O.J. Simpson granted parole after 9 years in prison
Eric Levenson and Susannah Cullinane, EastIdahoNews.com
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(CNN) — A Nevada parole board has granted O.J. Simpson parole. Simpson was sentenced in 2008 to up to 33 years in prison for kidnapping, armed robbery and assault with a deadly weapon in a 2007 incident that unfolded in a Las Vegas hotel room. He could be released as early as October.
A Nevada parole board is deliberating whether to release O.J. Simpson from prison after the former NFL star apologized, said he was a model prisoner, and promised that he’d have no conflicts if released.
“I’ve done my time,” he said. “I’ve done it as well and as respectfully as I think anyone can.”
Simpson has served nine years of a nine-to-33-year sentence for an armed robbery and kidnapping in Las Vegas in 2007. Now 70, Simpson appeared alert, engaged, and quick to smile, letting out a hearty laugh when Parole Board Chairman Connie Bisbee accidentally said he was aged 90.
“I feel like it,” he said, laughing.
Still, at the parole hearing, he deflected responsibility for that Vegas crime and said he was misled by associates around him, who he said then turned on him in court.
“Unfortunately, they got a get-out-of-jail-free card when they said ‘O.J. told me (to do it),'” Simpson said. “Nothing I can do about that.”
Four members of the parole board are now deliberating. If their vote is not unanimous, two other board members will be asked to vote. Simpson must win a majority of the vote to be released.
Thursday’s parole hearing follows renewed interest in Simpson’s story, which was explored last year in the award-winning documentary “O.J.: Made in America” and the FX true-crime drama “The People v. O.J. Simpson.”
Simpson is best known for his infamous 1995 acquittal in the grisly slayings of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman in what was called the “trial of the century.”
Though it’s been 22 years since that not guilty verdict, the murder trial’s themes of criminal justice and race, trust in police, celebrity and domestic violence remain remarkably resonant in modern culture.
“We talk about O.J. as though the story is O.J.,” journalist Celia Farber says toward the end of the “Made in America” documentary. “The story is O.J. and us.”
‘My best friend’
Simpson qualifies for a number of mitigating factors that would support his early parole and has been discipline free during imprisonment, Bisbee said Thursday.
Among the mitigating factors, she said, was that Simpson appears to have a stable post-release plan. An aggravating factor, she said, was that at the time of his offense, his victims said they were in fear for their safety.
Simpson said in closing remarks that he had been a peacemaker in the prison and had been a model prisoner.
“I’ve spent 9 years making no excuses about anything. I am sorry that things turned out the way they did. I had no intent to commit a crime.”
The parole hearing featured testimony from Arnelle Simpson, O.J. Simpson’s oldest daughter, who said her father was “my best friend and my rock.”
Simpson also said he has taken two “Alternative to Violence” classes, which he said was “the most important course any person in this prison can take.”
In addition, robbery victim Bruce Fromong testified that he had forgiven Simpson for the crime at that Las Vegas hotel room, and advocated for his release.
If paroled, he could be released as early as October, said David Smith, a spokesman for the Nevada Board of Parole Commissioners.
The former NFL great and movie star has been described by authorities as a model prisoner at Lovelock Correctional Center, a medium-security prison in the Nevada desert.
“Simpson has stayed out of trouble there,” said Brooke Keast, spokeswoman for the Nevada Department of Corrections. “We haven’t heard much from him.”
Simpson and an associate were convicted of kidnapping, armed robbery and assault with a deadly weapon for attempting to steal pieces of Simpson sports memorabilia at gunpoint.
At his 2008 sentencing, the Hall of Fame running back said he went to the room in the Palace Station Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas to reclaim family heirlooms and other personal items that had been taken from him. He also claimed he didn’t know his associates were armed.
“I wasn’t there to hurt anybody,” Simpson said. “I just wanted my personal things, and I realize now that was stupid of me. I am sorry.”
The case, which featured a colorful cast of seedy characters, secret recordings and a Las Vegas heist, read like a low-budget parody of “Ocean’s Eleven,” CNN wrote at the time.
Simpson’s legal team argued that the nine-to-33-year sentence did not match the crime and that it was, in fact, a form of payback for his controversial acquittal in the deaths of Brown and Goldman. Even Bruce Fromong, a victim in the robbery, agreed.
“It wasn’t about justice,” Fromong said in “O.J.: Made in America.” “They wanted the guy that got away with murder in 1994.”
Simpson has always denied he killed Brown and Goldman. Their families won a wrongful death civil judgment against him in 1997.
At a parole hearing in 2013, Simpson said he regretted the Las Vegas kidnapping and robbery.
“I just wish I had never gone to that room. I wish I had just said, ‘Keep it,’ and not worry about it,” he said. “All I can do about it since I’ve been here is be as respectful and as straightforward as I could be.”
How the parole hearing works
Simpson’s minimum sentence was nine years, so this year marks the first time he could be released on parole. In the 2013 hearing, he was granted parole on five of the 12 counts against him. At Thursday’s hearing, he will have to make parole on the other seven counts to be released.
He will speak from prison via video conference with four parole board commissioners who are in Carson City. Those members will then leave to deliberate.
If the four parole board members do not unanimously agree, then two other commissioners from Las Vegas will be called to vote. Simpson needs a simple majority vote to be granted parole. If the vote splits 3-3, parole will be denied, and another hearing will be held in six months.
The parole board scores an inmate on several factors — the higher the total score, the greater the risk involved in releasing him or her. A person with a score of zero to five points is deemed low risk; six to 11 points, medium risk; and 12 or more, high risk. In 2013, Simpson scored three points overall.
Should Simpson again be judged a low risk, the board still has the latitude to deny him parole. Should that happen, he would go before the parole board again before 2020, board spokesman Smith said.
CNN’s Paul Vercammen, Paul LeBlanc and Sara Weisfeldt contributed to this report.