Parole board deliberates early release for O.J. Simpson
NEVADA — O.J. Simpson appeared before a parole board in Nevada on Thursday in a hearing that will decide whether one of America’s most notorious prisoners will be released.
“Juice,” as he was known in his heyday, is nine years into a nine-to-33-year sentence after being convicted in a 2007 kidnapping and armed robbery at a Las Vegas hotel.
But 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 known as the “trial of the century.”
If paroled, Simpson could be released as early as October, spokesman for the Nevada Board of Parole Commissioners David Smith said.
Now 70 years old, the former NFL great and movie star has been described by authorities as a model prisoner at Lovelock Correctional Facility, a medium-security prison in the Nevada desert.
“Simpson has stayed out of trouble there,” said Brooke Keast, spokeswoman for the Nevada prisons system. “We haven’t heard much from him.”
Thursday’s parole hearing comes amid renewed interest in Simpson’s story, which has been explored in the award-winning documentary “O.J.: Made in America” and the FX true-crime drama “The People v. O.J. Simpson.”
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 act as if 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.”
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 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.
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 11,” CNN wrote at the time.
Simpson’s legal team argued that his 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.
Simpson has always denied that 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 is the first that he could be released on parole. In the 2013 hearing, he was granted parole on 5 of the 12 counts against him. At Thursday’s hearing, set for 1 p.m. ET, he will have to make parole on the other seven counts in order to be released.
He will speak for about 30-45 minutes via video-conference from prison 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 them. 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, Simpson would go before the parole board again before 2020, Smith said.
Bruce Fromong, a victim in the robbery and kidnapping, has said he plans to testify at the parole hearing to advocate for Simpson’s release. “I’m not doing it because he’s my friend, which he is. I am doing because the right thing to do,” Fromong told CNN.