O.J. Simpson — the football Hall of Famer and former NFL star, Hollywood actor and double-murder suspect — was granted parole on Thursday, nearly nine years after he was sentenced for his role in an armed robbery at a Las Vegas hotel.
Simpson is now set for release as early as October, a month that has become one of the crossroads of his life.
He was found guilty on Oct. 3, 2008, of various felony charges including kidnapping and robbery in connection with the Vegas altercation. That conviction came 13 years to the day after he was found not guilty of murdering his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman in Los Angeles in 1994 — an acquittal that itself came after an eight-month trial which consumed the country.
Dressed in blue short-sleeves and jeans, Simpson, now 70, spoke at length in his defense at the hearing on Thursday, which began at 10 a.m. local time.
He appeared fit, relaxed and articulate, regularly cracking jokes to laughter from other attendees. At times he showed flashes of the force of personality that helped make him famous — and then infamous.
“I’ve done my time,” Simpson said at his hearing. “I’ve done it as well and as respectfully as anybody can. … I’ve not complained for nine years, all I’ve done is try to be helpful” and encourage other prisoners to do their time and fight in court, not behind bars, he said.
Accompanied by his attorney, Malcolm LaVergne, Simpson stressed that he was not making excuses for himself. His sister Shirley Baker, daughter Arnelle Simpson and friend Tom Scotto were also in attendance.
“No one really knows how much we have been though, this ordeal in the last nine years,” Arnelle said, reading from a statement, before pausing to gather herself.
“My experience with him is that he’s like my best friend and my rock,” she continued. “And as a family, we recognize that he is not the perfect man, but he’s clearly a man and a father. He has done his best to behave in away that speaks to his overall nature and character, which is always to be positive no matter what.”
In an unusual move reflecting Simpson’s notoriety, his Thursday parole hearing was live-streamed online and broadcast on ESPN.
Among other information that the parole board considered is Simpson’s pre-sentence investigation following his conviction and a report from the state’s department of corrections about his time in prison.
Simpson has previously appeared before the state’s parole board after being convicted in 2008. He was granted parole on some of his charges in 2013, and several experts had said he was well positioned to be granted parole on the remaining counts heading into this week’s hearing, where he was questioned by four of the board’s seven commissioners.
Simpson’s parole hearing was discretionary — not mandatory — but included a review of multiple factors which appeared to favor him, including his age at the time of his first arrest, his employment history before being taken into custody and his behavior while incarcerated
The board noted in 2013 that Simpson had no disciplinary issues in prison and a “positive institutional record,” according to the Associated Press.
“Assuming that he’s behaved himself in prison, I don’t think it will be out of line for him to get parole,” David Roger, who as the district attorney successfully prosecuted Simpson for robbery, told the AP ahead of the hearing.
Bruce Fromong, one of the two memorabilia dealers who were robbed by Simpson, has said he would attend Thursday’s hearing. (The other victim, Alfred Beardsley, died in 2015.)
Fromong told the AP that he would be in attendance “trying to be good for O.J.”
The Case So Far
Simpson was arrested on Sept. 16, 2007, only three days after authorities said he and five other men went to a Las Vegas hotel to rob two sports memorabilia dealers.
The victims, Beardsley and Fromong, were led to believe a prospective buyer was coming to their casino hotel room to browse their goods, many of them connected with the legendary Heisman trophy winner.
Instead, authorities said, Simpson and his associates, two of whom were armed, rushed into the room, stuffed the memorabilia into pillowcases and fled.
Four of the men who accompanied Simpson in the robbery accepted plea deals and testified against him at trial. The fifth man was convicted alongside Simpson, but an appellate court later granted him a new trial and was released after agreeing to a plea deal.
Simpson’s defense argued that he was not armed at the time and did not know two of the other men brought weapons, though one of them testified that he did so at Simpson’s behest. Simpson also said he was only trying to retrieve memorabilia that had been stolen from him.
Still, a jury convicted him on 12 counts.
“We don’t want people going into rooms to take property,” David Roger, then the lead prosecutor, said at the time. “That is robbery. You don’t go in and get a gun and demand property from people.”
Simpson mounted an unsuccessful appeal after his conviction and then largely retreated from view during his incarceration, not appearing in public again until May 2013.
“I never meant to hurt anybody,” he said at his sentencing in December 2008. But presiding Judge Jackie Glass was not moved.
“Earlier in this case,” she said, “I said to Mr. Simpson I didn’t know if he was arrogant or ignorant or both … I got this answer, and it was both.”
Glass sentenced Simpson to a nine-to-33 years in prison. In her remarks, she also underscored an interesting fact: Simpson’s infamous murder case in the ’90s had provided an indirect motive for the Las Vegas robbery.
The Goldman and Brown families won a wrongful death suit against Simpson in 1997 that awarded them $33.5 million in damages. But, shielded by technicalities, Simpson barely paid a nickel of that judgment and may have disbursed some of his personal memorabilia with friends and others to protect it from seizure by the Goldmans.
“You didn’t want all those items to fall into the hands of the Goldmans,” Judge Glass said of the robbery. “You referred to them as ‘the Golddiggers.’”
Afterward the sentencing, Fred Goldman, Ron Goldman’s father, voiced satisfaction over the poetic justice.
“If our efforts through all these years drove him to commit … armed robbery in Vegas,” he said in 2008, “if that pushed him over the edge, well, great.”
• With HOWARD BREUER, BILL HEWITT and STEPHEN M. SILVERMAN