OJ Simpson to face parole board with freedom in sight
Lovelock, Nev. — O.J. Simpson once thrilled crowds as he ran for touchdowns and hurdled airport seats in car rental ads to achieve Hollywood celebrity before he was acquitted of murder in the 1995 “trial of the century” in Los Angeles.
Now, an aging Simpson will appear as inmate No. 1027820 in a starkly plain hearing room in a remote Nevada prison Thursday to plead for his freedom. He’s spent more than eight years behind bars for armed robbery and assault with a weapon after trying to take back sports memorabilia in a budget hotel room in Las Vegas.
Simpson, 70, will ask four parole board members who sided with him once before to release him in October, a likely possibility with his clean prison record.
It will be a stunning scene for a charismatic star once known as “The Juice” who won the Heisman Trophy as the best U.S. college football player in 1968 and was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1985.
He appeared to have it all.
He went on to star in Hertz commercials and movies like the “Naked Gun” comedies and do sideline reporting for “Monday Night Football” before his wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ronald Goldman were slain in 1994.
Simpson is expected to reiterate that he has kept a promise to stay out of trouble, coaches in the prison gym where he works and counsels other inmates.
“I guess, my age, guys come to me,” Simpson told parole officials four years ago.
The same commissioners granted him parole on some of his 12 charges in 2013, leaving him with four years to serve before reaching his minimum term.
At Simpson’s side in his bid for freedom will be lawyer Malcolm LaVergne, close friend Tom Scotto, sister Shirley Baker and daughter Arnelle Simpson.
O.J. Simpson is expected to explain what he would do and where he would live if he is granted parole after reaching the nine-year minimum of his 33-year sentence.
He was convicted in 2008 after enlisting some men he barely knew, including two with guns, to retrieve from two sports collectibles sellers some items that Simpson said were stolen from him a decade earlier.
“My crime was trying to retrieve for my family my own property,” Simpson told the parole officials in 2013 before apologizing.
“Make no mistake, I would give it all back,” he said, “to get these last five years back.”
The items disappeared after Simpson was found not guilty in the 1994 killings of his ex-wife and her friend and before he was found liable in 1997 in civil court for the deaths.
He was ordered to pay $33.5 million to survivors including his children and the Goldman family.
A Goldman family spokesman said Ron Goldman’s father and sister, Fred and Kim, won’t be part of Simpson’s parole hearing but that they felt apprehensive about “how this will change their lives again should Simpson be released.”
“They will remain patient and optimistic that the system will do what is necessary to ensure the public’s safety remains a priority and that proper justice will be served,” spokesman Michael Wright said this week.
The Goldmans believe Simpson got away with murder in Los Angeles, and many people felt the stiff sentence handed down in 2008 in Las Vegas wasn’t just about the robbery.
Now, even the retired district attorney who prosecuted Simpson for the heist acknowledges that Simpson has a good chance to go free. But David Roger denied Simpson’s sentence was “payback” for his acquittal in the Los Angeles slayings.
The former prosecutor said Simpson took a gamble when he rejected an offer to avoid trial by pleading guilty to a felony that could have gotten him 21/2 years in prison.
“He thought he was invincible, and he rolled the dice,” Roger said.