OJ Simpson has been granted parole after more than eight years in prison for a Las Vegas hotel heist.
Simpson successfully made his case in a nationally televised hearing that reflected America’s enduring fascination with the former football star. The 70-year-old could be a free man as early as October 1.
By then he will have served the minimum of his nine to 33-year armed robbery sentence for a bungled attempt to snatch sports memorabilia and other mementos he claimed had been stolen from him. He got the four votes he needed from the parole commissioners who heard his case.
In agreeing to release him, they cited his lack of a prior conviction, the low risk he might commit another crime, his community support and his release plans.
During the more than hour-long hearing, Simpson forcefully insisted – as he has all along – that he was only trying to retrieve items that belonged to him and never meant to hurt anyone. He said he never pointed a gun at anyone nor made any threats during the crime.
“I’ve done my time. I’ve done it as well and respectfully as I think anybody can,” he said.
Inmate number 1027820 made his plea for freedom in a stark hearing room at the Lovelock Correctional Centre in rural Nevada as four parole commissioners in Carson City, a two-hour drive away, questioned him via video-link.
Simpson, grey-haired but looking trimmer than he has in recent years, walked briskly into the hearing room dressed in jeans, a light-blue prison-issue shirt and trainers.
He laughed at one point as the parole board chairwoman mistakenly gave his age as 90. The Hall of Fame athlete’s chances of winning release were considered good, given similar cases and Simpson’s model behaviour behind bars.
His defenders have argued, too, that his sentence was out of proportion to the crime and that he was being punished for the two murders he was acquitted of during his 1995 “Trial of the Century” in Los Angeles, the stabbings of ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman.
Before the hearing concluded, one of the dealers Simpson robbed, Bruce Fromong, said the former football great never pointed a gun at him during the confrontation, adding that it was one of the men with him who did so.
Mr Fromong said Simpson deserved to be released.
“He is a good man. He made a mistake,” Mr Fromong said, adding the two remain friends.
Simpson’s eldest child, 48-year-old Arnelle Simpson, also testified on his behalf, saying her father is not perfect but realises what a mistake he made and has spent years paying for it.
“We just want him to come home, we really do,” she said.
Simpson said that he has spent his time in prison mentoring fellow inmates, often keeping others out of trouble, and believes he has become a better person during those years.
Asked if he was confident he could stay out of trouble if he is released, Simpson replied that he learned much during an alternative-to-violence course he took in prison and that in any case he has always got along well with people.
“I had basically spent a conflict-free life,” he said a remark that lit up social media with scornful and sarcastic comments given the murder case and a raft of allegations he abused his wife.
In a final statement to the board he apologised again, adding: “I’m sorry it happened, I’m sorry, Nevada. I thought I was glad to get my stuff back, but it just wasn’t worth it. It wasn’t worth it and I’m sorry.”
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