O.J. Simpson was granted parole on Thursday and will be released from prison in October following an emotional hearing that centred on the botched armed robbery of his own mementoes at a Las Vegas hotel that landed him behind bars for nine years.
A four-member panel of the Nevada Board of Parole Commissioners voted unanimously to release the 70-year-old former football star turned TV pitchman and actor, now best remembered as the defendant in a sensational double-murder trial that gripped America two decades ago.
Simpson participated by live video feed from Lovelock Correctional Center, about 161 kilometres from the parole board’s offices in Carson City, sitting at a wooden table next to his attorney dressed in a prison-issued denim shirt and dark pants.
A smiling Simpson – with close-cropped grey hair and looking thinner than at his last parole hearing in 2013 – testified along with his daughter and one of the two robbery victims. He offered a rambling account of his actions, sometimes striking a defensive tone and at others sounding apologetic.
He bowed his head and appeared to be in tears as the board voted unanimously to grant him parole, then stood and thanked the commissioners repeatedly.
“I’ve done my time, I’ve done it as well and respectfully as anyone can,” Simpson said during the hearing. “None of this would have happened if I’d had better judgment.”
One of the reasons the commissioners gave for their decision was that Simpson had complied with prison rules during his incarceration, had no prior criminal convictions and posed a minimal safety risk to the public.
‘He made a mistake’
Despite previous murder charges against Simpson, commissioners did not challenge his assertion that he had spent a largely conflict-free life and had always been “pretty good to people”.
Simpson – known during his football career as the “Juice” – said he was ready to spend time with his children and friends outside the prison and could handle the public attention he would get.
“I’m not a guy that has conflicts in the street, I don’t expect to have any when I leave here,” he told the commissioners.
Simpson’s daughter, Arnelle, told the hearing that Simpson’s incarceration had been hard on her family.
“No one really knows how much we have been through, this ordeal the last 9 years,” she said. “He’s like my best friend and like my rock.”
Bruce Fromong, one of the dealers Simpson was convicted of robbing on September 13, 2007, said he had long ago forgiven a man he called a close friend.
“This is a good man. He made mistake. But if he called me tomorrow and said, ‘Bruce I’m getting out, will you pick me up? Juice, I’ll be here tomorrow for you.”
The commissioners said they could not and did not take into consideration the notoriety still surrounding Simpson’s acquittal on charges he murdered his wife Nicole and her friend Ronald Goldman and a civil court decision that found him liable for the deaths and ordered him to pay $33.5 million in damages.
Simpson won the Heisman Trophy – the award for the top college football player – in 1968 while attending the University of Southern California. He played more than a decade in the National Football League (NFL), becoming the first player to rush for more than 2,000 yards in a season. (Reuters)