced former NFL star said during his televised hearing on Thursday.
O.J. Simpson was granted parole Thursday after more than eight years in prison for a Las Vegas hotel heist, successfully making his case in a nationally televised hearing that reflected America's enduring fascination with the former football star. The board decided unanimously that the 70-year-old former football, TV and movie star will be released in October after serving his minimum term for armed robbery and assault with a weapon.
Simpson, 70, could be a free man as early as Oct. 1. By then, he will have served the minimum of his nine- to 33-year armed-robbery sentence for a bungled attempt to snatch sports memorabilia and other mementos he claimed had been stolen from him.
He got the four votes he needed from the parole commissioners who heard his case. In agreeing to release him, they cited his lack of a prior conviction, the low risk he might commit another crime, his community support and his release plans.
During the more than hourlong hearing, Simpson forcefully insisted — as he has all along — that he was only trying to retrieve items that belonged to him and never meant to hurt anyone. He said he never pointed a gun at anyone nor made any threats during the crime. After the decision, Simpson responded emotionally, saying, "Thank you, thank you, thank you."
Four parole commissioners in Carson City questioned Simpson by videoconference from the Lovelock Correctional Center in rural Nevada. He has been held there since he was convicted in 2008. The conviction came 13 years to the day after he was acquitted of murder in 1995 in the deaths of his ex-wife and her friend in Los Angeles.
The gray-haired former football star was looking trimmer than he had in recent years when he walked briskly into the hearing room, dressed in jeans, a light-blue prison-issue shirt and sneakers. He laughed at one point as the parole board chairwoman mistakenly gave his age as 90.
Simpson said he never pointed a gun at anyone nor made any threats during the crime that put him in prison, and he forcefully insisted that nearly all the memorabilia he saw in two dealers' hotel room belonged to him.
"In no way, shape or form did I wish them any harm," he added, saying he later made amends with those in the room.
Before the hearing concluded, one of the dealers Simpson robbed, Bruce Fromong, said the former football great never pointed a gun at him during the confrontation, adding that it was one of the men with him who did so. Fromong said Simpson deserved to be released.
"He is a good man. He made a mistake," Fromong said, adding the two remain friends.
Simpson's eldest child, 48-year-old Arnelle Simpson, also testified on his behalf, saying her father is not perfect but realizes what a mistake he made and has spent years paying for it.
"We just want him to come home, we really do," she said.
He said he has spent his time in prison mentoring fellow inmates, often keeping others out of trouble, and believes he has become a better person during his time behind bars. He said he took an alternative-to-violence course in prison.
"I've done my time," he said. "I've done it as well and respectfully as I think anybody can."
The Hall of Fame athlete's chances of winning release were considered good ahead of the hearing, given similar cases and Simpson's model behavior behind bars.
Asked if he was confident he could stay out of trouble if he's released, Simpson replied that he learned much during an alternative-to-violence course he took in prison and that in any case he has always gotten along well with people.
"I had basically spent a conflict-free life," he said — a remark that lit up social media with scornful and sarcastic comments given the murder case and a raft of allegations he abused his wife.
In a final statement to the board he apologized again.
"I'm sorry it happened, I'm sorry, Nevada," he said. "I thought I was glad to get my stuff back, but it just wasn't worth it. It wasn't worth it and I'm sorry."
His defenders had argued, too, that his sentence was out of proportion to the crime and that he was being punished for the two murders he was acquitted of during his 1995 "Trial of the Century" in Los Angeles, the stabbings of ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman.
Reflecting America's enduring fascination with Simpson, several major TV networks and cable channels — including ABC, NBC, CNN, Fox, MSNBC and ESPN — carried the proceedings live, just as some of them did two decades ago during the Ford Bronco chase that ended in Simpson's arrest, and again when the jury in the murder case came back with its verdict.
Simpson said most of the objects taken in the hotel heist were personal property, including letters from celebrities, family photos, certificates of accomplishment and more. Items that were not his, including autographed baseballs, were taken by others in the rush to get out of the room, he said.
He added he realizes he made a terrible mistake bringing along two people with guns, adding if he had gone to the room by himself he could have resolved the matter without a problem.
Simpson said if released he plans to return to Florida, where he was living before his incarceration.
"I could easily stay in Nevada, but I don't think you guys want me here," he joked at one point.
"No comment, sir," one of the parole board members said.
Inmate No. 1027820 made his plea for freedom in a stark hearing room at the Lovelock Correctional Center in rural Nevada as four parole commissioners in Carson City, a two-hour drive away, questioned him via video. The board was expected to make its decision later in the day.
An electrifying running back dubbed "The Juice," Simpson won the Heisman Trophy as the nation's best college football player in 1968 and went on to become one of the NFL's all-time greats.
The handsome and charismatic athlete was also a Monday Night Football commentator, sprinted through airports in Hertz rental-car commercials and built a Hollywood career with roles in the Naked Gun comedies and other movies.
All of that came crashing down with his arrest in the 1994 slayings and his subsequent 1995 trial, a gavel-to-gavel live-TV sensation that transfixed viewers with its testimony about the bloody glove that didn't fit and stirred furious debate over racist police, celebrity justice and cameras in the courtroom.
Last year, the case proved to be compelling TV all over again with the ESPN documentary O.J.: Made in America and the award-winning FX miniseries The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story.
In 1997, Simpson was found liable in civil court for the two killings and ordered to pay $33.5 million to survivors, including his children and the Goldman family.
Then a decade later, he and five accomplices — two with guns — stormed a hotel room and seized photos, plaques and signed balls, some of which never belonged to Simpson, from two sports memorabilia dealers. Simpson was convicted in 2008, and the long prison sentence brought a measure of satisfaction to some of those who thought he got away with murder.
One of the dealers robbed, Bruce Fromong, planned to attend the parole hearing, saying he and Simpson had made amends and that he intended to speak in favor of release.
A Goldman family spokesman said Goldman's father and sister, Fred and Kim, would not be part of the hearing and feel apprehensive about "how this will change their lives again should Simpson be released."
The now-retired district attorney who prosecuted Simpson for the heist, David Roger, has denied Simpson's sentence was "payback" for his murder acquittal. He has also said that if Simpson behaved in prison, he should get parole.