LOVELOCK, NV — A Nevada parole board granted O.J. Simpson parole on Thursday after the former NFL star apologized for his role in a 2007 armed robbery, said he’d been 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. He is expected to be released as early as October, and said he plans to move to his home in Florida.
Now 70, Simpson’s energy and charm seemed little affected by his time behind bars. He was alert, engaged, and quick to smile at the parole hearing, even letting out a hearty laugh when parole board Chairman Connie Bisbee accidentally said he was aged 90.
“I feel like it,” he said, laughing
Parole board vote unanimous
At the same time, he repeatedly deflected taking full responsibility for that Vegas crime and avoided any mention of his infamous 1995 acquittal for the slayings of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman.
“Juice,” as he was known in his heyday, said associates misled him during the Vegas robbery and 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.”
The four parole board members voted unanimously to grant him parole, and board member Tony Corda said he was graded a “low risk to reoffend.” Simpson smiled, said “thank you,” and then put his head down for a few moments silently.
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.”
Just as that “trial of the century” riveted the nation for months, the parole hearing garnered wall-to-wall coverage on cable news shows, if only just for a day.
Though it’s been 22 years since the 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 qualified for a number of mitigating factors that supported 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 nine 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.
The former NFL great and movie star had also been described by authorities as a model prisoner at Lovelock Correctional Center, a medium-security prison in the Nevada desert.
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.”
Fox61 asked Connecticut residents what their opinions were on the decision to release Simpson on parole.
Deborah Cassells, Andover, said, “I think his status was behind him and that’s what got him out early but I don’t think he’s any better than any other criminal in there.”
Some residents hope Simpson can return to a normal life upon his release.
“He served his time and now he was let out. The justice system did its thing and hopefully he’s going to become a model citizen,” Jim Dobler, Windsor, said.
And others think the whole situation is old news.
“I think what happens is he’s old news now and I think the families have gone after him in the civil case and gotten what they can so it is what it is,” Alan Oliver of Ellington said.