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.
With the ruling, the 70-year-old Simpson, who was convicted in 2008 of an armed robbery involving two sports memorabilia dealers in a Las Vegas hotel room, could be out of prison as early as Oct. 1 after serving the minimum nine years of a 33-year sentence.
When the final vote to grant parole was read after parole commissioners deliberated just over 30 minutes, Simpson lowered his head and then raised it up with a big smile.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” an emotional Simpson said while his sister, Shirley Baker, wept and hugged Arnelle Simpson, his daughter.
Then, as he was led down a hall, the former athlete raised his hands over his head in a victory gesture and said, “Oh, God, oh!”
All four parole commissioners cited his lack of a prior conviction, the low risk he might commit another crime, his community support and his release plans, which include moving to Florida.
Simpson appeared before the parole board hearing via video conferencing from Lovelock Correctional Center.
“I’ve spent nine years making no excuses about anything. I am sorry that things turned out the way they did,” Simpson said in his closing remarks during the hearing. “I had no intent to commit a crime. … I’ve done my time. I’d just like to get back to my family and friends — believe it or not, I do have some real friends — and I tried to be helpful to everybody.”
The hearing was chaired by Connie Bisbee, with Tony Corda, Adam Endel and Susan Jackson also in attendance via video conferencing from Nevada Board of Parole Commissioners headquarters in Carson City, Nevada. They voted 4-0 to grant his early release.
Simpson’s sentence had been scheduled to end Sept. 29, 2022.
Had a unanimous vote not been reached, Parole commissioners Ed Gray and Michael Keeler, who were monitoring proceedings from Las Vegas, would have weighed in.
Under terms of the parole, Simpson is permitted to drink alcohol, but not to excess. If tests show he has a blood alcohol content of .08 or higher, that will be considered excess.
Simpson, appearing as inmate No. 1027820, was accompanied by lawyer Malcolm LaVergne, prison caseworker Marc La Fleur, close friend Tom Scotto, Baker and Arnelle Simpson.
The same four commissioners watching from Carson City granted him parole during his last public appearance in 2013 on some of his 12 charges, leaving him with four years to serve before reaching his minimum term.
Before the hearing concluded, one of the two memorabilia 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 Simpson’s accomplices. Fromong said Simpson deserved to be released so he can be with his children.
“He is a good man. He made a mistake,” Fromong said, adding the two remain friends.
Simpson was asked by Endel during the hearing how he would be better off in the community rather than in prison.
“Well, you know, I do have four kids,” Simpson said. “I’ve missed a lot of time with those kids — like 36 birthdays with my children … My reputation has always been that I’m open to the public, I’m open to everybody. Right now, I’m at a point in my life where I can spend as much time with my children and my friends.
“… Wherever I’ve been there’s been a crowd. That’s not new to me. … I’m pretty easily approachable. I’ve dealt with it all my life, and I don’t foresee any problem dealing with the public now, at all.”
Arnelle Simpson choked back tears as she spoke in defense of her father.
“He’s like my best friend and my rock,” she said. “And as a family, we recognize that he is not the perfect man, but he is the man and the father that speaks to his overall character, which is to be positive no matter what.”
“… On behalf of my family, his friends, we just want him to come home.”
Early in the hearing, Bisbee mistakenly read that Simpson recently turned 90 years old before correcting herself, and Simpson seized the opportunity to make a joke.
“Feels like it though,” he said as laughter filled the room, helping to break the tension before Simpson was asked to recount his details about what happened during the 2007 armed robbery.
He was convicted of enlisting some men he barely knew, including two who had guns, to retrieve from two sports collectibles sellers some items that Simpson said were stolen from him a decade earlier.
As he did four years ago, Simpson told the parole board he kept a promise to stay out of trouble during his time in prison.
“I’m no danger to pull a gun on anybody,” Simpson told the board. “I’ve never been accused of it in my life. I’ve never done it in my life.”
He later told the board that he completed an “Alternative to Violence” course while incarcerated and believes it should be mandatory for all inmates.
“I’m pretty much a guy who’s always gotten along with everybody,” he said. “… I’ve basically spent a conflict-free life.”
Simpson has earned sentencing credits and time off for good behavior, cutting his 33-year maximum sentence by more than half. He has requested to live in Florida if he were to be released.
“I could easily stay in Nevada, but I don’t think you guys want me here,” Simpson joked.
Answered Bisbee with a smile: “No comment, sir.”
Capt. Shawn Arruti of the Nevada Division of Parole and Probation said he has reached out to counterparts in Florida prior to the hearing to see if they would agree to supervise him, adding that Florida parole officials have up to 45 days to investigate but the acceptance rate is high when there’s family in the area.
The Florida Department of Corrections said in a statement that as long as Simpson “meets all criteria, Florida must accept the transfer.”
The 2008 conviction was a new low for Simpson, whose celebrity spanned sports, movies, television and advertising before his fall from grace during his highly publicized murder trial in 1995.
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 — for which he was found not guilty — in the 1994 killings of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman.
His trial, a gavel-to-gavel live-TV sensation, 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.
In 1997, he was found liable in civil court for the deaths and ordered to pay $33.5 million to survivors including his children and the Goldman family.
Goldman’s family believes Simpson got away with murder in Los Angeles, and many people felt the stiff sentence handed down in Las Vegas wasn’t just about the robbery.
Ron Goldman’s father and sister, Fred and Kim, were not part of Simpson’s parole hearing. A spokesman on Wednesday said the family was apprehensive about how, if Simpson were to be released, it “will change their lives again.”